Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Laputa: Castle in the SkyLaputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), Studio Ghibli.
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki


The Scene: Scene after Title-screen, ‘The Fall’.

When writing these, I like to be precise about the moment I get captured by a film. Normally, I can get this down to a scene in which it portrays the film well. With “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” this moment can be condensed to a couple of seconds of stunning animation and, in my opinion, one of the best visual and musical pairings ever brought to film.

Background to Scene

The scene I will discuss follows the events of the opening scene, in which we are introduced to the main character, a young girl named Sheeta, looking outside the window in one of an airship. In a scene of very limited dialogue the audience can assume that Sheeta is being held in the airship against her will by some ominous black-suited men, introducing a atmosphere of conflict and suspense into the film early. We are suddenly transported to another crew of characters in the sky, a band of pirates, chasing after the original airship in pursuit of a crystal. In an action-packed and very abrupt scene the pirates invade the airship, determined to find the girl (Sheeta) for whom the crystal belongs to. Hearing the commotion, and using the opportunity while the ominous men are distracted, Sheeta knocks out the only remaining captor, steals back her crystal from him and tries to make her escape through the window; balancing precariously on a thin lip of metal on the hull of the airship. The pirates bust through the door leading to the room Sheeta was in, and try to grasp her through the window, forcing her to sidle on the narrow ledge to an adjacent rooms window. Suddenly one of the pirates burst through the door to this room also, directly in front of our main character, and makes a move to grab her.  With a scream Sheeta falls from the thin precipice and plummets into the darkness of the sky below. The shock of the scene is immense. The title screen follows, leaving the audience in suspended shock while the theme music of the film plays with images of wonderful engineering and fantastical machines of a time in the film’s world past. Then my favourite moment begins.

“…one of the best visual and musical pairings ever brought to film…”

‘The Fall’

The music from the title scene continues from the previous title screens, quite serene with gentle strings and light percussion and the scene opens to give a view of large clouds slowly drifting through a night sky. Quite suddenly, a tiny silhouette is seen falling through the cover of the clouds, which now seem incredibly immense. The moment is fleeting, and with the contrast with the minuscule scale of the silhouette against the massive clouds, it can almost be missed entirely, this is where the suspense and wonder begins to be increased. As the silhouette first comes into view, the music progresses to match this tone, with high, continuous strings, and the viewer realises with a strange mix of dread and thankfulness that this silhouette is Sheeta, our main character. This scene mixes the contrasts of peaceful scenes, with beautiful cloudscapes as the backdrop, with the intensely suspenseful situation of falling out of the sky, and captures the grand scale of this phenomenon in a beautiful contrast of scale, with the tiny speck that is Sheeta with those colossal clouds.

laputafalling

The view cuts to a closer image of Sheeta hurtling through this night sky, the view is given from the back at first, keeping  the suspense increasing as the audience have little idea of Sheeta’s condition. All this time the music progressing, and inflating, introducing a brass element to add volume, pressure and show intent to a climatic end. As the view cuts again to show us Sheeta even closer and from the front, the audience see that she is unconsciously falling, almost in a sleep-like state, the crystal necklace around her neck, shaking with the wind. Suddenly the crystal begins to glow with a blue light, the music begins to swell into a multiple crescendo, paced between peaks, and in this final peak the blue light ignites from the crystal, wrapping Sheeta in this mystical and magical light. The visuals at this moment are stunningly beautiful, the use of light and colour from this largely dark and monotonous scene create a beautifully contrasting experience. The scene is, what I consider the one of the best matching of music an visuals in a film, the timing is especially perfect, with the climax in the music, after the build-up of tension with crescendos of music, matching perfectly with the visual climax of the crystal igniting, giving a wholly moving, surprising and simply incredible moment. This is how the synthesis of music and visuals in a film should be, perfectly matched in emotion, feel, timing and style. Just magnificent. The rest of the scene shows Sheeta now magically floating down to the ground, and continues the fantastic sense of scale, contrasting the tiny character with the immense surroundings, which fills me with awe and wonder at the scale of the film itself. The contrasts set in this scene show the scope and wonder includes in this film- the realism and tension of falling through the sky, placed with the magic and mystery of a crystal which allows the character to float to terra firma; the tiny character in a large, sky-filled world and the peacefulness of the scene as a whole amongst slowly passing clouds with the tension and suspense of hurtling through the sky on an unstoppable decent. A magical, tense, beautiful moment, probably only a three or four minute segment which is just incredible and such a fantastic, mysterious and contrasting opening to a vast and exciting film.

– SceneCritic

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