Laputa: Castle In The Sky

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

****

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

You know that feeling when you can recognise a film's author within a few seconds? Hayao Miyazaki - Japan's cultural treasure and animated film-maker - is one such creator. Laputa: Castle In The Sky is a charming and effective adventure story which features many similar themes to his other films - an undercurrent of harmony with nature (Nausicca Of the Valley Of The Wind, Spirited Away), young children leading a revolution against all-powerful adults (Princess Mononoke). His animation studio, Ghibli, has a distinctive style of hand-drawn art (magnificently detailed worlds and backgrounds) and simple, refined character design - it gives their work a purity of expression that few have shared since the Golden Age of Disney.

Young engineer Pazu catches a glimpse of a girl, Sheeta, falling slowly and serenely from the sky; a strange and magical pendant apparently breaking her fall. He tends to her and they become friends immediately. She has a mysterious past, and not all of it makes sense straight away. Pazu is an orphan, with his head in the clouds, a large heart and who proves harder to kill than Indiana Jones. His entire house is dedicated to amateur aeronautics projects and the mythology of a long-gone civilisation based on the titular Laputa, the rarely-seen castle in the sky.

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It turns out Sheeta's on the run from air pirates, shady (and very well-informed) government officials and the foolish and bureaucratic army - and they all seek Sheeta and her magical artifact for their own ends.

The story is reasonably complex - being an action/adventure, a message movie, a comedy, a delightful fantasy - but told easily and simply. If it lacks the thematic richness of Ghibli's later work - like My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and the great Grave Of The Fireflies - it makes up for this with its breezy and fun execution.

The adventure is well-staged - a series of chases, adventures and thunderously inventive set- pieces (a Laputan robot awakening after decades of slumber is a particular standout), and often fearsome magic. Characterisation is borderline one-note throughout, with one exception - the pirate queen, Dola - a wizened matriarch, who dispenses equal amounts of wisdom and forceful candor. The film is a visual treat, boasting a well-realised steampunk aesthetic and inventive visual flourishes - the beautiful title sequence is set over a pencil-animated scroll detailing the world's quest to conquer the sky. Joe Hisaishi's music is sweeping, uplifting and evocative.

Laputa: Castle In The Sky is a well-made whimsical adventure and often beautiful film which will easily charm children and undergrown adults alike. Even when Miyazaki isn't on top form, he's a born entertainer.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2011
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A girl with a mysterious pendant and a young boy team up to unravel the secret of an castle in the sky.
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