Sunday, 26 August 2012

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

My favourite of the Miyazaki's that I've seen, and certainly up there with the best of Disney - a great, fun animated adventure!

Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have made some fantastic films across their career. I only say that to pass on what I know through the grapevine of cyberspace - I've only seen a handful of them; Totoro, Howls Moving Castle, Ponyo, and some of  Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service. This is undoubtably the best piece I have seen from this studio.

Laputa: Castle In The Sky is a fairytale, at it's core. It's about a young boy named Patsu who sees a girl - Sheeta - floating from the sky; he catches her. She's being chased by the military, a secret agent and a gang of pirates, who all want the crystal necklace she's carrying. The crystal holds the potential to unlock the location and secrets of the legendary floating city known as Laputa. By some extraordinary coincidence, Patsu's father once saw Laputa, only to be laughed off for purporting its existence. Patsu dreams of proving his father right, so is absolutely keen beans to fight off pirates and big baddies to protect the girl and find the city.

The animation is nothing short of spectacular - Disney just doesn't produce works of this scale. Even shots of some clouds floating about are constructed and edited in such a way that they appear breathtaking with their epic scope. Scenes are coloured to their mood - the hellish breakout of a robot from the military fortress is intense, frightening and hopeful all at once with its fiery red rendering emphasising the horrifying destructive power the city might well yield. The final scenes as the gigantic military airship and the pirate vessel spar through the storm, before being utterly dwarfed by the reveal of Laputa itself... And that's to say nothing of the subsequent sequences aboard the floating city. The climactic moments are awe-inspiring (well-accompanied by some terrifically haunting music) - the unfolding of the city's fate is what stuck in my mind most from when I watched this as a kid, and it still blew me away when I watched it now.

The editing and cinematography are great too; what stuck out to me especially was Miyazaki's use of smash-cuts. In an early scene Sheeta quietly picks up a bottle and prepares to hit Muska over the head with it. As she brings it down - smash-cut to a gun being fired in a simultaneous shootout. Such little moments occur throughout the film and give it a sense of urgency and fluidity between scenes.

The voice acting for the dub I watched is done by Disney, and is mostly excellent (especially with Mark Hamil as the villainous Muska), with the exception of Anna Paquin as Sheeta - her accent is strange and her voice doesn't fit her body. She comes off just a little out of place, although it doesn't ruin the film. Sometimes the characters have a tendency to explain thing that the audience has already figured out (Oh, this robot turned on when I called for help and my necklace glowed. Coincidence??). Again, this doesn't feel so unnatural that the film is spoiled, it just might rub some people the wrong way.


A special mention for the opening credits, which use stylised, flat images to exposit the history of the world of the film. If you don't remember them perhaps watch them closely next time, because they actually reveal a pretty interesting backstory. Watching them as part of the film they give a good sense of the world and its quirky technological status - as well as establishing the art style of the film.

But the detailed backstory: mankind, being the industrious bunch that we are builds machines, digs outrageously deep holes in the earth and puffs out clouds of smoke from factories... then using said machinery and excavated earth, creates floating ships. We make them bigger and bigger - until eventually they're the size of islands - mountains even. Masses of flying buildings with little people, converging around a tower-of-babel styled castle - lording over all the little airships and floating islands, as well as the clouds... and what follows is subtle by comparison. There's a shot of dark clouds enveloping the floating islands - and lightening smashing them (the broken city appears faintly in the background); we see a line of people emerging from fallen airships, and a woman-like figure in the clouds blowing... the forces of nature overcoming mankinds ingenuity. Finally we see a shot of young Sheeta in her mountain home. I suppose 700 hundred years have passed now, and our story begins.

The film grapples with issues such as the abuse of power (notice how the miltary's greed over the treasure is portrayed as trivial and harmless compared to Muska's lust for power), the development of man vs. the domination of nature, and the nature of utopia... Maybe this just appeals to my world view, but the vision Laputa portrays of utopia seems to be one devoid of humans. Laputa - untouched for centuries - is a paradise that is tainted with the interference of human squabbles. At the end of the movie we literally see this paradise floating away, freed from the shackles of human construction, out of our reach. We are flawed beings, and cannot achieve that paradise; we cannot live in harmony with nature.

I could say more but I think I'll leave it at that. If you haven't seen Laputa, or haven't seen it for a long time as I had, go and give it a watch! Leave a comment below, share your own thoughts on the movie - I look forward to hearing them.