Reviewby Luke Carroll, Jul 12th 2011
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
The Search For The Legendary Floating Castle...
Pazu, an engineer's apprentice finds a young girl, Sheeta floating down from the sky wearing a glowing pendant. Together they discover both are searching for the legendary floating castle Laputa and vow to unravel the mystery of the luminous crystal around her neck. Their quest won't be easy however. There are air pirates, secret agents and astounding obstacles to keep them from the truth – and from each other.
1985 was a year of many culture events that would mark future childhoods. The star-studded "We are the World" single was released, Nintendo brought over the first NES consoles to western soil and the first Back to the Future film was screened, blowing viewers away and cementing itself as an icon in pop culture since. In Japan, it was the year a small animation company known as Studio Ghibli was formed and Laputa: Castle in the Sky was the first title they produced.
Released in 1986, you would be wondering if the quality of such a film would be anywhere near the standard you've come to expect of a Ghibli film - they've since released 16 films after all (15 of which are available in Australia, and 7 of them being directed by Hayao Miyazaki). Well I can gladly say that all the charm, warmth and all-round quality that Studio Ghibli is renown for has been there from the start. Fans would even argue that it was there even beforehand with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (produced a year prior to the studios founding). Like that secret sauce on your favourite burger, there is just something Ghibli films have that sets them apart from the rest.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky – or just Castle in the Sky in the US (Laputa is similar to an offensive Spanish word) – is a story of love, nature and power. Things are very vague at first, as a group of pirates led by Dola attack and raid an airship. It is here we learn they want Sheeta, or more specifically the crystal she's wearing. Whilst trying to avoid capture Sheeta falls off the ship into the sky below and to a presumed death. That is until her pendant lights up and begins floating her to the surface. It is here during her gradual decline to soil that we meet the Pazu, a mine worker with a desire to not only fly, but to fly to Laputa, a mythical fortress in the sky that his adventurous father had claimed to have discovered. And once the link between Sheeta and Laputa is eventually made, the two begin their hazardous quest against all odds – pirates and the army more specifically – to visit the floating castle in the sky and discover it's magical past.
Those with a keen eye will notice many common themes between this film and many of Ghibli's other titles. The beautiful backdrops that amazes in detail at times, the young cast that matures as the movie unfolds, and the world that blends both fantasy and realism into a ball of believable goodness. Oh how I could go on about the world Ghibli has created here, a realm where modernised tanks run on train tracks shared by aging steam trains, and flying machines propel themselves with wings in a bug like way. Like J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, the world Miyazaki has created is something to immersed in, and no doubt plays a part as why his and Ghibli's other films appeal to viewers of all ages.
So how does this Blu-Ray release look? Well to put it simply, wonderful. Lines are darker and sharper, colours are fuller, and the grainy aged look is all but unnoticeable. In fact, if it wasn't for the some of the character art and the explosion animation, you could almost be fooled for thinking this was made much more recently. Unfortunately it isn't all praises however. Comparing directly to the DVD release, there is a noticeable darker shade of contrast on the Blu-ray version (although personally it looks better now), and the remastering process appears to have cropped the sides of the film ever so slightly. These are all but little niggles though when the overall product looks this good. Even up-scaling the DVD release just doesn't match it enough - although it did honestly surprise me when I tried it. If there ever needs to be an example as to how high definition is giving old anime a new lease on life, Laputa would be it.
The sound has also received a boost thanks to the higher storage capacity of the Blu-ray format. Although the Japanese track has stayed the original 2.0 release (with a higher bitrate), the English dub has been remixed to finally give us the more common 5.1 release we are so use to (why this wasn't originally done for the DVD release I'll never know). Nevertheless, it all sounds just that bit crispier, and the volume levels for the English track have thankfully been given a slight boost to bring it closer to those of the Japanese track (a blessing if you like swapping audio), although it is still a tad quieter. None of this however impedes on the music, which just like the movie itself, is a piece of art. Right from the opening orchestral piece, every track is almost a journey within itself. The many re-workings of the opening theme music throughout the movie all seamlessly blend in and convey a different meaning every time, let alone the numerous mood changing shorts that dictate the tone wonderfully. If you have seen any Ghibli film before, you would have experienced the quality they put in the music department. There's a reason orchestras have played entire concerts using their tracks.
In the extras department, there is actually quite a difference between the original DVD release and this Blu-ray one. Gone is the 'History of the Castle in the Sky' extra (which in all honesty was nothing more than a few sketches tossed into the opening credit video), and in its place is a slew of new content including a promotional video, a 'Behind the Microphone' short about the dubbing cast and process, as well as 'The World of Laputa', a talk with Hayao Miyazaki that is split into four segments covering different topics. On top of this is the original dvd extras of the storyboard option (now plays in the bottom right corner of the movie instead of playing full screen), the textless opening and closing, and the original Japanese trailers. All shot/remastered to HD quality to boot.
I am not going to lie. This Blu-ray release made me feel completely under-whelmed with my original DVD release. I don't think I can look at in the same light again. As a movie, Laputa is a wonderful tale that features many of the traits Ghibli is renown for today. Although likely not their best, it will forever stand as one of their top titles, and one of much recognition. As a release though, this is hands down the most superior version yet in terms of visual quality. This remaster has given an aging title a new lease on life. If you ever get a chance to check it out, please do; and maybe you too will feel just as amazed as I was.
© 1986 Nibariki - G
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Blu-ray has given Laputa a new lease on life in terms of visuals, much better extras compared to the DVD release.
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