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.
Not bad, story isnt the greatest, but still a Miyzaki.............................................................................................................................................................................................
Sheeta es una joven huérfana a quien su madre, antes de morir, dejó un colgante con una misteriosa piedra, que parece tener unos espectaculares poderes. Un día es secuestrada por unos agentes del gobierno al mando de un hombre llamado Muska. La fortaleza volante en la que se la llevan prisionera es más tarde atacada por una banda de piratas. Sheeta aprovecha la confusión para golpear a Muska con una botella y tratar de escapar, pero termina cayendo al vacío. Sorprendentemente, la piedra que lleva colgada del cuello emite en ese momento una especie de poderosa energía que frena su caída y la hace llegar al suelo sana y salva, con la suavidad de una pluma.
Pazu, un muchacho también huérfano que trabaja de ayudante en una mina, observa sorprendido cómo Sheeta desciende lentamente desde el cielo. La recoge al vuelo y la lleva a su casa. Al recobrar el conocimiento, Sheeta le cuenta su historia a Pazu, y entre ambos muy pronto surge una profunda amistad.
Pero la banda de Dora no tarda en descubrirles, y Pazu y Sheeta se ven obligados a emprender una huida desesperada. Poco después es el coronel Muska, en colaboración con el ejército, el que se une a la persecución. Aunque sus motivaciones son distintas (en el caso de Dora es la pura codicia; en el de Muska, un desmedido afán de poder a cualquier precio), todos ellos buscan lo mismo: conseguir como sea el colgante de Sheeta. Más aún cuando dicho colgante vuelve a entrar en acción, lo que da a Pazu la ocasión de comprobar por sí mismo su increíble poder.
A partir de aquí los dos jóvenes, perseguidos sin tregua por Muska (que no sólo busca el colgante, sino que también necesita a la propia Sheeta, ya que es la única que sabe cómo hacerlo funcionar) vivirán una serie de trepidantes aventuras que les llevarán hasta la majestuosa isla flotante de Laputa, el último vestigio de una antigua y poderosa civilización ya desaparecida.
So this is my first review on Anime Planet :) I would like to make it good :P
Story: The movie starts off with Sheeta kidnapped on an airship by the army. A bunch of pirates attack the ship and Sheeta falls. Pazu is at work in the mine when he sees her floating down from the sky and catches her. Seeing her crystal he believes that it gives her this power to float. She awakes in his house later and they realize they both want to find Laputa, the hidden island floating in the sky. Pirate people come to Pazus house causing them to run away. The townspeople confront the pirates and a fight ensues. Pazu and Sheeta then get on a train as both pirates and the army chase them. All they want is the crystal, but what could make it so important?
So as far as The Castle in the Sky goes, it was pretty alright. I loved the characters and storyline. Pazu and Sheeta were adorable and brave. I also came to like the pirates. The part where the guys are all helping Sheeta in the kitchen is pretty funny. But I had a few cons about this movie.
So here they are:
The entire movie I wanted to chuck some rocks at him. He is annoying and powerhungry!
Other than that it was a great movie, although not Studio Ghibli's best =/
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)