Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: "LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY" is in the Sky with Diamonds

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 41 of 2023 (No. 1930) by Leroy Douresseaux

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta – original Japanese title
Running time:  125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Hayao Miyazaki
WRITER:  Hayao Miyazaki
PRODUCER:  Isao Takahata
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hirokata Takahashi
EDITORS:  Hayao Miyazaki, Yoshihiro Kasahara, and Takeshi Seyama
COMPOSER:  Joe Hisaishi


Starring:  (voices) Mayumi Tanaka, Keiko Yokozawa, Kotoe Hatsui, Minori Terada, Fujio Tokita, Ichiro Nagai, and Hiroshi Ito

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a 1986 Japanese animated, action-adventure fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  Laputa is also the first film fully produced by the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli.  In North America, the film is known simply as Castle in the Sky, the title by which I will refer to it in this review.  Castle in the Sky follows the adventures of a young boy and girl who must race against time, pirates, and foreign agents in a bid to find a legendary island that floats in the sky.

Castle in the Sky opens on an airship.  Aboard the aircraft is a young girl, Sheeta (Mayumi Tanaka), an orphan girl abducted by the government agent, Colonel Muska (Minori Terada).  The airship is attacked by Captain Dola (Kotoe Hatsui) and her gang, “the Dola Pirates” (all of whom are apparently her sons).  Dola is seeking Sheeta's necklace, which holds a small orb made of pure “etherium” crystal.  Attempting to escape, Sheeta falls from the airship, but is saved by the magic of etherium in the now-glowing crystal, which lowers her slowly to the ground.

On the ground, Sheeta is caught by a young boy, Pazu (Keiko Yokozawa).  Soon, Pazu is on a mission to protect Sheeta from both Dola and Muska.  Pazu and Sheeta's goal is to reach the mythical flying island, “Laputa,” which is connected to both children's past, but in different ways.  The mystery of Laputa is what exactly is it – a paradise, a treasure trove, or something dangerous.

I have previously reviewed the following Miyazaki-directed films:  The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), and The Wind Rises (2013).  As Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail division, I am hoping to get to the Miyazaki films that I have not previously watched.  This is the first time I've watched Castle in the Sky.

For me, the most wonderful thing about Castle in the Sky is that it is steeped in Hayao Miyazaki's affinity for flight, a theme that dominates many of his films.  He fills this film with wonderful flying contraptions, such as the government's flying fortress, “Goliath,” and the Dola pirates' airship, “Tiger Moth.”  Even the robots of Laputa can become wonderful flying machines.  As with many of Miyazaki's films, Castle in the Sky is breathtaking, visually stunning, and mind-blowing, especially when the narrative takes to the air.

One of the film's most dominant themes is the innocence of children, as seen through the eyes of Pazu and Sheeta.  That shows in the two characters' resilience and determination in the face of constant turmoil and ceaseless obstacles.  Their relationship is the counterbalance to the film's darker elements, especially its focus on on humanity's relationship with nature and with technology.  Most of the film displays technology in harmony with nature, taking place in a fantasy version of the nineteenth century.  There is a “retro-future” aesthetic that finds a balance between mankind's technological creations and the natural world at large.  Castle in the Sky would go on to have a strong influence on the then emerging science fiction sub-genre known as “steampunk.”

I believe that if you, dear readers, have never seen a Miyazaki film, the first one you watch will validate the great things you may have heard about him.  When you see your second Miyazaki, you will certainly become a true believer.  Castle in the Sky is the kind of animated film that will make just about any movie fan a true believer in Hayao Miyazaki.  It is one of the greatest adventure films ever made, and one of the greatest animated films of all time.  Castle in the Sky mixes vivid imagination, eye-popping inventiveness, and stunning beauty in a way only the best animated films do.  Every frame of this film belongs on a wall in a museum.  If it were a Disney animated feature, Disney would call Laputa: Castle in the Sky an instant classic.  It certainly is a classic.

10 of 10

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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