When I grow up I want to be a pirate airship captain. On this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s Studio Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: 1986
Version Watched: English Dubbed
Pazu is not having a good day. Always the good guy, he rescues a girl falling from the sky.
Unfortunately, the girl is being chased by the military, and a group of sky pirates. First, Pazu and his new friend are imprisoned by military forces, and after Pazu is let go, he is captured by sky pirates. Undeterred, Pazu joins the pirates in order to save Sheeta, who possess a powerful crystal that can find the lost, floating, island of Laputa.
Once Laputa is found, it is discovered to be a place of great beauty. It also harbors powerful technology that can destroy the earth. Sheeta learns that in order to save her current world, she must destroy the world of her past.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky was Steampunk before Steampunk was a popular thing. As a Steampunk fan, the opening credits, showcasing steam-driven machinery and airships, might be my favorite opening of all of the Studio Ghibli films.
It is no secret that director Hayao Miyazaki has an obsession with flight. Vehicles of flight are featured in many Studio Ghibli fims, but the vehicles in Laputa: Castle in the Sky are perhaps the most impressive. From the military’s massive, unfeeling warship, Goliath, to the pirate airship, with its pieced together, home-like feel, I wanted to ride every form of conveyance in the film.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky ignited my fantasy of being an airship pirate. There may even be some cosplay photos of me as an airship pirate out in the universe. I think Dola, the airship pirate captain in Laputa: Castle in the Sky, is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli female characters. First of course, she is a lady pirate captain.
She keeps all of her crew, which includes her husband and sons, in line. Though at first she seems nefarious, Dola ends up showing that she is heroic, wise, and brave; she is also a darn good flyer, and doesn’t think that age means that one has to give up their favorite hairstyle.
Themes Lost and Found
I recently read the book, The Lost City of Z. The book is mostly a biography of British explorer Percy Fawcett. Percy was bitten by the explorer bug and spent most of his life traveling through, and exploring less discovered parts of the Amazon. His intense need to experience the unknown ultimately led to his untimely death.
In this modern time there are not many unexplored places on earth, hence the move to explore space. In Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Hayao Miyazaki meets the thrill of the unknown halfway. Instead of a fully discovered earth and a move to explore space, the place yet to be explored is a lost, floating, island in the sky. The concept is quite creative. Like the Lost City of Z, Laputa, the floating island, is rumored to be filled with treasure, making the discovery all the more appealing.
Each character has their own motivation for wanting to find Laputa. Pazu thirsts for the adventure of the new and unknown. The pirates, being pirates of course, want the treasure, while Muska, and the military, seek power. Sheeta just wants to connect to her past.
Once they set foot on the island, the characters find what they are looking for, but in the end, their satisfaction is lacking. It is the human connections that some of the characters make, that end up being their ultimate fulfillment. This idea that our ability to love and connect with others is a great treasure, is a recurring theme in Studio Ghibli films.
The other recurring theme is the folly of technology. We’ve seen it in Princess Mononoke, in Nausicaa of the Vally of the Wind, and in The Wind Rises. Hayao Miyazaki has very strong feelings about progress and technology. His belief is that no matter how good the initial intentions are, and how helpful a piece of technology shows itself to be, human nature will eventually find a way to use that technology for destructive purposes. This belief is displayed perhaps the strongest in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Like many of the other Studio Ghibli films, once the technology is destroyed, nature is able to prevail, and peace can be restored.
The Story You Tell Yourself
As a storyteller myself, I found Laputa: Castle in the Sky to be one of the most creatively inspiring films of Studio Ghibli. There is no opening montage or fancy origin story for Sheeta. You are dropped right into the action. Even when the island is found, unanswered questions remain. Why did an island feel the need to develop such powerful weapons? Was there a threat? Did everyone agree to abandon the island? Why didn’t they destroy the weapon of mass destruction before they abandoned the island? Why did they leave it up to a future generation to make that decision? My logical brain frantically scrolled through questions as I was watching the film, while my creative brain was doing its best to create a narrative to explain it all. In some ways I’d love to see a prequel to the film that shows how it all went down, but on the other hand, I like the idea of creating my own unique prequel tale.
I definitely enjoy Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It is filled with so many things that I love like Steampunk, pirates, and travel exploration. It also does an excellent job of balancing the fun of all of those things, with the heaviness of the themes. It never gets overly heavy-handed, nor is it fluffy. It’s a Studio Ghibli and animated film that is just right.