Castle In The Sky Laputa: Analysis and Theme Translation

To commemorate the new availability of Hayao Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli films on streaming services, we present an analysis of the movie Castle In The Sky and the theme song Kimi Ni Nosete.

We do a monthly segment on the Vital Bits program on Radio RRR in Melbourne where we present Japanese Songs In Translation.





Kimi ni nosete Japanese Version

Kimi Ni Nosete English Translated Version

MP3 Version of song
MP3 version of full radio segment

About the Movie

I’m going to assume you’ve seen the movie already. And that you know that it is about a girl from a mysterious race of people trying to get back to a mysterious world in the sky, Laputa, with the help of a peasant boy, whose father was also looking for the same mysterious land. So much mysterious.
I won’t go into detail recounting the whole adventure and each of the sprawling cast of diabolical, larger than life characters. But let me touch on a few of the things I think are interesting.

Hayao Miyazaki

Image by Thomas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/t_p_s/

Movie Themes

Flight

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tranquangdinhtue/

Laputa is one of many of writer/director Miyazaki Hayao’s films that deal with flight. There’s probably not a film of his where someone doesn’t take to the sky at some point. If you don’t believe me, watch this cut-up of flying scenes from Miyazaki films put together by Fandor:

In the video, you also see footage of Miyazaki playing with model airplanes. It’s nice to see that this notorious workaholic, who creates fantastic worlds for children, really is a kid at heart. Included in the models is the (in)famous Mitsubishi Zero (a 零戦 Reisen in Japanese). These planes struck fear into the hearts of many allied citizens and soldiers, not least of which when these flying machines were used as Kamikaze suicide bombs. 

Mitshubishi Zero

Martial heland / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Hayao Miyazaki’s father was an engineer who worked on the Zero fighters.
You can see how the aeroplane, and flight more generally, has influenced his work and become such a major motif. 
In the Fandor video above, there is an excerpt of Miyazaki talking about his own, his family’s, and indeed humanity at large’s, relationship with the aeroplane. Flying machines were, and are, a symbol of humanity’s ability to transcend its surroundings. Bill Bryson vividly describes in his fantastic book One Sumer: America 1927 how, when Charles Lindbergh completed the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, he was greeted by no less than 100,000 parisians. It was as if an alien hand touched down from Mars.
In the Fandor video, Miyazaki also talks about how the technology of flight, developed by those with noble intent, inevitably gets swept up in the prevailing winds of the time and ends up being used for evil. Evil, like the aeroplanes that his dad worked on were used for. 

For the Miyazaki, the struggle between innate human ingenuity and human depravity is personal. 

This yin-yang style dark and light human coexistence is perhaps even parralled by the darker, Nazi sympathising tendencies of global aviation hero Lindbergh himself.

So in Castle In The Sky Laputa, as in many of his films, flight becomes a symbol both of man’s ability to transcend his mortal surroundings, and of technology’s shocking abilities to unleash man’s basest violent instincts.

Filial Piety

Image of Filiel Piety by Kan no buntei

This family connection leads into another major theme in Castle In The Sky, the relationship between child and parent. The idea of filial piety, which wikipedia defines as a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors is seen in the loving affection that main characters Pazu and Sheeta hold for their deceased parents. Indeed, Pazu is driven by the desire to vindicate his father’s life mission, to prove the existence of the mythical land of Laputa. Pazu is out to redeem his father’s honour in the eyes of the world. 
Sheeta’s memories revolve strongly around the teachings of her mother and the desire to do right in her eyes. The idea of a mythic people who are guardians of a magical other world is connected to the Confusian ideals of respect, even deification, of ancestors. The ancestors even have a magical stone that they pass down through the generations that functions as a special ticket to their exclusive world. How does it get you there? Through the medium of flight of course, this time pure and unadulterated by the need for mechanical devices, technology or gadgetry.
The ticket only works if you have the right blood though. Ancestors, families, look after their own.

Mothers

Motherly figure of Nausicaa, inspiration for Miyazaki’s first film

By Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton – Art Renewal Center – description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1669517

Castle in the Sky Laputa was released around two years after the death of Miyazaki’s mother. Maternal themes and mother figures permeate the film. It is hard to imagine that Miyazaki wasn’t using his art to work through his own personal loss at this time.
Take a look at the character of the boss-mother of the pirate gange in Castle in the Sky. How much of Miyazaki’s own mother’s character can be found here? Captain Dola, is strong and commanding, but also compassionate and warm. 
Miyazaki’s mother is said to have been of weak constitution, and had spinal tuberculosis in the post-war years 1947-55. This means Hayao’s mother was gravely ill for much of his formative childhood years. Perhaps it is not surprising that orphan characters feature prominently in this and other of his films. Hayao has first-hand experience of the fear of being a motherless child from a young age.
Through this prism, we can perhaps start to see Castle In The Sky as being something of an elegy to his long suffering and recently departed mother. 

Environment

The environmental themes that feature strongly in this film and other Miyazaki themes also delve into the concept of Mother-Earth. Miyazaki seems to be mourning not just for his own mother’s loss, but for the loss of the innocence of the world. I’m reminded of the sentiment in songs such as Bill Callahan’s “Oh do I feel like the mother of the world, with two children fighting”. Would Miyazaki agree with Bill when he drops “God is a word, and the argument ends there”?

There is a not-so-subtle reference to the ultimate symbol of man’s unhealthy obsession with technology, the nuclear bomb. Towards the end of the film we see a mushroom cloud that has tremendous cultural and historic resonance and power for a people the victim of two atomic bomb attacks. In this way, Miyazaki continues a strong tradition of referencing, unpacking and analysing nuclear and apocalyptic themes in Japanese films and storytelling. Godzilla was created by nuclear testing in the oceans, Akira features an apocalyptic explosion destroying Tokyo and Tezuka Osamu returned to themes of war and technology throughout his career.

About the song Kimi wo nosete 君をのせて 

Translation

Original LyricsLiteral TranslationSinging Translation
あの地平線 輝くのは
どこかに君をかくしているから
The reason the horizon shines is that it hides you out there somewhere. Out on the horizon
There’s something shining bright
In the place you try to hide
In someplace and in sometime
たくさんの灯がなつかしいのは
あのどれかひとつに 君がいるから
The reason the lights are nostalgic is that you are there There are so many lights
And the warmth I feel inside
Is there because there’s one
Out there that’s yours alone
さあ でかけよう ひときれのパン
ナイフ ランプ かばんにつめこんで
Put a piece of bread, a knife and a lamp in your bag and let’s depart. Put into your bag
A knife and put a lamp
A piece of bread, I’ll meet you there
It’s time for us to go

父さんが残した 熱い想い
母さんがくれた あのまなざし

The burning thought left by the father.
The look the mother gave.

The burning love
That your father left
That gentle gaze, shows your mother is not dead

地球はまわる 君をかくして
輝く瞳 きらめく灯

The Earth turns and hides you
The shining eye, the twinkling light

The world it turns around
It hides you from me now
The shining of your eyes
In the sparkling of the lights

地球はまわる 君をのせて
いつかきっと出会う ぼくらをのせて

The Earth turns around and carries you.
It will carry us, who will one day certainly be united.

The world it turns around
You ride it through the night
Sometime we’ll meet again
And we’ll ride together

さあ でかけよう ひときれのパン
ナイフ ランプ かばんにつめこんで

Put a piece of bread, a knife and a lamp in your bag and let’s depart. Put into your bag
A knife and put a lamp
A piece of bread, I’ll meet you there
It’s time for us to go

父さんが残した 熱い想い
母さんがくれた あのまなざし

The burning thought left by the father.
The look the mother gave.

The burning love
That your father left
That gentle gaze, shows your mother is not dead

地球はまわる 君をかくして
輝く瞳 きらめく灯
地球はまわる 君をのせて
いつかきっと出会う ぼくらをのせて

The Earth turns and hides you
The shining eye, the twinkling light
The turns around and carrys you.
It will carry us, who will one day certainly be united.

The world it turns around
It hides you from me now
The shining of your eyes
In the sparkling of the lights

The world it turns around
You ride it through the night
Sometime we’ll meet again
And we’ll ride together

Castle In The Sky Producer Isao Takahata

Boungawa / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

So if we are going to see the film Castle In The Sky as ode to a dearly departed mother, it makes sense to analyse the song Kimi Wo Nosete through the same prism.
Producer of the film and long time Miyazaki collaborator Isao Takahata has said that the song lyrics were made when he and composer Joe Hisaishi asked Miyazaki to give them some rough notes on what the song was about:
“When we looked over the scrawled notes, we were amazed to find the words seemed to just fit with the music we had”. And even though the composer and producer did some nipping and tucking of the words here and there, the lyric credit goes to Miyazaki himself. We can assume that the words are something of a personal, direct expression of what Miyazaki wanted to express in the film overall.

Ambiguity of language

One of the challenges of deciphering the words to the song is the ambiguous nature of Japanese expression. The Japanese language, as a matter of everyday usage, leaves out subjects and objects, vital bits of information, in a way that is inconceivable in English. Usually, this is information that is obvious from context. To give a simple everyday example:
熱いね Atsui ne would be translated as It’s hot.
More literally though, this sentence would be translated as “Hot, eh?”
What’s hot? You, me, that thing over there, this thing here? No, the weather is hot. Which is obvious from the context. 
Yet this same inherent ambiguity can be exploited for artistic means. How many times have you heard a songwriter say “it’s open to interpretation”?  The phrase is a cliche. 
Kimi Ni Nosete leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
First of all, it’s not clear whose perspective the song is written from and two, who are the singer and singee in songwriting parlance. 

The chorus is impossible to translate into English exactly as it is written in Japanese.

Fathers and Mothers

父さんが残した 熱い想い
母さんがくれた あのまなざし

Even a rendering such as this:

The burning thought left by the father.
The look the mother gave.

Says too much. We don’t know if it’s Your father, my father, our father, their father, the father or a father. The Japanese language doesn’t force us to specify, and the lyric chooses not to. Ditto the mother.

Given the context of the song with the film, I think it is safe to say that the main suggested perspective for the song is of Pazu singing to Sheeta. Which still leaves open possibilities for interpreting the father and mother of the chorus being those of either of the two main characters. Or perhaps one of each? Given the highlighted relationships in the film, it would seem valid to say that the “burning thought” in question is Pazu’s father dream of proving the existence of Laputa and that the “look the mother gave” is the watchful gaze of Sheeta’s mother looking down from the heavens.
Yet there are other interpretations. If we are saying that the film is Miyazaki’s ode to his parents, and especially his mother, then we could take it that the father and mother of the chorus are his own. Or we could go more universal and link in with the environmental message of the film. Perhaps the father and mother are the elemental father and mother of the world?
I like to think that it is a combination of all these things rolled into one. Even if the songwriters didn’t write it that way, it is possible for songs to take on extra layers of meanings as they unfold, especially as they intertwine and interact with the melody and harmony of the music.

Light

There is a strong Light motif running through the song. That’s “Light motif” rather than “leitmotif” for you music boffins. Kanji with fire radicals appear in the song seven times. We’ve got the loan word for “Lamp” in there. We’ve got words meaning shining, sparkling and burning. 
The light theme in the song highlights similar, perhaps less prominent, themes in the movie. We have the shining flight stone, beams of light crossing the sky showing the way to the promised land, the devastating beams of light let forth by the fallen robot of Laputa, the fires caused by the battle between the robot and the forces of humanity. The film itself is drawn in bright, summery tones. But the song seems to be all the more luminescent in its imagery. Was Miyazaki trying to bring out the brightness of the film using music? Perhaps he felt it wasn’t shining enough? It is interesting to note how bright the mise-en-scene is really, considering some of the themes of loss and lonesomeness the film addresses.
We’ve written more about Japanese lighting here

Castle In The Sky Laputa Robot. Image: Peter Head  https://japanoscope.com https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

Image: Peter Head  https://japanoscope.com https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

The song takes a bird’s eye, perhaps god’s eye view, of the film. Whoever is singing the song is looking at the horizon, the turning of the earth, the lights of the world. What better perspective is there to bring to a conclusion a film with such universal themes. 

Who wrote and sang Castle In The Sky Laputa’s theme song Kimi Ni Nosete?

Joe Hisaishi

Hayao Miyasaki

Azumi inoue

The music for Kimi Ni Nosete was written by Hisaishi Joe to words by Hayao Miyazaki and was sung by Azumi Inoue. Azumi also sang classic Ghibli songs such as the theme and walking songs from the My Neighbour Totoro and Meguru Kisetsu from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Hisaishi Joe is a classically trained composer, conductor and producer. Watch this video of him playing the Kimi Ni Nosete with a choir of 800 voices and try not to feel a lump in your throat:


Castle In The Sky Merch

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