film & game reviews, the retro way.
THE CASTLE OF
Hayao Miyazaki's first animated feature film, The Castle Of Cagliostro, was released in 1979 and was the second feature based on the character of Lupin III. Miyazaki had worked on the anime series Lupin The 3rd Part I prior so the director was already very familiar with Lupin and his adventures, which were loosely based on the tales of Maurice Leblanc's fictional French thief Arsène Lupin.
While the film was not technically made by Studio Ghibli (the studio didn't exist yet), this being Hayao Miyazaki's first film it has since been included in the company's filmography. There were criticisms launched at the film from some Lupin III fans who thought the film took some liberties with the characters and their personalities but Castle Of Cagliostro, despite this reaction and not being a huge hit upon its release, has since enjoyed cult recognition and even influenced the likes of John Lasseter (Pixar's co-founder), several Disney animators (see The Great Mouse Detective or Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and many other significant figures in the animation industry as well as, quite possibly, the Indiana Jones franchise.
This is an appropriately old-fashioned and, frankly very French, kind of story about a thief rescuing a princess from a dungeon where she is being held against her will by a tyrannical Count. Miyazaki taking a page from classic fables, medieval stories and fairy tales like Beauty & The Beast and Rapunzel, but also the works of Alexandre Dumas: The Count Of Monte Cristo definitely standing out as a prominent influence here. The more poetic and thoughtful approach to this movie did clash a little with the anime's usual style, admittedly, but this was visibly an attempt to present a one-off, very different kind of tale with a somewhat more selfless and heroic Lupin at its heart.
The film sees Lupin and his partner-in-crime Jigen rob a casino only to find that the money recovered is counterfeit. After an encounter with a woman named Clarisse, who was being chased by mysterious assailants, Lupin soon turns his attention to the Castle Of Cagliostro where he believes the fake money is being produced and Clarisse, who turns out to be a princess, is being held against her will by the evil Count. Lupin's quest soon becomes to rescue the princess and expose the Count's counterfeiting operation in the process thanks to his friends Goemon and Fujiko plus long time rival Inspector Koichi Zenigata, who proves to be a useful distraction.
The genius of Hayao Miyazaki is already palpable throughout this movie: from the gorgeous, rich visuals to the slick animation, the clever surreal flourishes, perfectly timed notes of humour and the heartfelt storytelling. This feels like a timeless adventure from start to finish and it's very much designed so that anyone not familiar with Lupin III could still jump into this story easily, without the need for any backstory. Right away, you know who Lupin is, what he's about and the plot is so easy to follow that it's just a treat to sit back and enjoy the ride. This is a very funny film with light-hearted jokes and cartoonish action peppered all over but it does have an edge (the Count and his assassins are very creepy, Lupin is seriously injured) that helps give real weight to the story, providing enough drama and intensity to flesh out the familiar save-the-princess scenario and make the film feel like less like an extended episode of the anime and more like a big standalone movie.
There's not much wrong at all with what is easily Hayao Miyazaki's first masterpiece: it presents an exciting, dramatic, visually stunning and fun adventure that not only showcases the best aspects of the Lupin character but also explores a more human side of him. Fans of Studio Ghibli, anime or animation in general should definitely not overlook this classic.