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May 2011

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

voice cast: Keiko Yozawa, Anna Paquin, Mayumi Tanaka, James van der Beek, and Mark Hamill

director: Hayao Miyazaki

124 minutes (PG) 1986
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Optimum blu-ray region B
[released 9 May]

RATING: 8/10
review by Sarah Ash

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

Orphaned Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka/ James Van Der Beek) works in a mining community, but dreams of finding the fabled flying castle of Laputa, like his father before him. When a girl comes floating down out of the sky, gently wafted by the power of her crystal pendant, his mundane life changes dramatically. Sheeta (Keiko Yozawa/ Anna Paquin) is being pursued by the sinister Musca (Nou Terada/ Mark Hamill) of the secret police, who wants the strange blue crystal strung around her neck. Also in hot pursuit is Ma Dola (Kotoe Hatsui/ Cloris Leachman) the eccentric matriarch of the Dola pirates - and the two young people are soon fleeing for their lives.

Hair-raising escapes and adventures lead them to discover that the legendary Laputa is not a myth - but with Musca and the military on their trail, Sheeta learns that she is one of the last surviving descendants of the lost race of Laputans. Why is Musca so fanatically obsessed with Sheeta and her crystal? Will the crystal and the secret spells that she learned from her grandmother show them the way to the flying castle and unlock its hidden wonders? Or are there terrible destructive powers concealed within Laputa's walls that could - in the wrong hands - bring about the end of the world?

Laputa (aka: Tenk´┐Ż no shiro Rapyuta) wears its 25 years extremely well. As an adventure film it still has much to appeal to viewers of all ages and it has an appealing freshness of vision and vitality that is hard to find in many of today's films aimed at the younger viewing market. Pazu and Sheeta make sympathetic leads and even though their character design still owes a little to the distant influence of Disney, Miyazaki's drawing style is recognisably his own. Fast-paced and exciting, packed with vertiginous chases and sudden plot reversals, the pace never flags.

I wasn't aware when I first saw the film that Miyazaki had visited rural Wales before he started work and been inspired by the coal-mining villages and landscapes when creating Pazu's community. As with all the Studio Ghibli films, the background artwork is detailed and striking, whether depicting the gritty world of the mining village, dazzling aerial battles high in the skies, or revealing the idyllic Eden-like gardens of the lost city of Laputa. The transition to blu-ray is a triumph, lending clarity to the colours and enhancing the details of the hand-drawn animation.

Revisiting Laputa: Castle In the Sky in the Buena Vista DVD 2003 version, I was instantly struck by the fact that Miyazaki was doing steampunk long before Last Exile or Steamboy (to name but a couple of the steady stream that have followed in anime): floating cities/ castles, dirigibles, goggles, airships big and small. Laputa (re-titled Castle In The Sky for its US release so as not to offend Spanish speakers for whom the Swiftian title has other less salubrious connotations) weaves many of Miyazaki's favourite and recurrent themes, here fresh and newly-minted. So here we have (in 1986) the ingenious boy who cherishes dreams of flying; fantastical flying machines; a 'natural' environment (or in this case, one that has reverted to nature) threatened by human greed, a gutsy and grotesque old woman... and a fanatically obsessed villain prepared to stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

Laputa has the advantage of an atmospheric, tuneful orchestral score by Joe Hisaishi which has also stood the test of time well. In fact, there's much more to applaud here musically than in the more recent Ponyo. The US dub works well on the whole, with Mark Hamill and Cloris Leachman performing convincingly as Musca and Dola respectively, although purists will favour the original Japanese with subtitles.

Special features include: storyboards, a promotional video, and featurettes - Behind The Microphone, Behind The Studio: The World Of Laputa, Creating Castle In The Sky. Plus character sketches, a producer's perspective, meeting Miyazaki, text-less opening and ending credits, TV spots, the original Japanese theatrical trailers, and trailers for the Studio Ghibli collection.



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