The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 121 – Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Laputa Castle in the Sky 1

Over the course of summer Film4 have been and are currently screening the films of Studio Ghibli, so it feels right to have look at some of their films that this column has yet to cover.

While Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38) is often seen unofficially as the first Ghibli film because it was so similar in style to the studio’s output, the first feature film to actually be released by Studio Ghibli proper was the 1986 fantasy film Castle in the Sky, released in the UK and Australia as Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It was directed by future Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki, and deals with themes common in his work, in particular the issue of pacifism. Also, this film has a rather surprising British influence, beyond the obvious one in the title concerning the floating island in Gulliver’s Travels.

The film begins with an orphan girl named Sheeta who is on board a gigantic airship which is attacked by pirates lead by the old woman pirate named Dola. While trying to escape by climbing outside, she slips and it seems she will fall to her death. However she is wearing a magic crystal necklace which slows her descent to a gentle floating. She falls into a small mining village where she is spotted by another orphan, a boy named Pazu. Pazu takes Sheeta into his home, where he talks about his late father who once photographed the legendary floating island of Laputa. Most people believed his father lied, but Pazu plans to fly to Laputa himself one day to prove his father right.

Soon however Sheeta is chased by Dola’s pirates again, and later by the army, both of whom want her crystal necklace. After just managing to escape down a mine thanks to the power of the crystal again, Sheeta and Pazu learn from an old man that the crystal comes from Laputa, as it is used to make the island float. Upon leaving the mine Sheeta reveals to Pazu that her real name is “Lusheeta Toel Ul Laputa”, and that she is the last living descendent of the native Laputans. However, soon after she reveals this the army arrive and capture them both. Muska, a villainous government agent, allows Pazu to go free when Sheeta agrees to work for him, ordering her to use her crystal to find Laputa, and to the possibility of operating an old robot from the floating island.

As a result, Pazu ends up having to work with Dola’s pirates in order to rescue Sheeta, while Sheeta discovers the power of the crystal by accident, unleashing the power the ancient robot in the process, which turns out to have destructive powers. Thus it is a race against time as Pazu attempts to free Sheeta and prevent Muska from gaining horrific military might, as everyone rushes to find Laputa itself.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky will be remembered as the true starting block for Studio Ghibli – their first feature film, the one that started the most famous anime studio of them all. However, there are other elements of interest. Miyazaki’s idea had been around for a long time. While some of the elements of the original idea formed this movie, others found their way into other anime such as Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (No. 112). You can spot little connections in the animation. For example, the role of Dola and her pirates in the film is much like that of Grandis and her henchmen in Nadia, in that they start off as baddies but then join the forces of good later on. Also, the pirates in the film briefly wear similar outfits to Grandis’s henchmen, of white suits and hats.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky also has some interesting British connections. Aside from the relationship between this film and Gulliver’s Travels, there was also a strange connection with British political events. In 1984, two years before the film was released, Miyazaki travelled to Wales, and witnessed first-hand the Miner’s Strike that was occurring at the time. He admired the strikers, and the houses in Pazu’s village are based on the appearance of houses that Miyazaki came across during his time in country. It is strange to think that Welsh miners were part of the inspiration for a Japanese animated film.

This however is probably not the strangest fact about the film. This accolade goes to a rather bizarre record. At a key moment in the film Sheeta and Pazu say the magical word “balse”, and it is now a tradition in Japan when the film is televised to tweet the word at the exact time it is uttered. As a result, at 11:21:50pm on 2nd August 2013, 143,199 Twitter users all tweeted the word “balse”, breaking the world record the number of tweets sent in a single second.

This is a film with Welsh roots, quirky online followings, and helped to establish the most famous anime studio of all. It is a film deserving of your time.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Canal. It is being televised in English on Film4 on Monday 24th August at 12.45.