Castle in the Sky ★★★★★

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is Hayao Miyazaki’s second greatest achievement as a director and the first film to be released by Studio Ghibli. It is a culmination of everything he learned from Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa and merged into a rollicking adventure story full of wonderful characters and unforgettable set pieces.

Miyazaki has returned to familiar themes throughout his illustrious career - strong, independent female characters, environmental warnings, technology and orphaned children. All these elements are very much present in Castle in the Sky and forged from a number of the great director’s passions and recurring influences. From the obvious (Gulliver’s Travels and Miyazaki’s passion for air travel) to the more obscure (the design of the town was inspired by Miyazaki’s own visits to Welsh mining villages), it is a film rich in detail and personal influence.

The story revolves around a young girl (Sheeta) and her mysterious pendant that possesses unique powers. She is being pursued by both the army and pirates and is united with a young boy (Pazu) who works in a mining village. Together they begin the search for the floating island of Laputa and to discover the girl's true roots. It is a deceptively simple plot as the two children come of age in a dangerous world. Yet whilst it may lack the complexity of Miyazaki’s later epics its purity of story is very much welcome.

I firmly believe that Miyazaki and his talented team at Studio Ghibli are the greatest world builders in all of cinema. They are able to create vividly realised worlds that manage the rare feat of being both familiar and utterly unique. Every little detail adds to the experience as the audience is welcomed into a world of endless possibilities, impossible machinery and architecture and fantastical characters. So much of the studio’s enduring success is down to the meticulous and rigorous attention given to the world these characters inhabit.

Castle in the Sky is arguably one of the most enjoyable cinematic universes Miyazaki has ever created. It is a distorted interpretation of the industrial revolution featuring elaborate steam machinery, gravity-defying air crafts and robot guardians. It is a world of flying pirates and islands as if born from the imagination of a fanciful child. Yet for all the fantastical embellishments the universe is entirely consistent as if, far beyond the clouds, we really might be able to visit these strange and beautiful lands.

Like all the great adventure stories, Castle in the Sky, takes the audience on an impossible journey filled with danger and wonderment. Few films deliver the same level of excitement and awe as the two would-be heroes battle pirates and armies as they race to discover the mythical island of Laputa. Whether it is an exhilarating chase across a rickety railway bridge or the awe-inspiring sight of the floating land of Laputa emerging from a blanket of clouds, the film is bursting with indelible imagery.

Yet the characters are equally unforgettable too. Whilst Pazu and Sheeta fit the familiar orphaned archetype they are sympathetic and compelling leads, particularly Sheeta who demonstrates the same inner-strength that has come to characterise all of Miyazaki’s heroines. But it is in the colourful supporting cast that the film really soars. Muska is an antagonist with a strong motivation for his actions whilst Dola, the leader and mother to her gang of dimwitted pirates, is an absolute joy and manages to remain morally ambiguous.

As you’d expect the animation is flawless. Whilst the studio’s later epics may be more visually elaborate there is a purity and clarity here that makes the animation and art direction timeless. Compare Castle in the Sky with other animated films from the period and it hasn’t aged a day as it bristles with loving details and incidental touches that elevate Miyazaki’s work above any other animation director.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a film dear to my heart. It is a joyous adventure yarn that miraculously seems to improve with age and yet another classic from an irreplaceable filmmaker. Perfection.

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