Konnichiwa! I’m your conductor, and tonight we’ll be looking back on the first directorial work by the legendary Japanese visionary Hayao Miyazaki: The Castle of Cagliostro from 1979. The film was among the tens of hundreds of adaptations of the Monkey Punch manga starring the eponymous Lupin, although it was still early on in the character’s long-lasting history. Furthermore, the immense shadow of Miyazaki’s beloved later movies (such as the acclaimed Spirited Away, the heartwarming My Neighbor Totoro, and the epic Princess Mononoke) was a rather mammoth expectation to live up to. Now that I’ve actually watched Castle of Cagliostro for myself (twice no less!), let’s get this show on the road and determine whether or not it lives up.
A cache of apparent counterfeit casino money draws the charming gentleman thief Arsene Lupin III to the province of Cagliostro. He soon unravels a scheme by the Count, the mastermind behind the counterfeit manufacturing, who arranges a forced marriage to the princess Clarisse. Along with his comrades — the chain-smoking sharpshooter Jigen, impassive swordsman Goemon, maverick Fujiko, and on-and-off nemesis Inspector Zenigata — Lupin takes it upon himself to help rescue Clarisse from the Count’s unscrupulous clutches.
It’s been openly stated that Steven Spielberg was influenced by Castle of Cagliostro during the production of his own action-adventure film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ring a bell? And this film’s effect on Indiana Jones is clear in the zippy action sequences, including a fast-paced car chase in the first 15 minutes or so, and witty banter exchanged by Lupin and his allies. This as well, with some competition, is the most recognized and savored slice of Lupin media, despite the criticism targeted at the sugar-coated characterization. So, what’s up with that?
The original manga iteration of Lupin was far from the well-meaning and clumsy goofball many people know. So, a challenge was entailed to Miyazaki to create an amiable hero out of a formerly salacious, remorseless crook that drove a Mercedes-Benz thanks to it being “Hitler’s favorite”. No simple feat, I may remind you. The final product is solid considering the predicament though, in where he goes out of his way to aid someone in worse circumstances then himself and rides a tarnished yellow Fiat 500 instead (thank goodness for that). Some fans who have been around from the very start aren’t typically applauding Lupin’s brave, bumbling deeds; they would rather see him as he was intended by the creator… as a ruthless criminal! Even Monkey Punch says he thinks the film is “excellent” on its own merit, though he cannot deny that the character changed drastically.
Since I saw this film twice on back-to-back days, there were a handful of qualities that stood out more on second viewing. The backgrounds and color palette are all rather magnificent on their own, but some of the movements and expressions are a bit janky overall. The buildup leading to the finale, which is a very good one mind you, is somewhat slow as Lupin is bedridden from an injury and an ensemble is migrating towards the castle for the wedding. However, there was something that notably delighted me second time around: the action sequences!
The aforementioned mountainside car chase to rescue Clarisse from the Count’s goons, a mix-up between the castle guards and Interpol agents, a rooftop scene, and the battle in the clock tower are all standouts in this consistently fun escapade. It will manage to entertain you as long as you are unwavering in the largely kinetic slapstick.
The Castle of Cagliostro is a rollicking time, Lupin fan or not. Obviously Miyazaki would flourish later in his career, but the genial and light-hearted caper is a perfect appetizer. I generally find it intriguing to explore where a filmmaker began before they become a staple of cinema treasures, so this proved a memorable experience. Hmm? You haven’t seen it yet? Well, go watch it on Netflix afterwards! You will thank me… maybe, I don’t know.
RATING: 7.5/10 “Highly Recommended”
Also, why did the butler look like Beetlejuice with broccoli for hair? So many questions…
NEXT THURSDAY | A Tribute to the Great Ray Harryhausen