Friday, April 6, 2012

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

A Lot of times, Studio Ghibli is referred to as 'Disney of Japan'. As I delve more and more into this marvelous world of Studio Ghibli, more I find how accurate this description is. And this has nothing to do with the ties of Ghibli and Disney Productions and also the fact that they both happen to make animated movies but has everything to do with the message that their stories give us. If you have read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, you would remember the discussion where they talk about Walt Disney, his work and his inspirations and hidden messages in his stories. If there is someone who has similar imagination, similar vision in today's world, I think that will be Hayao Miyazaki and I bet if you pick up any movie that Studio Ghibli ever did and keep your eyes open, you will understand what I am saying is right. Laputa: Castle in the Sky(1986), sixth Ghibli movie I saw, is no exception.

After the success of his film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind(1984), Miyazaki along with Isao Takahata, director of Grave of the Fireflies(1988) and producer Toshio Suzuki founded Studio Ghibli. Castle in the Sky(1986) was the first movie made under the banner of Studio Ghibli. Just like any other Ghibli movie, it has a strong female lead and just like any other movie, it looks like a very innocent and sweet story for children. Sheeta, our protagonist, lives a quite village life taking care of few animals her family owns. She is alone since death of her parents. One day, for reasons completely unknown to her, she is taken into custody by the people of military intelligence and is on the way to a secret facility. However, apparently they are not the only one's that are looking for her and it seems that they are all interested in a Crystal she is wearing which is a family property passed from generation to generation. In the very first scene, we see that the plane carrying Sheeta gets attacked by some pirates. While trying to escape from the ship, she falls down and then we see that crystal is no ordinary crystal as it carries her safely to the ground, into the mines where our other protagonist, Pazu, works with his boss. He takes her home, mostly because he is fascinated by glowing crystal. In the morning, they again run into the pirates and secret agents looking for her and Pazu again helps her run away from them hiding into one of the mines. In these mines, they meet Uncle Pomme who tells them a story about Ithirium which glows in the night and as it turns out, Sheeta's Crystal is purest form of Ithirium which is extremely rare.

As we move forward, we come to know that Sheeta is actually a rightful heir of the floating city of Laputa concealed in the big, violent thundercloud and crystal she possesses is the key to open this city which is been locked away for many years now. Secret Agents working under the orders of evil Colonel Muskaa, who has been doing his research for many years to find this crystal so that he can rule the world. Once they realize what the real deal is with the crystal, Pazu manages to help Sheeta escape from the clutches of Col. Muskaa and then they head out to solve the mystery of Laputa and also to prevent it from falling into the clutches of Col. Muskaa. I find it interesting, particularly after writing review of A Separation(2011) recently where I consciously avoided giving up any plot details, that I am discussing the plot so much in detail this time around. But that is where the power of Ghibli lies - these films have so much beauty, innocence and essence in them that they are sure to lure you in their world even after knowing almost the whole plot before watching them. I even believe that these movies are so great that even if you mute the volume and treat it as a silent movie, animations are so rich and beautiful that you will still enjoy them equally.

This movie is a complete package. It is sweet, innocent, funny, clever, it never becomes cheesy or stupid and it has a message in it too. This is one great thing about Ghibli movies that they usually always have a nice message to convey and even if you wish to ignore that message, they are still good films at heart. Characters will rarely be plain bad, like Dola who is actually a Pirate who is trying to steal Sheeta's crystal but ends up helping them. Even if this is first film under Ghibli banner, we can clearly see all the attributes which have become Ghibli trademark by now like traditional technique used for animations which makes them simple but elegant, their attention to the details, powerful storyline with a certain touch of fantasy, strong female protagonist and their emphasis on humanitarian values. Walt Disney known for his female heroines and hidden messages throughout his stories also had one more thing, something that Ghibli movies have distinctively as well - his heroines will never have everything laid out on platter, they will get in trouble and even though they will have someone to help them, they will usually find their way back home on their own re-establishing the faith on human ability to persevere and preserve the intrinsic benevolent nature. If at all I had a problem with it, it had nothing to do with movie but with DVD I watched on. First of all, it was dubbed version, I prefer Japanese audio with subtitles - I think it looks little pretentious in English and secondly, audio was lagging long enough to notice but short enough to be a complete turn-off.

I always say that a good animated movie is always a movie which can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of your age and Ghibli movies have time and again successfully passed that test, Laputa: Castle in the Sky(1986) is no exception. What makes it better is central characters of Pazu and Sheeta are innocent like the kids their age should be, but at the same time they have maturity and righteousness beyond their years which makes me want to go ahead and rank it as high as Grave of the Fireflies(1988) and Spirited Away(2001), two personal favorites. Go ahead and give it a try. You are almost guaranteed not to be disappointed.

Rating(out of 5):


  1. Laputa is definitely in my top three (with Spirited Away and Grave of the Fireflies, coincidentally) I love Pazu and Sheeta, they are such amazingly developed characters!

    1. They definitely are, one of the principal reasons why this film works and now that I know we share our top 3, I can watch Whisper of the Heart with little more conviction.


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