Saturday, January 7, 2012

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

It had been a long while since the last time I saw Laputa, maybe six or seven years ago. It was probably around the time I wanted to see more Ghibli films after the encapsulation of Spirited Away. All I was able to find, though, were Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky at my local movie rental store. At that age I was able to enjoy Laputa with the mindset of a 14-year old. Now in 2012 I am 22 years old and I appreciate the film with so much more depth and meaning. I had forgotten the struggles of Pazu and Sheeta, and the mind-blowing quality of animation that is precedent in so many of the film’s scenes.

Castle in the Sky was released in 1986 and the film has aged well over time. The tale is a classic but I will recount it anyway. The mysterious Sheeta falls from the sky and is surrounded by a blue light, allowing her to float to the ground with a graceful essence. The power of her necklace protects her in times of need, but it’s also the main source of conflict throughout the film. Meanwhile, the energetic Pazu is there to catch her from the sky. He’s an orphan who prides himself on the fact that his father once saw the famed ancient city Laputa while flying in the sky.

There are two main organizations who are after Sheeta and her necklace. One of them is a crew of sky pirates led by the granny-like Captain Dola. The other is the military, headed by an investigator named Colonel Muska. Dola and Muska’s objectives differ significantly, or so it seems. Dola seems to want the necklace as it’s a valuable treasure to steal while Muska believes it will lead him to Laputa where he will gain access to great destructive power.

One great element that is featured in Laputa is its set up of characters and what Miyazaki does with them. He crafts them in such a way that you care for them and you want to support them in their struggles. The antagonists are molded into beings that we want to see defeated, and then Miyazaki has us question the morals of others. Captain Dola is an example of a woman who is revealed to be kind at heart even though she is first presented as a pure antagonist. Muska is pure evil and his facial expressions alone reveal his obsessions for power.

I have yet to see every Ghibli movie, but of the moderate selection I have seen there are not that many male protagonists. As Studio Ghibli’s first actual film, I wonder if they experienced difficulty with balancing between Pazu and Sheeta. Sheeta is a strong character but she relies on Pazu for portions of the film to help her get through situations. Pazu has his own flaws but comes through for Sheeta as he learns about himself and grows into a fine young man. Sometimes he is typical of a male antagonist, diving into the fray to save the princess. He is the determined hero who guides Sheeta to safety. But he’s also so young that he is learning that he himself may not be the bravest person, but that he can still make up for his faults. This is why he returns to Sheeta to be her knight in shining armor, except the armor is replaced with a miner’s clothing.

Another element that defines Laputa as a Ghibli film is the connection to nature and humankind. I’m not sure how well Disney’s dub tried to match the original Japanese language track, but clear references are made to respect the planet as it will protect you back. Miyazaki also shows a Laputa overrun with plant life as a result to some great calamity in the skies from years ago. This must mean that the flying islands of old warred with one another until Laputa was the only nation left standing. And the result? A once lively culture bereft of human beings where only defunct robots lie in a rusted sleep.

Our senses are teased with warm feelings as atmospheres of green habitat caress our eyes. But in a turn of grief the Laputa civilization is lost and Sheeta is alone in her lineage. So instead of just toying with our emotions, Miyazaki uses transitions in emotion to teach us valuable lessons in appreciating family and nature. And if you were to take a look at other Ghibli films you will see similar themes across the board.

More can be analyzed in Miyazaki’s Laputa, but it is these simple elements that come together to create a great film. The friendship that is formed between Sheeta and Pazu is unique in that they are both carefree (to certain extents) and that they have conveniently found one another at just the right time. Sheeta literally fell unconscious into Pazu’s arms for crying out loud! We can wrap Laputa’s themes and characters into a presentation of lessons and entertainment, but Ghibli never quite seems to just want to make a piece of throwaway fun. They want to walk with us as we grow, remaining a part of our lives throughout.

I believe this has happened with my experience with Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and I sincerely hope that you rewatch it every now and then to be reminded of a companion film in your life. It’s fun, entertaining, imaginary, and full of things to help you reflect on yourself. Ghibli may not be the only ones to do this, but they are certainly masters of it. So enjoy it while you can.

-Jared C.

No comments:

Post a Comment