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Anime Info

Creator: Hayao Miyazaki
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Length: Movie (1:50)

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Summary

+ Early Miyazaki animation is a treat
+/– Hayao Miyazaki's first feature film
+/– 70s electronic syntho-pop score
+/– Knowledge of the TV series or manga is helpful but not essential

Overview

Lupin III: the Castle of Cagliostro would make enjoyable viewing for anyone who is a fan of Hayao Miyazaki, 70s anime, caper movies, spy thrillers, or all of the above. It plays like the animated love child of the Pink Panther movies and the James Bond franchise. It features a beautiful damsel in distress, an over-the-top villain, a dashing hero, and eye-popping chases and fights. It's Miyazaki's first feature so it's not his best work but it is still a fun evening's viewing.

Public Rating

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Score of 3 out of 5
3 out of 5

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro Anime Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 12/2/2006

Introduction

In 1979, animator and illustrator Hayao Miyazaki made his debut as a feature film director when he was asked to replace the director of the second film based on the popular television anime and manga series Lupin III. The Castle of Cagliostro depicts the adventures of gentleman thief Lupin III, as he and his gang of thieves hunt down the source of some excellently-forged money. The trail of the funny money leads them to the tiny Duchy of Cagliostro as they stumble into a surprisingly complex plot involving a princess, an evil count, and a conspiracy dating back to the middle ages.

Review

Although a flop when originally released in Japan, The Castle of Cagliostro has proven widely popular among American and European viewers. DVD sales of the movie have been stronger than sales of the TV series and it was the first anime to screen at the Cannes Film Festival. A widely circulated rumor has Steven Spielberg referring to one of the film's car chases as one of the greatest car chases ever filmed and reportedly referring to the movie as "one of the greatest adventure movies of all time". It is certainly a very influential work with many diverse animated films referencing it in one way or another. Among the animated works that feature sequences inspired by the Castle of Cagliostro are Batman: the Animated Series, The Great Mouse Detective, and Atlantis: the Lost Empire.

Although film adaptations of animated series often play like overly long episodes of the source material, The Castle of Cagliostro takes full advantage of the feature film budget, longer length, and better animation. Maintaining the often comic tone of the series but featuring a more complicated plot than the constraints of television would allow, the film plays like the animated love child of The Pink Panther and the recent James Bond thriller Casino Royale. The film opens with Lupin and his cohort Daisuke Jaigen once again eluding capture after a casino heist in Monaco. When Lupin realizes the millions of dollars they've just stolen is counterfeit, part of the infamous "goat money" supply, he and Daisuke dump the funny money on the freeway and head for its source in the mysterious and tiny Duchy of Cagliostro. They are barely in the country a day when Lupin, in typical gentleman thief fashion, decides to come to the aid of a beautiful woman being chased down the winding mountain highway by thugs in an armored "thug mobile". He and Daisuke Jigen quickly become involved in the kind of over the top James Bond-style car chase that that it is only possible to depict in animation. The chase, which features, among other things, a car driving up a nearly 90 degree cliff, ends with every vehicle thoroughly destroyed and Lupin and the beautiful princess hanging on for dear life by a grappling cable looped around a protruding branch.

Show More When the branch gives way the princess and Lupin fall a short distance to the riverbank below. Lupin is knocked unconscious and the princess disappears into the woods, thugs in a riverboat hot on her tail. Just before departing, however, the princess cleans Lupin's wounds with her water soaked glove. When Lupin comes to, he discovers a mysterious signet ring in the glove which leads him to the rather recently abandoned ruins of a medieval castle. Lupin and Daisuke learn from the castle's caretaker that a fire recently gutted the palace and killed Cagliostro's Grand Duke, leaving a regent in charge. It seems that Lupin may have stumbled into more than he bargained for, certainly more than a counterfeit money scam. He also seems to know more about the Duchy of Cagliostro than he previously let on and Daisuke eventually badgers part of the truth out of him. This is the second time Lupin has sought out the secret of the infamous "goat money", the previous attempt was made 10 years earlier when Lupin was just a kid and in way over his head. He claims he had his ass handed to him back then and won't say anymore about it.

The needlessly complicated plot really begins to kick in when the villainous Count of Cagliostro (and we know he is the villain because he scowls and has a pencil-thin mustache) makes his first appearance in a sequence that has become a Miyazaki signature, flying into his impressive fairy-tale castle in an autogyro. He visits the princess, imprisoned Rapunzel style in a high tower accessed by a drawbridge. He searches her sedated body for her ring and is outraged when he can't find it. The ring, as Lupin discovers is part of a local prophecy involving some sort of treasure and going back 400 years. And the princess is the Lady Clarisse, the former Grand Duke's daughter engaged to be married to the evil count. When Lupin flaunts the ring in a local tavern, he and Daisuke are later attacked by the Count's Ninja like assassins. Daisuke and Lupin move their base of operations from their hotel to the deserted Grand Duke's palace where they are joined by master-swordsman and rogue samurai Goemon Ishikawa. Meanwhile the Count is being spied on by Lupin's sometimes lover, sometimes rival thief, Fujiko Mine who has disguised herself as a castle employee. Using the old secret compartment behind a painting trick she eavesdrops on the Count and his henchmen as he discusses the counterfeit money, so much of it has been made that is beginning to decline in quality; however the Count seems to be financing his lavish lifestyle by circulating it and has a big order coming up.

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Further complicating matters, Lupin's rival, Interpol Agent Inspector Zenigata has just arrived in the country hot Lupin's tail trailing the rumor that the Count has received one of Lupin's infamous calling cards. Zenigata believes that if Lupin isn't already in country, he soon will be. The Count dismisses Zenigata's concerns out of hand; he has little time for "common crooks". Of course this all part of the super-thief's incredibly intricate plan. Instead of trying to figure it all out; it's best to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The movie's story (like most thrillers) is really just a device for exciting chases, action sequences, and plot twists. A series of riddles and conspiracies rapped in enigmas, it doesn't really make a lot of sense if thought about too hard or too long but it is certainly enjoyable. Because it is animated, characters can do things that would be nearly impossible or at least very difficult and expensive to film in live action film making. For example, Lupin and Daisuke sneak into the Count's castle via a still used Roman aqueduct and in one impressively animated scene Lupin scales the castle wall without the aid of climbing equipment except the occasional grappling wire. He then proceeds to travel across the rooftop with only slightly less grace than a cat. A live action movie would have required wirework, stuntmen, safety nets, airbags and a battery of cameras to achieve the same effect as the animators achieve with pencil, ink, and paintbrush.

The film's greatest weakness is its characterization. While the plotting is intricate and the dialogue witty, the characters never seem like real human beings but more like action adventure archetypes. For instance, unlike classic such classic Miyazaki antagonists such as Princess Mononoke's Lady Eboshi who has complex motives and behaviors, the Count of Cagliostro is a one sided blustering, snarling, melodramatic villain. While he is drawn almost exactly as depicted in the manga series, Lupin is not as cynical as his manga counterpart and he's so clever and graceful he never seems in any real danger until it's necessary for the plot. Inspector Zenigata is a one-note, over the top blowhard cop so concerned with his reputation he won't even shake hands with Lupin when they are forced to briefly work together against the Count. Perhaps Lady Clarisse suffers the worst characterization, she has almost no personality, she simply exists as a Mcguffin to drive the plot forward. The other characters, Fujiko, Goemon, and Daisuke figure in the story rather like figures in an RPG, along more for their special abilities than for anything else although they all occasionally get a witty line.

The divergent elements of the movie all come together in a climax as intricate and wild as any live action movie. The final thirty minutes of the movie involve an elaborate medieval wedding, sword fights, police chases, gun battles, fire works, and a myriad of other surprises to dazzle the eyes and entertain even the most diehard action fan. The now famous clock tower chase even inspired similar chase sequences in the Clock King episode of Batman: the Animated Series and the Disney film The Great Mouse Detective.

Conclusion

Lupin III: Catle of CagliostroLupin III: the Castle of Cagliostro is a fun and exciting debut by a director now considered a master of animation. Made before the establishment of Studio Ghibli and adhering fairly closely to the world of the manga and anime series there is little room in the film for Miyazaki's social concerns such as environmentalism and pacifism. In fact these concerns are often said to be influence of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata. Interestingly the film does feature some motifs that have become Miyazaki signatures including humans in flight (the Count's Autogyro and later Fujiko's escape in a hang-glider), Lupin gorging himself at a feast is similar to similar gorging in later films such as Castle in the Sky, and the Count's assassins resemble the long armed robotic soldiers seen in Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Castle in the Sky. Several characters also resemble characters in other Miyazaki films most notably Clarisse looks like she could be the cousin to Nausicaa and the evil Count of Cagliostro could easily double for Kurotowa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Every great artist begins somewhere and Castle of Cagliostro is the fun and exciting beginning of Hayao Miyazaki's brilliant career as an anime director.

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