I've always been wary of reviewing a Ghibli presentation - the fandom surrounding the studio is not only a Japanese phenomenon, but also one that's spread internationally. However, with Hayao Miyazaki's new film (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) having recently been released in Japan and set to hit Western shores sometime next year, it seems like now is the perfect time to take a retrospective look at the movies that have made him famous.
Hayao Miyazaki plays to his strengths in Laputa: his world-building skills are astonishing, submersing the viewer in a pseudo-Victorian landscape, complete with an active mining trade and a horde of classic vehicles. However, it becomes immediately apparent that this is actually taking place in an alternate timeline that Miyazaki has created, with huge zeppelins, complex flying machines and a whole host of mythical robots. This technique was later used for Steamboy, a movie set in Victorian England, but I feel that Miyazaki is more successful in using this particular setting because he doesn't fall into the trap of rewriting the histories of well-known contemporaries. While Steamboy's premise is relatively complex, Miyazaki approaches world-building from a simpler concept: what if Jonathon Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels, in which a flying island named Laputa is visited) wasn't a fictional writer but actually a researcher? The movie seems to be built on these hypothetical situations, with a number of the flying machines seemingly based on designs by Leonardo Da Vinci.
The story itself is also relatively simple compared to other Miyazaki presentations; the plot is a reworking of a "rat race" concept, where several characters are competing to get to the same place first, and this is also one of the few Ghibli features that uses a specific antagonist. These two traits have triggered criticism for the movie, but if we consider that children are the specified audience for this film, I think it's an understandable change of direction. The storyline is gripping and original enough to justify its two-hour screen-time and there are enough twists and changes of direction to keep even the most hyperactive child interested. Miyazaki has effectively created an "epic" in Laputa, while still focusing on the characters, a feat he doesn't quite recreate in his later Mononoke-hime.
There are very few movies from the mid-eighties that have dated as well as Laputa, largely due to Ghibli's unique style. The huge machines that hold such importance to the overall feature are intricately detailed and surprisingly realistic. What makes Laputa stand out in the Ghibli canon, however, is the impressive scene changes, where we move from a rural, mining scenery to a stunningly beautiful garden to a vast, ruined city made of stone. Each setting is perfect in its own right and I believe this is why the movie is successful as an epic - just as the storyline is constantly changing focus, so does the scenery. Only Ghibli could create such an interesting and realistic fantasy landscape. The robot design in particular was a favourite of mine.
Unfortunately, Laputa's soundtrack has met with controversy with fans over time, due to Disney's adamant stance on it. For the DVD release in 2003, they commissioned Joe Hisaishi (the original composer) to completely rewrite the soundtrack, which in my opinion, changed the emotional emphasis of several scenes. A number of changes included adding music where there had been silence before and erasing the presence of electronic music. I urge fans to seek out the original Japanese version of the soundtrack as the scenes where silence is more prevalent are very atmospheric. The electronic sections of the soundtrack are not particularly missed though, as they seem a little dated now, but again, I feel the absence takes the movie out of its historical context (a film made in the mid-eighties when Asia had a love affair with Electronica) and some of the songs featured in Laputa are among the most memorable and most serene that I have heard in anime, despite their dated edge.
Before I start this section, I must remind everyone that this is a film aimed primarily at children. As such, I've scored this section accordingly: these characters are perfect for children to enjoy. We have evil characters who are blatantly motivated by power and greed (none of this namby-pamby "I only did it to be loved" type of villain that seem to be rife in most films nowadays), we have good characters who you immediately care about and characters who start out as antagonists but slowly become allies. In a sense, this movie caters for every choice of character type. There's the dimwitted, hotheaded, greed-driven General: noble but naïve Pazu: innocent but brave Sheeta: scary and power-hungry Muska... Miyazaki successfully creates memorable characters to the point where a minor character like Old Man Pom, who has less than ten minutes screen time, can still stick in your mind after watching the two-hour movie. I also feel that the characterization of the robots, who never speak a word, is done spectacularly; Miyazaki pitches them the right side of sentimental while highlighting their devastating power.
I realize I'm probably going to receive a lot of grief for this score, but Laputa truly deserves it. It's a rollercoaster ride from start to finish, and no matter how many times I watch it, I always enjoy the twist of events. There are some scenes that really stand out visually, like the scene where they fly through the Dragon's Nest, or their first glimpses of Laputa on landing. Where this anime movie really shines though, is in creating an alternative fantasy world that is utterly believable and completely enthralling, and I feel that this is the attribute that has made Miyazaki so popular, both in Japan and internationally. He always instills an epic tradition in his features (as can be seen with the later, more ostentatious Mononoke-hime) and only its age has denied this great film a perfect score. Well worth its extended length and less of a slowburn movie than some of Miyazaki's other "greats".
I dont know about you, but this is my favorite movie! Its just amazing. I honestly dont have any words. This movie is life. You should watch it.
I feel like the studio and Director would be a give away that this would be good. I don’t know what to fully talk about as everything about this show is amazing from the story to the animation to the dub. Even the comedy doesn’t get in the way of the great story that lies within this show. Only one or two things bother me but they aren’t that big, like when Pazu jumps off his house and ends up breaking through bricks into his basement with no broken bones or nothing. Of course, these problems are minor and don’t happen all that much.
Miyazaki seems to always have a moral to his stories, this is no different. I think the moral is that any civilization can fall if they think they are to powerful. Laputa, a place that seemed like it was a perfect place had power, wealth, and even a sense of magic. They had something special but even they ended up falling. The story line is full of spoilers if I try to explain even more but there is a beautiful story that is as mysterious as it is sad and thoughtful.
The animation is so beautiful and stands up even to this day. All hand done with so much detail and the painting of the backgrounds… I could just go on. If you seen others by Miyazaki, you know his style and he never falters. This is one of those times where I just feel speechless to how wonderful his style of art is, the colors just pop even though at times they do end up taking very small short cuts. I also didn’t really notice any times where the characters would just stop moving for a very long time with only their mouths moving. He would have them moving even slightly and it would feel realistic. There are even small things like how a character would eat from the dainty way Sheeta eats to the mess that Dola’s sons make. One thing I did notice (And it’s a slight spoiler I guess) is that his characters sometimes look better with short hair then with long hair. Not telling you what that means but you will find out. The opening is much different then the actual show, feeling more like it was done in a rather old style, highly detailed, even more so then the animation and like they were from detailed renders.
The music is so beautiful, with amazing orchestral sounds that you could just fall asleep to. I love everything about Studio Ghibi’s work and the music is one of those that I wish I had all the soundtracks. They do not let much go past them that isn’t quality controlled. I could listen to it for days without it getting boring. The English dub is spot on, I’m extremely happy it didn’t turn into a flop like one of their first tries for English translation.
If you have not seen this yet, you have to see it soon. It’s a must watch.
This is Hayao Miyazaki’s second major movie after Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (he also did Castle of Cagliostro but that is just a Lupin the 3rd side story so I don’t count it as major). This time he went for something much lighter than a grim post-apocalyptic setting; it is a lot more conventional and easy-going so I hardly enjoyed it as much as Nausicaa.
The story is a rather standard children’s adventure with steampunk elements; two kids have this magic stone and they want to find a floating island before greedy men use it for evil reasons. The setting is close to the late 1800’s, when mankind had begun using flying machines and the need for a material that can allow floating was the most important thing. The heroine has a medallion that points to the relics of an ancient civilization, which had achieved that. It is hardly as complicating as Nausicaa, for an anti-war movie, nobody dies despite the constant destructions and explosions, and for a pro-ecology movie they hardly show the love towards nature. Not to mention the kiddie romance. It feels a lot like a stupid anime romcom, as the girl literally just drops into the boy’s life and he does all sorts of stupid things while trying to impress her… including trying to protect her. GAH! The ending is also quite rushed and weak in overall, as the main conflict was solved in a most simplistic and cop-out manner.
Skipping that, most of the duration of the film is one big chase, where things constantly demolish or blow up. It is quite spectacular and really close to the great choreographies Miyazaki worked with in Cagliostro or his even older minor contribution in Future Boy Conan. Miyazaki loves the feeling of flight, and thus there are numerous scenes of interesting looking flying machines. The feeling of exploration and wonder is all over the place; which is a big plus.
The problem is that, again, because of the light nature of the story the characters are also … light. The medallion is making them float every time they drop from a high place, which not only saves them numerous times but also gives them a huge advantage over their opponents. Felt very cheap, since they weren’t even actively aware of how to use it and it was simply working on its own.
The characters are very basic and despite filling their roles nicely they never manage to be anything more than archetypes. You already know the deal, the frail girl with the mystic power, the silly boy with the heart of gold, the serious scheming army men, the comical pirates, and so on. A funny thing about them is some of their names which had to be changed in many languages because they sounded like a bad word. It isn’t hard to imagine what “Sheeta” or “Laputa” means, right?
Despite the “by the book” screenplay, Laputa is still an above average film for its good production values and its constant action scenes. Nothing feels out of place or useless, and the cast is likable without excelling in anything in particular. A good time-spender but hardly leaves something to think about afterwards.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-made)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (well-made)
Animation 2/2 (good)
Visual Effects 2/2 (good)
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (good)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 3/3 (good)
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (good)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (too mach magical aid)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (some)
Catharsis 1/2 (some)
VALUE SECTION: 7/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high as it has a lot of action)
Memorability 2/4 (rather typical in overall)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
Art 1/1 (looks nice)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 1/3 (feels generic)
Characters 2/4 (they are ok but nothing special)
Recently I have really gotten into the works from Studio Ghibli, and Castle in the Sky was on my list so I decided to watch it.
The story is very interesting and intense. It keeps you on the edge of your seat with the action, but it is also endearing for the heartwarming scenes that it has. Throughout the film I felt very emotionally invested in the film. I cared about the characters and what happened to them, which is the mark of an excellent film. The story starts out with this boy named Pazo who catches a girl who floats out of the sky named Sheeta. The story follows these two as they go on an adventure to find the lost floating city of Laputa, and along the way they meet interesting characters, both friends and foes, and foes that become friends. There really isn't anything that I can complain about the story.
As expected with a Miyazaki film, the animation is top notch. Castle in the Sky is a well animated treasure of a film. The animation looks smooth and interesting, the Miyazaki style is still as heartwarming as ever, the environments that the characters lived in were both amazing, and quite realistic as well.
I loved the characters in this film a lot. The relationship that Pazo and Sheeta share is quite remarkable, and both of them are very interesting, and they made me quite emotionally invested in Castle in the Sky. Their struggles were my struggles, their triumphs were my triumphs. There is also an exceptional secondary cast in this film, from the villian Muska to the antihero Dola. This film has a great cast of characters and they are all quite fun to watch.
What more can I say about Miyazaki's work here. He did an excellent job like he always does, and if you haven't seen Castle in the Sky, then you need to watch it.