May 13, 2011

[Movies] Laputa: Castle in the Sky / Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta (1986)

Laputa: Castle in the Sky / Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta (1986)The works of Hayao Miyazaki have certainly captured the hearts of many fans around the world. It's hard to explain precisely why his movies are almost always loved - I guess you can attribute it to his eye for detail, the rich stories he likes to embrace and certainly his passion for the art form. The man's creative impact on the world is pretty impressive - a legacy that has inspired many other animators, storytellers and even video game creators.

My introduction to the works of Hayao Miyazaki and of course Studio Ghibli came rather late in life. But with the help of my loving partner, I've been steadily going through more and more of the movies and each time I'm pretty much blown away. I'm already at a point where I'm not quite sure what my favorite Miyazaki movie is given how all of them have many great points worth citing in their defense.

This movie is certainly among those in contention for most favorite given the wonderful mix of comedy, science fiction and of course the presence of robots. Yeah, you always stand a better chance of winning me over once robots somehow become involved.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is actually the first movie officially released by Studio Ghibli. It was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and it debuted in 1986.

Laputa takes place on a world where the technological obsession was taking to the skies. There was an extreme focus on developing different ways of flying including massive airships and eventually flying cities. But something happened and most of the cities are long gone now, although there are rumors that once such flying city, Laputa, remains hidden in the clouds somewhere out there.

Enter Sheeta (Keiko Yokozawa / Anna Paquin), a young girl who is currently being transported by the forces of Colonel Muska (Minori Terada / Mark Hamill). But the airship is attacked by a small band of sky pirates led by an older woman named Dola (Kotoe Hatsui / Cloris Leachman). In the chaos of the onboard battle, Sheeta manages to escape both groups by leaping out the window with a small pendant in hand. Miraculously, she gently floats to the safety of the group after the stone on the pendant emits a blue light that envelopes her.

Her Descent is witnesses by a young boy named Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka / James Van Der Beek), who is a young miner and son of an airship pilot. His father had claimed to have taken a photo of Laputa although no one ever believed him even until his death. In time Dola and her pirates catch up with the two and they do their best to continue to evade capture.

The movie certainly showcased a lot of the sort of "staple" images that we've come to associate with the works of Hayao Miyazaki. This time around, the most prominent imagery remains to be the various air ships in the movie whether we talk about the massive vessels of Colonel Muska or the small quirky craft of Captain Dola - it all fits in the Miyazaki aesthetic. You also have a number of interesting animals, but not quite the full-blown ecological festival that his other movies tend to be.

Robot from Laputa, Castle in the SkyImage by gunnsteinlye via FlickrHis interpretation of the guardian robots of Laputa itself was certainly interesting (and a bit surprising) for me. They had a weird look that felt more akin to the steampunk trend that seems to be going strong these days mixed in with those old statues found in South American pyramids and the like. But at the same time, their actual movements are an eerie hodge podge of an animal on all four legs at once. They were like some odd hybrid between a walking statue and some form of insect. And of course there's more to them than just their ability to walk around.

Overall though, the story of Laputa is pretty simple. The kids get thrown together by circumstances and they continue to attempt to evade capture while considering how to find the mythical floating city for themselves. Plus you have the budding puppy love aspect to things so sort of round out the whole mental image.

The comedy element was certainly provided by Dola and her pirate sons and as a whole the group really grows on you. It's these kinds of complex characters that really make these movies so compelling. They're definitely morally ambiguous given that they are pirates and yet you can't quite classify them as the good guys or the bad guys precisely. In fact sides aren't at all clear in this movie perhaps until you get to the end when things really start to come together - thus a great sign of how this is really a movie that doesn't pander to children.

As a whole, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a great movie that really sets the tone for the Studio Ghibli movies that followed in terms of the overall quality of their work. It gets 4 startling behaviors of the Laputa guardian robots out of a possible 5.

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