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Tenkū no shiro Laputa

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (1986; vt Laputa: Castle in the Sky; Castle in the Sky; Laputa: The Flying Island). Studio Ghibli. Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. Voice cast includes Kotoe Hatsui, Mayumi Tanaka, Minori Terada and Keiko Yokozawa. 126 minutes. Colour.

This film is inspired by the flying Island of Laputa in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735). In some countries "Laputa" is absent from the film's title, due to its Spanish meaning (of which Swift was well aware); curiously, references to Gulliver and his travels were also removed in the English dub. It is the third film by Hayao Miyazaki and the first official film from Studio Ghibli; it has stronger sf elements than most of the studio's subsequent (invariably excellent) releases, which tend towards outright Fantasy or mainstream.

A young girl, Sheeta (Yokozawa), has the misfortune to be sought not only by the Government and the Army, but also sky pirates – the latter a family operation led by Captain Dola (Hatsui), a formidable old matriarch. It is not Sheeta herself that earns this attention but rather her necklace, which is a means to find the flying island Laputa, home of an empire that once ruled the world. The necklace, an heirloom, is made of volucite ("aetherium" in the English dub), an Element that renders matter weightless (see Antigravity; Imaginary Science). Affected objects include Laputa itself and, fortunately, Sheeta after she falls from an army Airship during a pirate attack.

Sheeta's slow descent from the sky is witnessed by young miner Pazu (Tanaka), who takes her in: but later they must flee when her pursuers arrive. Following a stint with the pirates and Sheeta's recapture by the army (to be rescued by a giant, maimed Robot), the pair eventually reach Laputa. It comprises an immense tree, with medieval castle surrounds and a hemispherical structure below that houses treasure and advanced Technology; but it is deserted, save for one active robot that cares for the fauna and flora. The army and Government agents now show up, with the captured pirates.

We learn that Sheeta is a descendant of the Laputan royal family; as is the chief Government agent, Muska (Terada), who wishes to restore Laputa's glory. Using Laputa's resources Muska wipes out the troops, but Sheeta and Pazu manage to defeat him and destroy the technology core, leaving only the tree and upper castle, which ascend. As the pair depart with the freed pirates, there is a poignant moment when they glimpse the robot continuing with its stewardship.

The setting is an Alternate History version of the late nineteenth century, where great airships and battleships wander the sky, providing a Steampunk backdrop; there are other advanced technologies, from wireless to the pirates' dragonfly-winged flying skiffs (the latter probably Laputan relics). Masuka credits Laputan technology with producing the heavenly fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (they also used Magic).

The robot design is one of this film's iconic images, conveying a Sense of Wonder and – when not controlled by Muska – of sympathy. Both a successful and influential film, Tenkū no shiro Laputa is an exciting adventure tale with imaginative, alluring animation, deserving of its high acclaim. [SP]


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