When I was around nine years old, I saw a beautiful and imaginative foreign-looking film which went by the name of ‘Laputa: The Flying Island’ on terrestrial TV. Unaware of the fact that it was anime, the images of the flying machines, mountain villages and stunning scenery stayed in my memory ever since and for years I kept an eye out for it in the vague hope that it was available on video or DVD. Luckily, Buena Vista bought the rights and released it on DVD, along with other films from Studio Ghibli including Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Although the name had been changed, the first viewing of the DVD proved that I had found the film that had seemed so enchanting all those years ago.
The story centres on a young teenage girl named Sheeta, who is pursued by the government and a motley crew of sky pirates who want to discover the secrets of a mysterious heirloom: a magical levitation stone that she wears around her neck. The stone is believed to be the key to discovering the long-forgotten city of Laputa, a once-powerful floating city whose occupants had long since disappeared. After initially escaping her kidnappers, Sheeta meets a young boy named Pazu who joins her in the search for Laputa.
This film is a brilliant classic-style family adventure, and a perfect example of Miyazaki’s work. The power and scope of his imagination is staggering, and somehow brings out the childlike sense of wonder which so many of us lose over time. The animation is inevitably showing its age a little but still stands up well against other animated films of the same age. The simply-drawn character designs are nevertheless well-developed personality-wise and the storyline moves quickly enough to prevent boredom setting in during its unusually long 2 hour running time. The innocent love and friendship between the film’s young heroes is genuinely charming and in stark contrast to the sinister and unstoppable military led by the suitably evil villain, Muska. What is particularly evident is Miyazaki’s recurring love of designing weird and wonderful flying machines: the bizarre assortment of airships and planes allows for exciting chase sequences and spectacular aerial views of the Jules Verne-esque alternate world that he has created. The most impressive flying object of all, Jonathan Swift’s island of Laputa with its weird robots, lush gardens and stone towers is drawn with loving care and painstaking attention to detail. The Joe Hisaishi musical score is equally magical and sets the mood of each scene perfectly, whether it is serene, tense or awe-inspiring.
The only negative aspects to this release are the mildly disappointing amounts of DVD extras and the English language dub. In terms of bonus material there are only a couple of trailers and a short sequence of storyboards; that said, it is probably unlikely that interviews and other extras that date back to the film’s initial release have survived anyway. The new dub, which replaces the old Streamline Pictures version, has a lot of famous names but the end result is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Cloris Leachman and Mark Hamill are perfectly suited to the roles of Ma Dola and Muska, but James Van Der Beek’s VA skills are unsuited to a character of Pazu’s age and the more minor characters come across as a little too cartoonish in places. The original Japanese dialogue is available as an option on the DVD, but suffers from the subs taking the form of ‘dubtitles’, in which the subs on the screen are based on the dub rather than a more accurate and literal translation of the original language track.
A beautifully crafted adventure, with enough excitement, suspense and humour to keep all ages entertained. If Disney had equalled the quality and accuracy of the original English dub, this would be another 10.