Old Review: Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Laputa: Castle in the SkyIn a world not like our own, there used to be castles that flew in the sky, these castles had great power and peacefully ruled the land until they died out. However, there’s a legend that one castle of the sky remains, the most powerful castle known as Laputa.

The late father of a young boy, called Pazu, spotted Laputa during a flight, but despite having evidence, was disbelieved by the world of his claim. Since his death, Pazu has dreamt of finding Laputa and proving everyone wrong. His dream could possibly come true as one day at the mining shaft, he finds a young girl floating down from the sky.

The young girl, called Sheeta, was abducted by government agents, led by Muska, as is also being chased by a group of sky-pirates, both to use the special levitation stone that leads to Laputa itself. Now Sheeta and Pazu must search for Laputa and make sure the power it has doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

The elements of the story were created around the same time the ideas for Nausicaa was being materialized. Production began in 1985, not long after Studio Ghibli was founded.

Benzaie of ThatGuywiththeGlasses.com says that the French animated film, ‘Le Roi et l’oiseau’ by Paul Grimault, was a great influence in this film. To show that I’m no snobby film expert who wrote this paragraph just to correct Benzaie’s statement and give him credit, Paul Grimault was a great influence in Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s animation style, it is just difficult to pin-point what the film influenced in the film. One reason Hayao Miyazaki made this film was to give homage to two brilliant fantasy authors: Jonathan Swift, writer of Gulliver’s Travels, which was where the inspiration for Laputa itself came from, and Jules Verne, writer of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, as well as other novels that involve heading into unknown worlds, which is a key element in the film.

In 1984, Miyazaki visited Wales during the middle of the Welsh mining strikes, and has said that he had admired the miners for their strength and determination to keep their lives. Like Nausicaa, Miyazaki directed, Takahata produced and Joe Hisaishi was the composer. It was released in Japanese theatres in August 1986.

For the animation and art style, I find it interesting to look at in three places in particular. The opening credit, along with this short robot sequence, are very smooth and gives the setting a nice old fashioned look, the mining shafts and tunnels are dark and steam-punkish look to give the feel of a slightly more futuristic mine, and the nature of Laputa itself which is very vibrant and colourful. As for the rest of the animation, it’s to a high standard, but it’s not really the most impressive in terms of making you think it’s artistic, but it drives the story and shows thought and realism, so it does a good job of keeping the viewer’s attention to the story.

The musical score is downright excellent, period, and I think it is the best soundtrack to a Studio Ghibli film in the 1980s and 3rd best out of every Studio Ghibli film. However the problem I have is deciding which version is better. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain.

When Disney obtained the rights to release Laputa for western audiences, they had an issue with the video to audio ratio. Because western audiences (including me to be honest) would get bored of long scenes without any sort of musical composition, they requested Joe Hisaishi himself to add new tracks to his own film score, so to make it easier he, along with the supervision of Miyazaki, completely rescored the soundtrack, including the new tracks specially for the western release of the film. This larger soundtrack I believe is superior to the original soundtrack for that reason.

I am one person who will agree that you don’t have to use music throughout an entire film, but Laputa has scenes which feel better with Joe Hisaishi’s musical score, and Disney did the smartest move and requested him to redo the score, with Miyazaki’s supervision and approval. Yet there must have been people that complained about this because later releases of the film including the 2010 blu-ray version had reverted back to the original soundtrack for the dub and cut some of the extra lines. Should anime fans really be so picky about how much of the original film they want in a dub?

Aside from that, both the dub and original voice cast are brilliant in their executions and performances from the comedic Dola and her pirates (Cloris Leachman and Additional Voices) to the diabolical Muska from the Government (Mark Hamill). If I had to nit-pick, Pazu’s voice has always felt off in both the Japanese and English, Mayumi Tanaka makes Pazu sound too young while James Van Der Beek sounds too old, for who I’m guessing is 13 years old.

If I was to give my view on the story, then to sum it up in one word would be “variety”. The film from beginning to end have elements which are placed very well and have subtlety in their appearance, it is one of these films that every time you see it you find something new. Stuff like the importance of power, following ones beliefs, exploring new worlds, among many others. When Nausicaa was an action/adventure film with a highly memorable and complex environmental message, Laputa stepped it up to bring more to the table, which was definitely a good move since Toshio Suzuki admitted that he was doubtful of the life span of the company even as soon as it was founded.

Laputa: Castle of the Sky is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. An older English dub by Streamline was released, but interestingly they did not actually produce it as Tokuma gave them an audio track with English dialogue already recorded, with a cast including Barbara Goodsan and Lucy Cody. I haven’t watched a lot of it but it’s inferior to Disney’s dub and unless you do some ultra hard searching for VHS copies, it is only widely available from the Japanese release of the DVD. A novelization written by Osamu Kameoka has as far as I know, not been released in the western world. A four volume film comic is available from Viz Media, but it’s really a waste of money.

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