Steampunk? A Frail Term with which to Describe Laputa…
Imagine a New Years Eve, at the end of the 1980s in Sheffield…
Anime had, after a few shaky starts, begun to gain some momentum among the chosen Oldtypes of legend, thanks to small but dedicated fan groups and shops, such as the far-sighted Sheffield Space Centre.
We Are Not in Kansas Any More
On the very day that my friends and I had been watching and discussing the relative merits of the OAV masterworks Megazone 23, we got home to discover that dear old Mum had recorded ‘one of those cartoons you like’…
That this ‘cartoon’, according to the Radio Times, was by Hayao Miyazaki which was something of a plus, as I liked the Nausicaa comic (and I had not yet seen either Cagliostro’s Castle, or Warriors of the Wind) but the name gave me a very odd, Gulliver’s Travels vibe – especially as, having read a good deal of Swift, I knew that his satirical mind had his own flying University of Laputa reading as it sounds in Spanish (look it up)…
The moment the film started, all those concerns were set aside as, we were introduced to a Vernsian world of airships, magical forces, and classic adventure.
I’ve heard several tales of how Yorkshire television ended up with this copy of the original English Language dub (made for JAL, I think), but if anyone knows the trufacts ™, comment below.
It seemed partly North England, part Wales, and part awesome… Now, in hindsight, this should not be surprising as Miyazaki loved to travel and set his worlds – even his fantastic ones – in real world analogues (such as the amalgam of Sweden and South France that became the backdrop for Kiki, or the idealised Adriatic seacoast towns which underlay Porco Rosso).
Here, however, in Laputa we have elements from the Yorkshire pit country, North Wales, Cornwall, and all things industrial, as the filmmaker melded his own imaginations with that sort of Gothic technology form of narrative which has evolved into Steampunk today.
However, though even Laputa’s mundane elements were utterly unreal, it was the airships which struck me most. Not just the sleek passenger craft attacked in the opening of the movie, nor the flying battleship Goliath, but perhaps the most trivial little thing one might imagine: the Tiger Moth, with its crew of incompetent, greedy, but ultimately heroic pirates, seemingly under the leadership of my Grandmother.
Sigh… The Tiger Moth!
A twee Ornithopter-carrying, Osprey-like offspring of the Graf Zeppelin and the White Base which blew my tiny mind and established the film’s credentials with me like nothing else could (except perhaps the Castle itself, and – of course – a septuagenarian pirate queen driving a motor car on elevated rail tracks directly towards an armored train, grenade launcher in hand and giving a mathematically miniscule number of Tinker’s Damns about the whole affair).
Sue me… I like pirate films!
Laputa as a narrative itself is rooted in the duality of its setting: mundane and easily quantified, if outmoded technologies sit cheek-by-jowl with magic, myth, and cataclysmic power which, as is made clear from the very opening titles, has already brought about the ruin of one civilization.
As the story advances [minor spoilers] everyone within its grasp is changed by their association to the levitation stone of Sheeta, the girl who falls from the sky – as well as being forced to address the obliquities in their own characters.
From children on the cusp of adulthood, to government agents turned to personal gain, to semi-insane pirates-turned-heroes, all must address their deepest, and darkest side when presented with what amounts to the ‘key’ to ultimate power.
As one might imagine, in a style of which Douglas Fairbanks (Sr. or Jr.) would be proud, our heroes, young and piratical join forces to ensure that the forces of greed and terror do not in the end win out…
However, let’s set the film aside for the moment.
The Tiger Moth
Apart from a few very exclusive and expensive models/display pieces sold only at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, there have been precious few models issued to go with the works of Miyazaki.
Indeed, it has always surprised me that Ghibli seems to be not just incapable, but utterly disinterested in merchandising their wares in the model arena, where they have totally conquered other forms of goods.
Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, The Wind Rises, Kiki’s Delivery Service, even Totoro deserve more, and better models than are currently offered.
Finemolds, who currently carries the can for Ghibli it seems, only seems to want to offer teeny little kits (like the one under discussion today), and it seems such a shame, as so much more could be done.
Rant mode off.
Still, the Tiger Moth is an especially special case of casual disregard as so very few kits for it have been made available over the years. From the even smaller Tsukuba kit of the time of the cinematic release in the ’80s, to the weird and wonderful brass etched and paper/card kits available today.
Barely half a dozen models, display items, and toys in thirty years.
And now we get one more… With some interesting surprises, as will rapidly become apparent.
Interior detailing and Flapters.
This is going to be a Very Merry Christmas build.