It's been a long time coming, but the West is finally waking up to just how good anime can be. This is due in no small part to the films of Studio Ghibli's directorial duo of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, many of which are seeing a first ever UK release courtesy of Optimum Asia. This time round though Optimum are re-releasing two already available Miyazaki films, two films which in my opinion are Miyazaki's best - Laputa, Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service.
Laputa, Castle in the Sky (called just Castle in the Sky on its previous release from Buena Vista) is a simple yet hugely enjoyable adventure film which remains Miyazaki's most accessible. The story begins in the mining village of Slaggs Ravine where twelve year old mine mechanic Pazu encounters a girl floating down slowly from the sky. The girl, named Sheeta, was saved by the power of a mysterious blue pendent she wears and it's this very power that both the army, led by the evil agent Muska, and the Dola Family sky pirates are seeking. The pendent is the key to finding the legendary flying island of Laputa, an island that holds unimaginable treasures and awesome technology, an island which Pazu's deceased father once photographed only to be denounced as a fraud. Pazu wants to find the island to prove his father was right, and together with Sheeta he also wants to prevent the megalomaniacal Muska from unlocking the ancient knowledge and formidable power hidden behind its overgrown ruins. But even with the support of the wily Ma Dola and her sons, can two children really stand a chance against the full force of the army?
I'll be honest, Laputa is my
favourite film, anime or otherwise. However, it is my favourite film for
No-one can do this kind of escapist fantasy like Miyazaki. It's the kind of adventure you always dreamed of having when you were young - discovering and exploring lost lands, outwitting adults and using mystical powers - and because of this wish-fulfilment you are behind Sheeta and Pazu every step of the way. Visually the film is stunning, with everything from the labyrinthine mine workings of Slaggs Ravine to the beautiful mossy ruins of Laputa itself brought to life through lush and detailed painted backgrounds. The scope and scale of the world Miyazaki has created is just breathtaking, why make a simple mine when you can fill a canyon with crumbling buildings
and chimneys hundreds of feet below a network of towering train tracks? The eye candy is backed up with a great rip-roaring adventure story and likeable characters, but what really tops everything off is the music.
Joe Hisaishi has done a lot of great music
for Studio Ghibli, but he has never topped this. From the majestic
sweeping strings of the opening sequence through to the haunting chorus at the
climax and the beautiful ending theme, the music is more than mere backing.
It actually enhances the film and is not overused, Hisaishi realises that
silence can be as powerful as sound and uses this to his advantage, making the
music even more powerful when it is used. The film itself balances action,
drama and innocent humour to great effect and the music reflects this, but the
film is not without its flaws.
These kinds of two-plucky-orphans-defeat-the-evil-adults-and-save-the-day type stories have been done so many times before (although rarely as well), and characters like the demure Sheeta, evil agent Muska and loveable pirate Ma Dola may as well have walked right out of the big book of stereotypes. There are also times when animated background elements stick out like a sore thumb against the stunning painted backdrops and this can detract from the spectacle on occasion. Then there's the subject of the English dub. Mostly it's superb, particularly Cloris Leachman as Ma Dola and Mark Hamill as Muska, but James Van Der Beek is badly miscast as the 12 year old Pazu. He is just too old to be convincing, and
annoyingly the amazing music has been re-recorded to cover up much of the silence that was used to such good effect originally. The new music is great (Joe Hisaishi rescored the film himself), but it was an unnecessary change and in some places detracts from the film's impact.
To be honest though these gripes are minor, and are probably only obvious to me as I've watched the film often enough to be able to sing the ending theme in Japanese. Laputa, Castle in the Sky is still one of the finest children's adventure films ever made, it appeals to both sexes and combines stunning visuals and music with a genuinely entertaining story. Simply put, Laputa is impossible to dislike, it has its own style and charm and is endlessly re-watchable. It packs in drama, comedy, action, adventure and emotional impact into a perfectly paced two hours, and despite its length it will keep you entertained from start to end. If you have kids they'll love it, if you haven't got kids then odds on you'll love it, if you haven't bought a Miyazaki film yet then this is the perfect place to start.
A lot of extras as has come to be expected from Optimum's Ghibli Collection. Japanese trailers, a Ghibli Collection trailer reel and full storyboards are included as usual, alongside clean opening and ending sequences which showcase Joe Hisaishi's stunning music and a storyboard to anime comparison.