The film opens with air pirates attacking a luxury airship liner to steal an amulet from a girl named Sheeta. Sheeta has previously been kidnapped by secret police and uses the confusion to try and escape, only to lose her grip and plummet from the sky.
Or does she? Cut to the credits with some fascinating imagery of a civilisation in the sky falling to earth in an unexplained disaster.
Sheeta’s amulet is of course the key plot device for Laputa, and the film resumes with the young lad Pazu seeing her floating down towards the mine he works at. He catches her, and from there the chase for both Sheeta and the mysterious floating city of Laputa is on for young and old.
With inspirations drawn from Gulliver’s Travels and modernism as seen by Jules Verne, Laputa is an engaging adventure story with well realised characters from start to finish.
The mining community is clearly inspired by, and shows a great deal of affection for, the coal miners of Wales. Miyazaki has visited Wales on many occasions, including in 1984 just after a major miners strike. The pirates are, whilst greedy, not all that bad and well within the realm of the heroic pirates so beloved of anime.
The soldiers and military police are generally clueless or being manipulated by the main villain, but even the General has some nuance. Yes, he’s presented as fat and arrogant but that said: he still leads from the front when they’re chasing Muska.
Muska himself is reasonably subtle as a villain, and drives the action forward well.
Finally Pazu and Sheeta are an adorable pair of leads who just never give up, and it’s always nice to see that Sheeta is never turned into a distressed damsel.
The understated soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi fits the film well, and I have to say that seeing the early trumpet scene gave me chills as I remembered the concert I went to earlier this year.
Whilst I wouldn’t describe Laputa as the best of the Studio Ghibli catalogue, it was certainly a strong start for the studio that laid the foundation for the greatness to come. And Laputa is still a fun film in its own right, and one that I’ll happily watch on many occasions.
Here’s Madman’s trailer for Laputa and, yes, if it screens again on the big screen in Canberra I’ll happily go see it:
 Despite being often mistaken for such Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) predates the founding of the studio.
 Just. Pazu has strong shoulders apparently.
 As stated by Miyazaki in one of the extras on the Blu-Ray disc.