So I’m back to deliver to you guys my promised review of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. As I wrote before in my preview, this film is by Hayao Miyazaki and its soundtrack – I’ll say it again – by the genius Joe Hisaishi.
Although I’ve already said most of my opinion about the show in my preview, I’m going to write a fuller review of the film for more depth and analysis about the show.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky was released in 1986 and its a pretty long show, exceeding 2 hours. The animation is beautiful too, which is an amazing feat, considering that this was done in the 1980s. I don’t know what made me want to watch this old film because I’d actually been putting it off for so long. Originally, I had my doubts about watching such a show even though its a Miyazaki work because I was worried that the animation wouldn’t be that good. Turns out that the animation didn’t differ very much from that of My Neighbour Totoro, which was released in 1988. On top of that, I’d read many comments from people online praising Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa before. Hmm should I watch Nausicaa too?
So anyway, on Thursday I decided that I’d watch a Miyazaki film and I had two on the top of my list: Laputa and Ponyo. I chose the former and watched it on my family’s desktop. My mother came to join me a while afterwards; she loves Miyazaki’s works too.
The story had a relatively simple story line. It was mainly about the quest to find the mysterious floating castle called Laputa. It was considered a legend because no one had been able to find it and it was rumoured to contain many treasures. Those two added up together made the flying castle mysterious and desirable. And we all know how people love to pursue mysteries thanks to curiosity and intrigue.
The story starts off with a gang of pirates attacking an airship. A young girl sees them coming and escapes out of her room, taking a crystal on a necklace with her from her captor. As she’s discovered, she tries to avoid her pursuers but she loses her grip on the airship and falls through the sky. A young boy called Pazu, who works with miners on the ground spots a figure falling from the sky and runs towards it. He discovers that it is a human girl and that she is in fact, floating down towards the ground instead of actually falling. He takes her to his home and befriends her.
The girl tells Pazu that her name is Sheeta and both of them reveal to each other that they are both orphans. Sheeta later realises that her pursuers are still after her and the two flee into the town. They are both later pursued by two different parties: the gang of pirates and the army who follow the orders of her former captor, Colonel Muska.
Their goal is to obtain the crystal around Sheeta’s neck (and Sheeta herself in Muska’s case) as they claim that the crystal is the key to lead them to Laputa. Sheeta reveals to Pazu her real name, feeling guilty that she got him messed up in all this – Lucita Toel Ul Laputa – revealing that she is a princess of the legendary Laputa. Pazu and Sheeta eventually get caught by Muska and are thrown into a fortress prison of some sort into separate rooms. Pazu is released in an effort to protect him by Sheeta as she tells him to forget all about Laputa and to leave. He runs back home, upset and confused but then discovers the gang of pirates hiding out in his home. The leader of the pirates, Dola has him tied up and questioned and after that, prepares to leave to follow Muska’s airship. Pazu pleads with her to take him along so he can save Sheeta whom he realises did what she did to protect him. He tells Dola that he doesn’t want the treasure of Laputa and that all he wants is to save Sheeta – that gets Dola thinking and she cuts him free, taking him along with her.
Pazu, Dola and her gang of pirates successfully rescue Sheeta from a Laputan robot that was kept in the fortress’ dungeon and Muska’s army after much difficulty and the two kids are taken in by the pirates aboard their airship in exchange for their work. Pazu is sent to work with the engineer while Sheeta is sent to work in the kitchen. I have to say, the scene whereby all of Dola’s pirate boys enter the kitchen offering their help to Sheeta is just plain hilarious. Sheeta also points out to Dola the direction of Laputa, as shown by her crystal earlier on when she unknowingly activated it with a spell.
At the same time, Muska and his army are on their way to find Laputa, guided by the crystal that Sheeta had dropped earlier on. The two parties are on a race to find the legendary flying castle and they encounter each other at night, Muska’s troupe trying to take out Dola’s with artillery.
The two parties eventually run into a thunderstorm and are about to turn back when Pazu realises that this thunderstorm, together with the huge cloud in front of them could possibly be Laputa itself. Pazu and Sheeta, in the glider brave the thunderstorm in the cloud and end up on the flying castle’s grounds. Laputa is a beautiful island, full of greenery and ancient architecture. The two discover a garden with many robots similar to the one they had encountered on the ground and decide to leave the garden undisturbed.
However, they are not alone; Dola’s gang as well as Muska’s troupe had also made it into Laputa, Muska capturing the pirates almost immediately and holding them captive while his men raid Laputa’s grounds for treasure. Seeing the pirates captured, Pazu and Sheeta set out to free them but they are quickly discovered, Muska capturing Sheeta and taking her away into a futuristic part of the castle, using her crystal to manipulate the walls of the castle underground.
Pazu manages to sneak up to Dola through the underground and slips her a knife to cut her loose. But before that, one of the soldiers throw a grenade into the entrance that Pazu entered. The explosion causes the spot where Dola was sitting to jump with smoke even spewing out from the brick underneath her. Her pirates hilariously give her knowing looks and she glares back at them saying that it wasn’t her XD In return, Dola passes him a huge shotgun (canon?) plus a few bullets to carry on with his rescue. In a moment of hilarity, Dola remarks that the kid had grown into a man.
Pazu goes to find Sheeta by squeezing his way through holes and blasting walls with his new shotgun/canon while Muska, who’d revealed himself to be a Laputan too, eliminates his army by dumping them out, making them fall through the sky to their deaths. Calling himself the new ruler of Laputa, Muska turns his back on his army and terrorises them. Seeing Muska terrorising everyone around him, Sheeta makes a grab for the crystal and runs. She manages to pass it to Pazu through a narrow hole in a wall before she gets captured by Muska yet again. Pazu blasts the wall with his weapon and requests to the villain that he be allowed to talk to Sheeta.
Upon reaching her, he tells her to tell him the destruction spell, the one that would destroy everything. She does and together, they recite the spell, destroying most of Laputa’s futuristic underground. The two are saved by Laputa’s tree roots and manage to find the glider they used before to leave the castle. They meet Dola and her pirates, who had managed to escape too and share a brief reunion.
The movie ends off with Pazu and Sheeta parting ways with Dola and her pirates, flying off on the glider to Gondoa, a place where Pazu had promised to take Sheeta to previously and the castle Laputa still flying with the robots tending to its garden.
I found the idea of Laputa intriguing – a flying castle rumoured to have tons of treasures and some kind of ancient magic in its underground. The idea of being in such a place would be wonderful as such a place is so mysterious. However as we and the characters quickly find out, we realise that the power and potential of Laputa was too great for man to handle. With all its riches, treasures and power that it had, Laputa planted greed in people who selfishly wanted all these for themselves. It’s no wonder that Laputa ended up abandoned by its own inhabitants, who probably felt that its rulers could never possibly be good with such power in his/her hands as greed would overwhelm them.
This point of greed in the story was consistently brought up in the whole show from the beginning till the end: everyone basically went after Sheeta and her crystal for majority of the show because of the power the crystal had within it. It was the greed and desire for power that pushed most of the characters and got the story going and I like that this was a consistent theme throughout the story, in a way somewhat emphasising how greed can make people look so ugly. On the other hand, Pazu was the opposite of all these greedy people – when he told Dola that he didn’t want any of Laputa’s treasures but only Sheeta’s safety, Dola was taken aback and that got her to reconsider bringing him along. She’d probably never seen such a pure-hearted, sincere person like him before who didn’t want anything for himself, but instead for someone else (in this case, Sheeta’s safety). A brilliant theme portrayed in the story.
I also liked the development of Pazu in the story. When we first see this kid, he’s just a kid who helped out in the mines but once he met Sheeta and decided that he’d protect her, he did everything he could to do so. He never once hesitated when it came to saving his princess and I like that about him – his determination and dedication when it comes to protecting the one person important to him because he has no one else close to him (remember that he’s an orphan?). I felt that truly, like what Dola has remarked, by the end of the show that he had grown into a man.
Lastly, I liked how Dola and her pirates surprisingly ended up revealing their good sides. Although still driven by greed for Laputa’s treasure, Dola and her gang visibly softened up with the presence of Pazu and Sheeta. Seeing the two brave and sincere with their words and actions, Dola and her gang developed affections for the two, bringing out a more humane side to them as compared to when we first saw them in their first appearance in the show.
This story even shows Laputa flying off at the end credits with just the main castle and the tree at its core supporting it, well, together with the huge volucite crystal. I think it’s a subtle hint to us that the tree is the one with life, making Laputa magical and sustainable by itself even without its inhabitants.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky was immensely enjoyable to watch and nerve-wracking at some points. I can now see why everyone who watched it liked it so much and praised it so highly. As I mentioned in my preview too, this is definitely one of the funnier Miyazaki works as compared to others which are more serious. Many thanks to the wonderful Hayao Miyazaki who could think up of such an amazing story with amazing themes portrayed and Joe Hisaishi who made the music suit the story so fittingly well. A standing ovation to you two brilliant geniuses who will never be forgotten in history.
Overall rating: 9/10