Castle in the Sky – Another Studio Ghibli film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, this one is based on the idea of the lost civilization possessing extraordinary technology. In this case, the society is the flying island of Laputa, which gets its name from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. In the book, Laputa is an island that flies above the Earth by means of magnetic levitation, and the people were Swift’s parody of scientists and other academics who performed seemingly useless experiments. Among other things, they tried to extract sunlight from cucumbers, turn excrement back into food, and build houses from the top down. Still, they must have some practical knowledge if they’re able to make the island fly, and they’re a major power in the area due to their aerial bombardments of disobedient subjects. Miyazaki’s Laputa is more like an airborne Atlantis, lacking Swift’s satirical motif. The movie is called Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta, or Laputa: Island in the Sky in Japanese, but the name of the island was dropped from foreign releases because it can be taken to mean “the whore” in Spanish. Swift might well have been aware of this, but Miyazaki was not. From what I understand, the original Japanese version actually mentioned Swift’s book, but this was edited out of the American release for some reason.
As is typical for Miyazaki films, the protagonists are children, in this case a girl named Sheeta who is descended from the royal family of Laputa, and an orphan boy named Pazu who lives in a coal mining town and has been obsessed with the flying land since his late father cited it. The main villain, Muska, is voiced in the English dub by Mark Hamill, using a voice not unlike his Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. While Muska is purely nasty and power-hungry, there are some more ambiguous characters in the family of gluttonous sky pirates led by the pigtailed Dola, who are initially only out for money but later befriend Sheeta and Pazu.
The country in which the majority of the movie occurs is never identified, but the mining town is based on such places in Wales, and the dirigibles used by the military have a German feel to them. It presumably is a place in our world, as Muska mentions Laputa as the means by which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Interestingly, Swift placed the land that Laputa usually flies above just east of Japan.
There were some excellent visuals in this film, including not only the settings but such devices as the pirates’ winged flaptors and the odd Laputan robots.