One of the highlights of growing up was the vast range of animated films and programmes at my disposal. Disney were the biggest name in my youth but things are very different today with animation taking a new turn with computer generated features bringing us the likes of Toy Story and Shrek. I still love animation and having dug deep into my memory I have found my ten personal favourites. Those that read my blog regularly will know I enjoy features by Studio Ghibli and although they inevitably appear more than once here, I can assure you this list has much variety. As always it would be wonderful to hear your top ten favourites as well.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
It was inevitable that Studio Ghibli would find their way into this list and this is the first of three visits the Japanese maestros make. I apologise but I just love their work so much I had to include three films in this list of the golden ten. In the early years of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki released Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) which laid the foundations for his later hits which, along with Isao Takahata’s work, made Studio Ghibli one of the most successful animation companies in history. I first encountered Laputa on British TV when my late grandmother recorded it for me and my brother. That tape lasted us for years and contained the original English dub I so adored, much better than the American dub that now graces the DVD of Laputa, though Mark Hamill’s contribution is undeniably good.
The film begins dramatically on an airship where a young girl, Sheeta, is in the custody of some agents led by Colonel Muska. The arrival of pirates, on small aircraft that have wings like insects, led by Dola, sees a tug of war for Sheeta which results in her falling from the airship, seemingly to her death. During the descent an unconscious Sheeta is saved by a mysterious blue necklace she carries which suddenly glows and slows her fall through the skies. She lands in the arms of a young miner, Patsu, who lives alone following the early death of his father. Patsu’s father is one of the few men to have seen Laputa, a floating island spoken of in myths, and Patsu is determined to fly there himself and surpass his father’s achievements. Meeting Sheeta is the key Patsu needs to get to Laputa for Dola’s pirates and Muska’s agents and the army all desire Sheeta’s necklace which has the power to point the user towards the flying island.
Inspired by a trip Miyazaki made to the mining towns in Wales in the early eighties, Laputa is set in an age where coal mining is a major industry but the miners are struggling to yield profitable produce. In the skies airships are all the rage, a testament of Miyazki’s fascination from a young age with aviation. Many parts of Laputa take place in the skies and it makes for an absorbing experience especially when Patsu and Sheeta, having allied with the pirates, are separated from them while manning a kite. The two children fly through a vicious storm and eventually come to rest on Laputa. The music in this moment is simply breathtaking as the dense clouds subside and reveal the thick trees and archaic architecture of Laputa. This film is at its best when we get to see the flying island and what’s there is even more spectacular than the many wonderful moments that have come before.
There’s far too much that happens in Laputa to describe here, whether it’s Patsu and Sheeta’s flight from the pirates and army along a railway trestle, Patsu’s last gasp rescue of Sheeta from the army headquarters or the children’s encounter on Laputa with the only surviving peaceful robot that tends the gardens and watches over the animals and birds with a display of tenderness that seems unbecoming of his giant stature, while his broken down friends lay strewn throughout the gardens, covered in moss and roots. There are many laughs here but some sad moments as well, not least the remains of a robot held at the army base that is revived and takes on the entire army, protecting Sheeta and ensuring her escape with Patsu and the pirates before being brutally killed. The climax to the film is one of the best you’ll see as Patsu and Sheeta have to make a huge sacrifice in order to defeat the evil Muska, one of Miyazaki’s finest villains that contributes greatly to this brilliant film and has a staggering revelation waiting for the audience.
I grew up watching Laputa and though my viewing of it today on DVD is diminished through having to listen to the American dub, the film remains untainted despite being twenty-five years old. There are two other films by the great Hayao Miyazaki that I would just recommend above this one but if you have a taste for the work of the Japanese genius then make sure you do not miss this classic film.
Top Ten so far
5) Laputa: Castle in the Sky