Hayao Miyazaki was so pleased with Joe Hisaishi's score for Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind that he signed him up to do the scores for his future movies. Laputa: The Castle In The Sky was their second collaboration, and one of the most beloved scores to Miyazaki fans.
And what a soundtrack it is! The score is more symphonic than that of Nausicaa, and it features a main theme which is more romantic, but no less engaging than that of its predecessor. From the moment you hear the opening piano chords on "The Girl Who Fell From The Sky", and the strings, and orchestra (or a synthesizer imitating an orchestra, perhaps?) play the beautiful theme at a very breathtaking and dynamic range, one will know right away that with Laputa, they're in for a treat.
The rest of the tracks are no less engaging. "A Morning Of The Slag Ravine" is an absolute delight. It is a three-part piece; the first part involves a synthesizer playing a very mysterious, repetitive, gorgeous, gripping ditty. The second part features the "strings" performing the kind of song one would expect when waking up over a morning countryside. (I also love the occasional trills of the flute; it gives a great image of birds singing as well.) The last part of the track is a trumpet which welcomes the morning. This part of the track immediately recalls the image of Pazu, a young miner who is the hero of this tale about the search for a legendary castle in the sky, playing his trumpet on the rooftop - one of the film's highlights.
There are tracks that you'll get a kick out of. "A Fun Brawl (~ Pursuit)" begins on the goofy side, a very humorous, whimsical comic song with a deep and bouncy tuba and bright flute solos, which is mostly low-key but has occasional loud bursts. Then, it becomes a frantic chase piece with occasionally funny moments. The piece culminates with a grand hold of the brass and a timpani roll as the chase comes to a dramatic stop. "On The Tiger Moss" is every bit as fun. It begins with a joyous percussive dance, then we hear a hint of the main theme of Laputa, then we hear a Scottish sounding dance piece with "voice" samples scatting a few notes. Afterwards, we hear the chase motif of "A Fun Brawl (~ Pursuit)".
Probably the best tracks on the album are the ones that stretch out to the emotions of the listeners. "Discouraged Pazu" is a very sad, somber song which goes over the scene where Pazu is forced to "say goodbye" to Sheeta and return alone to his hometown. It nearly brings tears to my eyes. The same is true for "Sheeta's Decision", a very lovely piano sonata which has occasional hints of the Nausicaa Main Theme, sounding nearly every bit as dynamic and engaging as that song. "The Sea Of Cloud Under The Moonlight" is a touching and romantic piano/synthesizer duet of the Main Theme of Laputa, and brings back happy memories of the touching scene where Pazu and Sheeta, now reunited in the pirates' ship, sit together in the crow's nest, pondering what will happen when they find the castle in the sky.
"Laputa: Castle In The Sky" is the kind of track I consider magical. It begins quietly with the strings and synthesizer playing a eight-note rhythm, then brings in a triumphant, heroic brass fanfare which builds to a magnificent climax with the full "orchestra". Dynamic, sweeping, and absolutely wonderful (especially when the strings come in and play descending notes; my favorite part of this song), this track does exactly what it is intended to do: paint a picture of the magnificent lost castle in the sky. Then, we hear an absolutely lovely rendition of "Sheeta's Decision" with the orchestra, and here is where we are reminded of Nausicaa, particularly when the timpani rolls and the strings perform with great majesty and magic.
There are some moments when the music gets dark and menacing, particularly on "Robot Soldier (Resurrection ~ Rescue)", where it starts out with a nightmarish, ominous synth-string ode which pictures the moment when a supposedly lifeless giant robot comes to life and begins to wreck havoc. For the most part, it is very frantic and exciting. "An Omen To Ruin" brings back this nightmarish motif with heavy power for the first half, then for the second half, we hear what sounds like a cross between wind howling and an engine propeller running over a frantic, intense fast version of the government's theme (first heard on the last part of "Memories of Gondoa"), which is appropriately evil and threatening, before coming to an abrupt stop.
Laputa: The Castle In The Sky also contains probably one of the most beloved songs from Miyazaki's movies, "Carrying You", a romantic, luscious translation of the main theme of Laputa turned into a song. It is tear jerking and haunting, and an instant highlight to an already incredible soundtrack. There are three versions of this lovely song on the album. First, there's a version performed by the Suginami Children's Choir with the synthesizer playing the background accompaniment, which is almost like being in a church. And the voices are just beautiful. The second version of "Carrying You", "The Collapse Of Laputa" brings the Suginami Children's Choir back to sing the song, but this time acapella and wordless. The result is another tear jerking, haunting, powerful highlight track. The track following that is the last version of "Carrying You", and the final track for that matter. It begins with the joyous dance "Tiger Moth" motif, which invites the orchestra in at about 26 seconds into the track, then when we reach the 48-second mark, the tone of the song changes effectively and brilliantly. We then hear what sounds to me like a pop version of "Carrying You" sung by the lovely voice of Azumi Inoue. It ends with the orchestra playing a "grand finale" chord that brings this album to a lovely close.
Powerful, romantic, humorous, and tear jerking, Laputa: The Castle In The Sky is proof that Joe Hisaishi can really write incredible music. (His scores for Miyazaki's later films are no less magical.) It would almost be a sin to not pick any of them up, and this soundtrack qualifies as a part of this trend. The sound quality may be a bit dated (since it was made in 1986), but the music is so good that one may not even care. Also, unlike Nausicaa, the music truly *does* sound nearly orchestral, but with more power and magnificence than you can possibly ever get from any of the best soundtracks around.
Disney has yet to release this wonderful movie; they produced an English dub featuring an all star cast, and hired Joe Hisaishi to rerecord this entire soundtrack by an orchestra in Seattle (mainly because they intended to have it released theatrically, like Princess Mononoke was). I have not seen this English dub yet, nor have I heard the rerecorded score, as of the time writing this review. (It hasn't been released yet, though that could change in the future.) In addition, there are currently no plans to release the rerecorded score on CD. However, I am looking forward to hearing it, especially since I think that, while it may not match up to the original, the newly rerecorded score will be a delight in its own way.
In the meantime, though, I suggest you purchase the original soundtrack album of Laputa: The Castle In The Sky, as it is currently the only version of the music of Laputa available. Even though it is only about 40 minutes long, its entertainment value is very high. You shouldn't be disappointed.