Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (4.5/5)
January 9th, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

The Castle of Cagliostro is the second Lupin the 3rd movie, and an unlikely masterpiece from first time movie director Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, Miyazaki being handed the project was coincidental, as it was originally going to be helmed solely by Yasuo Otsuka. However, Otsuka didn't like the concept for the film that was drafted by writer Seijun Suzuki, so Miyazaki, who had worked on some of the early Lupin TV episodes, was asked if he would direct the picture. Miyazaki agreed, but wrote up his own plot, and ended up completing the movie in the brief four month production schedule, while the rest is history. Miyazaki may have busted his chops to get the film completed in time, but his efforts are truly something to behold. Without question, The Castle of Cagliostro is one of the greats of Animation. The film is incredibly fun to watch, evoking a great sense of adventure, while also crafting an excellently paced story that works with the diverse cast of memorable characters. On the down side, the animation is a little crude at times, and the musical score is a little uneven, but these aspects are easy to overlook.

In terms of the story, the movie opens with a billion dollar casino heist by famous thieves Arsene Lupin and Daisuke Jigen. The two escape, but unfortunately discover that their loot is nothing more than counterfeit currency. Lupin recognizes the handiwork, though, citing that they are in fact the legendary “goat bills” that belong to an ancient, and on going, counterfeit ring. The pair then set out on a quest to reveal the counterfeit's origin in the kingdom of Cagliostro, something that Lupin had attempted a decade earlier but failed. Their quest is sidetracked, though, by a young girl named Clarisse who, against her will, is set to marry the local Count, an individual who is also behind the creation of the “goat bills”. Lupin then makes it his mission to save the girl, with help from trusted swordsman Goemon Ishikawa, amidst assassination attempts and the intervention of Inspector Zenigata.

All in all, the story is simple in terms of its premise, but thanks to Miyazaki's penwork the plot is multi-layered in its execution. It also deserves amble praise for effectively working in a good number of action sequences, all of which are exciting to watch and progress the story without feeling tacked on. The flow to the movie is all very natural in terms of introductions of characters or how it reveals plot points, such as the reasoning behind Lupin's interest in the girl. The pacing also never leaves the audience unintentionally confused or unsure about what's transpiring. One also has to admire the script's intentional cliché breakers as well, like having the slow moving car near the cliff actually slip off instead of rest on the edge as one is expecting. Usually this also works to generate a laugh or two, and the movie as a whole works just as well as a comedy as it does as an action caper.

Characterization is also another strong aspect of the movie, and manages to balance the fact that most of the cast will be familiar to the audience while at the same time not leaving out newcomers to the series. In fact, The Castle of Cagliostro works as an excellent introduction to Lupin's world, and the only thing one will miss out on, if they haven't seen any prior Lupin adventures, is the impact behind seeing Lupin and Zenigata joining forces to take down the Count. The film has taken some heat from fans, though, for not portraying Lupin as the sex crazed individual he usually is; however, this is clearly not a normal adventure for the famous thief, as he on a quest to repay an age old favor to a young girl, now mostly grown up, who helped him out a decade ago when he fell on hard times. The girl in question, of course, is Clarisse, who is set to marry the villainous Count against her will. The Clarisse character is new to the Lupin legacy, and the movie does a good job of making her out to be a mostly timid character at first, who develops a believable affection towards Lupin. She's not a character many will relate with, but the audience's sympathy is clearly with her. The other notable new character is the antagonist: the Count of Cagliostro. The count is a fairly stereotypical villain, with the best comparison being with a number of James Bond villains in terms of his empire and devoted henchmen, but Miyazaki does well to make the audience loath him as they should; in fact, there is a good deal of satisfaction to be had seeing the normally calm Count, even in the face of opposition and having his plans spoiled by Lupin, gradually become more enraged as the movie progresses.

In regards to the voice acting, the talent fits the diverse roles very well. The usual Lupin gang is all here, from Yasuo Yamada as Arsene Lupin to Eiko Masuyama as the always mysterious Fujiko Mine. There isn't any stand out performances in the line reads, but the cast is still solid with no complaints to be had. Of course, Miyazaki's memorable, often incredibly humorous, dialogue really takes center stage, but the cast does do a nice job of adding flair to the situations none the less.

On the downside, the animation found in The Castle of Cagliostro is not up to the standards of current Japanese cinema. However, for a film constructed in a mere four months back in the late 1970's, I would hope that people wouldn't hold it to the same degree of scrutiny as more recent endeavors. To the movie's credit, this film is very well animated for its time with a fluid level of motion not often seen in other late 1970's flicks. The characters are pretty simple in terms of design, but definitely have a distinct flavor to them that will likely resonate with fans of the director's later productions, particularly the Clarisse character.

Of course another small blemish on the movie is the music found in The Castle of Cagliostro, which isn't as grand as one would have hoped for this production. It's scored by Lupin regular Yuji Ono, so fans of the series can rest easy. The composer is not without his charm, and Ono manages to construct some very memorable tunes for the film, like the car chase theme and the beatifically done main title song. Sadly, the music is not always so pleasant, and a couple of tracks almost sound like outtakes from Riichiro Manabe's Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) score, which is far from a compliment. Overall, Ono's work has enough enjoyable themes to make the soundtrack worth seeking out, but there is definitely some music here that borders on unpleasant and doesn't fit its intended scene very well.

Regardless of the last two points, The Castle of Cagliostro is a rip-roaring action adventure flick that's sure to warrant numerous viewings. The ending, Lupin and the gang driving into the distance as Inspector Zenigata and his troop are in hot pursuit, is very iconic, and it's hard to resist the urge to watch the whole movie again right afterwards. Through and through, the movie is one of the more entertaining films out there and, even at this early stage in his career, Miyazaki more than proves that he is one of the modern masters of Japanese cinema.