Tuesday, 29 July 2014



31. LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)


Earlier this year, Hayao Miyazaki released what he is saying is his final film, "The Wind Rises," so I have the opportunity to talk about his, and Studio Ghibli's, first feature film, and how I came across it.

Every family had VHS cassettes that were watched to death. We had many, including one that became lost, replaced only when the film was finally released on DVD in 2006, seventeen years after the film was recorded from a morning broadcast on TVS on New Year's Day 1989.

TVS was, from 1982 to 1992, the broadcaster for ITV for the south and south-east of England, when ITV was a federation of local channels that had more opportunities to show what they wanted. TVS wasn't one of the big companies that routinely networked their shows, but they succeeded with game shows like "Catchphrase," and other drama and comedy shows, while also co-producing "Fraggle Rock" and "The Storyteller" with The Jim Henson Company. They made such a success of their business that they wound up buying, in 1988, MTM Enterprises, a big producer of US shows like "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," and "Newhart" - and this was after making a failed bid to buy TF1, the main French national TV channel, the year before. Yes, this was when television could still print money. 

However, overreaching themselves in a poor financial climate, they lost their ITV licence due to bidding more money than they could feasibly pay, winding up being sold to the fundamentalist Christian preacher Pat Robertson's TV company after going off air. Disney, more of which later, now own TVS's programme library, although a rumour persists that the paperwork has been lost, but there once was a time when we, as a family, could drive past their headquarters in Southampton, and be amazed that we had a TV studio so close to us.

Anyway, why have I mentioned TVS here? As I read more than fifteen years later, that taped New Year's showing of "Laputa the Flying Island," as the cards in and out of the adverts called it, was the first ever showing of a Japanese animated feature film on British television, and it was on TVS only - that was foresight on part, and sheer geographical luckiness on my part.

Another reason to be lucky was the original English dub, the same dub that was previously shown in American art house cinemas, and ultimately originated as a dub specifically to show on Japan Airways trans-Pacific flights - it was as "vanilla" as you could get, with the dialogue translated straight from the original Japanese, and with the original music and sound effects intact. If you buy the DVD, as prepared by Disney, you get the star of "Dawson's Creek," Luke Skywalker and Andy Dick, whoever that is, speaking embellished and extended English dialogue, along with an admittedly-good orchestral version of the score by Joe Hishashi, reworking his original synthesised score, but adding more music where there was none, to fit the expectations of more music. If you wish to get a better experience, buy the blu-ray release, as I am likely now to do, which uses the original score while paring the dialogue back closer to the original...  

Or, you could watch with the original Japanese soundtrack, as when "Laputa" was shown at a charity screening in Aberwystwyth, Wales, in 2011. Hayao Miyazaki apparently visited Wales in 1984, and his witnessing of the Miner's Strike influences the characters and architecture in much of the film, not unlike how Katushiro Otomo's eventual followup to "Akira," "Steamboy" (2004), is explicitly set in Victorian industrial Manchester - perhaps, it is not all that surprising that TVS would show it in Britain.

The flying island itself is lifted in name and concept from Jonathan Swift's novel "Gulliver's Travels," while also influencing the plot of wanting to harness the castle for political, nefarious ends, before ultimately crashing to the ground. Unlike Swift's satire, Miyazaki's Laputa was old technology and reason, overgrown and reclaimed by nature, to be left alone - it is allowed to escape at the end, but irreversibly marked by human hands.

I tried to make the above as vague as possible, to make you want to watch it. All I know is, when I watched the DVD back, the theme music at the beginning overwhelmed me, after so many years away from that lost VHS tape - but it may have been because it sounded more imposing when performed by a orchestra.

(A message to Layla, who preferred the original English dub - if you can find the Japanese DVD release, that is the only place you can find it...)

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