Recommended Viewing Situation:
In the eye of a storm inside an elaborate airship, being pursued by an airborne gang of bandits.
Running Time: 126 minutes.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki.
Cinematographer: Hirokata Takahashi.
Once upon a time, cities floated in the sky … Or so Pazu, a boy living in a mining village believes. With the cheery voice of James Van Der Beek*, Pazu is happy with his lot as a miner, but dreams of finding Laputa, the only remaining city in the sky, which is the stuff of legends for most. Then our female protagonist, Sheeta, with the sweet but determined voice of Anna Paquin*, floats into his arms with her mysterious amulet. Pazu’s daydreams dive bomb into the reality of his life and he finds himself swept along with his new friend, whose mesmerising necklace seems to be the object of desire for both secret agents and pirates.
The first masterpiece to emerge from the Studio Ghibli stable of Japanese anime, ‘Laputa, Castle in the Sky’ (or in Japanese, 天空の城ラピュタ Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta), transcends new levels of eccentricity. With steampunk flying machines, gothic buildings and giant tin men with disturbingly human components, the story has a strange darkness whirling around it that makes it compelling to the end. Director Hayao Miyazaki excels at characterisation, particularly with his bands of baddies. The secret agents, led by Muska (Mark Hamill*) polarise Sheeta’s and Pazu’s wholesomeness with their wickedness. Muska’s plainly drawn face and laundered suit reflect coldness, which, with Hamill’s measured tones, evokes little empathy. Conversely, Captain Dola and her crew of hapless pirate sons, are colourful additions with their expressive faces and comical clothing and despite their naughty intentions, provide humour and adventure. Dola is as tough as a pair of Boudicca’s boots; in fact, she bears more than a passing resemblance to the old British queen herself, with her imposing physique and furious tenacity. Cloris Leachman* provides her fearsome voice – with some manly burps and slurps thrown in whilst eating – and coupled with some timely low-angle shots, presents a domineering matriarchal figure (slightly softened by a surprising pair of pink pigtails).
The orchestral soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi is subtle and atmospheric and the pretty backgrounds, from candy floss skies to stormy nights, sets the perfect mood for each scene. For magical enchantment, look out for the scene of the children’s woodland wander.
With obvious influences by Swift (the flying island in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is also named Laputa) and not so obvious influences by Tolkien, Lucas and various religious stories, this is a fantasy tale to be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a walk on the dark side.
*re-released in 2003, 17 years after its original release in 1986, with these actors’ voices.