Monday, 20 January 2014

Laputa: the Castle in the Sky (1986)

These days Studio Ghibli is one of the best known names in animation, but in 1986 they were just releasing their first feature: Laputa: the Castle in the Sky. I'll get the basics out of the way first: if you enjoyed any of the other Ghibli films, you'll like this one too. It's got the same heart and feel as their later works, even if the animation is a lot less sumptuous (it's still technically sound and well designed; just not as lush as the more recent stuff).

This film also features a lot of the motifs that will commonly appear in films directed by Hayao Miyazaki; themes of flight and flying machines, reverence for nature (and villains who do not value it), an elderly female antagonist who proves more sympathetic than she first appeared, and a young female protagonist. However, although Miyazaki repeats themes, he's generally good about making each film have its own identity, and Laputa doesn't feel like a retread of his other works (nor a mold from which they are cast), despite the elements they share.

Originally conceived in Gulliver's Travels, the island of Laputa floats above the surface of the world, all but inaccessible. The film tracks a young woman, who unknowingly possesses the key to uncovering the flying realm. Various forces want her, and her key, for varying reasons. With the help of a young man she meets, she has to try and prevent Laputa's secrets from falling into the wrong hands. It's a fairly straight-forward family adventure concept, but it's the execution that elevates the film. This is a solid idea, expertly developed and delivered, and - despite being fully two hours long - never dragged or felt tedious to watch.

Glad I finally got around to seeing it!

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