Laputa (named after the flying island in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift- a SparkNotes summarization of the book for quick reference can be found here) is a once-great floating city in the sky. The city was technologically advanced in its prime, and its inhabitants were able to coexist harmoniously with nature. The Laputian people lived peacefully until they were forced to flee the city due to an unnamed catastrophic event. Castle in the Sky is set many years after Laputa was deserted, and it is no more than a myth in most people’s eyes.
In the film, a girl named Sheeta is sought after by pirates as well as the military (led by Muska, an extremely ambitious man with his own agenda); both groups are after the crystal necklace in her possession, as they all believe it is the key to finding Laputa and unlocking its secrets. In a desperate escape attempt, Sheeta falls from an airship and—literally—lands in the arms of Pazu, a hardworking youth whose dream is to follow in his father’s footsteps and see Laputa with his own eyes. The duo are then swept up in a fierce race to reach Laputa before the military and save it from being used as a tool for military advancement or a means to satisfy greed.
Director Hayao Miyazaki envisions Laputa in the film as an “ecotopia” (or ecological utopia), defined by oxforddictionaries.com as “an ecologically ideal region or form of society”. While Laputa is technologically advanced, much of its technology is closely intertwined with nature (this becomes increasingly apparent as the characters explore Laputa, which is actually built around an enormous tree that serves as a base for the entire city). In fact, the Laputians had such an intimate relationship with nature that their robots (which are proven to be highly indestructible and highly effective as tools of war) are tasked with guarding and protecting nature.
In the article The City Ascends: Laputa: Castle in the Sky as Critical Ecotopia, Anthony Lioi asserts that the “default mode” of the robots is not that of destruction, but of caretaking. The robots only show their destructive capacities in response to human brutality. From this, viewers can assume that Miyazaki is trying to make a point: technology and nature can coexist peacefully. The reason the two have not been able to yet is because humans see nature as an obstacle to be overcome, not as something they can live alongside. This is hinted at when Muska is in Laputa’s royal chambers; he is disgusted and horrified by the plant roots that cover the walls and encase the giant crystal that is much like the “heart” of the city. Muska keeps commenting on how he plans to burn the roots to get rid of them, and that they don’t belong in a place like the royal chambers.
Towards the end of Castle in the Sky, Sheeta and Pazu chant the “spell of destruction” in order to save Laputa from the greedy hands of Muska. The entire city is not destroyed, however; on the contrary, Laputa simply sheds its weapons platform, leaving the rest of the city intact. After this, Laputa ascends even further into the sky where it is impossible to reach while Sheeta and Pazu look on from the safety of their kite-plane.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a film that leaves viewers with the message that while we as a society are not yet able to coexist peacefully with nature, it is possible. Laputa is not destroyed; it continues its existence even after its weapons are gone. It ascends further into the sky, seemingly unreachable, which can be reminiscent of the idea that Laputa is an ideal that we should strive to achieve someday. We are unable to achieve this ideal at the moment, but it doesn’t mean we never will.
ecotopia. 2013. In OxfordDictionaries.com. Retrieved February 15, 2014, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/ecotopia?q=ecotopia
Lioi, A. (2010). The City Ascends: Laputa: Castle in the Sky as Critical Ecotopia. ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 5. Retrieved from http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v5_2/lioi/
Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1986). Laputa: Castle in the Sky [Motion Picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli
Sparknotes Editors. (2003). SparkNote on Gulliver’s Travels. Retrieved February 15, 2014, from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/gulliver/