Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro Anime Review
Rupan Sansei: Cariosutoro no Shiro
US Release By
Lupin III is the greatest thief the world has ever known. Accompanied by his trusted friend Jigen, a peerless gunman, and with the occasional help of the samurai Goemon, no heist is too great.
But after pulling off a casino robbery whose haul consists entirely of counterfeit bills, Lupin decides that his next job will be to track these legendary "Goat Bills" to their source--the tiny country of Cagliostro. Before long Lupin and friends are involved in a twisted scheme by the Count of Cagliostro to marry himself to the beautiful princess Clarise. With the Count's army of henchmen, a castle full of traps, and a princess locked in a tower, it's going to take every trick in Lupin's bag to pull off this caper.
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Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is a marvelous film with enough whimsical action, playful adventure, and satisfying plot to appeal to viewers of almost any age, so long as they've got a little of that youthful rogue in spirit. With Miyazaki's characteristic magic touch, the film is a feast of lush European scenery, relentless sequences of death-defying action, and a hint of touching nostalgia. Really the only complaint you could make is that as a Lupin III film, it's rather too clean--the gadgets, action, and cat-burglary are there in spades, but Miyazaki's Lupin just isn't as smarmy and randy as the character is supposed to be.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is a wonderful, action-packed adventure with enough substance and characterization to appeal to both the young and the young at heart.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is a marvelous film with enough whimsical action, playful adventure, and satisfying plot to appeal to viewers of almost any age, so long as they've got a little of that youthful rogue in spirit.
That said, there are three entirely different (and somewhat contradictory) lenses through which you can look at The Castle of Cagliostro: As a Miyazaki film; as part of the decades-long Lupin III franchise; or entirely on its own, as a standalone all-ages action-adventure. It's hard to argue that the film isn't memorable, but exactly how successful it is depends a great deal on what you're comparing it to. I happen to be fond of each of these categories of anime independently, so I'll go ahead and try looking at the movie through three different pairs of fan-glasses.
Castle of Cagliostro certainly has everything you could ask for in a Miyazaki film: Lush European scenery, fanciful action, a hint of pure-hearted romance, and a solidly-constructed plot that skips along at a brisk pace but also takes the time to slow down for an occasional touching moment. And, true to form, when he tugs at the heartstrings, he does it almost effortlessly--there are no orchestral swells or tearful close-ups, just small, heartfelt moments allowed to stand on their own. If there's anything to complain about, it's the Miyazaki-stock characters: The Count is his consummate confident evildoer, and the naive--but still strong-willed--Clarise bears a remarkable physical resemblance to Clara (from Heidi, Girl of the Alps) among others.
In all, while the established conventions of Lupin and friends restrain Miyazaki a bit from the wonder of his fanciful-yet-earthy stories like Porco Rosso, or the intrinsic moral messages of some of his deeper films, his sense of action and lighthearted danger is loosed in full force to wonderful effect.
I find it somewhat ironic, then, that when I switch viewpoints much of what makes the film a fine Miyazaki movie makes it rather out-of-place as a Lupin III film. It's almost at odds with itself, as if Miyazaki just couldn't bring himself to make a movie as randy as the character requires. Lupin III has, after all, built a reputation as good, somewhat dirty fun for adults with a rascal at heart.
This is probably why, as a Lupin III film, The Castle of Cagliostro seems to be missing something. It certainly has the wild action, gadgets, and skin-of-the-teeth escapes that Lupin III fans know and love, but it's just a little too clean. Miyazaki's Lupin may be a womanizer by reputation, but he's too much the dashing rogue--he just doesn't have the lust in his eyes, or that touch of smarmy greed in his heart. Fujiko, likewise, may be as competent as ever, but the sense of competition and sexual tension is missing. Plus, to put it as bluntly as I can, she's wearing too much; sexuality-as-a-tool has always been an integral part of her character, and it's nowhere to be found here. Jigen and particularly Goemon also get left out of much of the plot, but that's not unusual.
That said, part of what's given the Lupin III franchise its staying power is that every animated interpretation of the characters is different, and every film has its own feel and focus. So long as you accept that this is a particularly clean and rather nostalgic Lupin III film, it's certainly not a bad one.
If I pretend I know nothing about Miyazaki or Lupin III (not difficult, as I first saw the Streamline dub of the film long before I had even heard of either), the analysis is much easier: A positively fantastic light-hearted adventure that grabs you with the opening scene and doesn't let go until the credits roll. The action is, perhaps, a tad "childish" for my taste--for all the swordplay and gunfire, there's barely a drop of blood, and it's not clear if any of the legions of henchmen are even seriously injured. There are, similarly, a couple of sight gags that didn't do anything for me. But that's a nitpick, and I was largely too busy cheering for the heroes to care.
The film also serves up a handful of surprisingly touching moments between the dashing rogue Lupin and the consummate innocent Clarise--a few quiet bits of largely unspoken nostalgia. Clarise, though not a very substantive character, is at least a damsel in distress who does her best to rescue herself.
The visual thrill is perhaps the best of it, though--gorgeous background art of stately castles, lush pastoral scenery, and a centerpiece action scene in and around a giant clock tower. The action may lack a hard edge, but the sense of relentless motion is truly impressive. Once an action scene gets underway--be it spectacular car chase, cat-burglary, or castle-spanning melee--there is never a moment to catch your breath, as one death-defying feat after another is strung together in a fluid dance. Acrophobics beware: Miyazaki's films are known for their sense of vertigo, and this one is no exception. There are several scenes involving rooftop sneaking and a famed showdown on the face of a clock that feature a dizzying sense of height.
The Japanese dialogue of course features the same colorful cast as dozens of other Lupin III films. They are all in top form, though Fujiko gets somewhat short-changed, not having a single scene to flex her sultry vocals. The three notable additions, the Count, his head henchman, and Clarise, are solid if unimpressive in the roles.
In my mind, the Japanese voices of Lupin, Zenigata, Fujiko, Jigen, and Goemon are simply too much a part of the characters for any dubbed version to work, however good it is, so I'll be generous and not say too much about the dub. Manga's cast is mostly solid--Jigen and the count are both good matches--but Lupin sounds too young and chipper to fit the part. Streamline's old dub, now hard to find, was decent as well. I have to say I slightly prefer Michael McConnohie's Count to Kirk Thornton, who voices him in the Manga dub.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro may not be the best Lupin III movie in the franchise, but it's the best known and with good reason--if you look past what it does with the established characters and take it as a standalone film, it is a wonderful, action-packed adventure with enough substance and characterization to appeal to both the young and the young at heart.
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Although there are a lot of Lupin III movies, most are less clean and more violent than this one; the most similar is probably The Fuma Conspiracy, which has a very similar plot and mood. Several Miyazaki movies also have a similar sense of adventure, most notably Laputa and Porco Rosso.
Notes and Trivia
The Lupin III franchise is based on a series of comic books begun in the late 1960s by the pseudonymously-named Monkey Punch. The original Lupin comics were James Bond-style capers full of lurid sex and violence, but most of the animated incarnations since have been at least somewhat cleaner.
The character of Lupin III is loosely based on Arsene Lupin, a fictional gentleman thief popularized in a series of French-language novels by Maurice Leblanc, published between about 1907 and 1939. He was a sort of roguish French counterpart to Sherlock Holmes, and has since appeared in a number of movies and unofficial books. Lupin III is, theoretically, the grandson of the original.
Apparently trademark issues with the estate that owns the original character initially prevented release of most Lupin III movies in the US under that title; when Streamline translated The Castle of Cagliostro years ago, they dubbed the main character's name as "Wolf," and later AnimEigo released two films as "Rupan III" to avoid the same spelling.
The other characters are also based on (or parodies of) various famous Japanese characters; Inspector Zenigata, for example, is based on the fictional detective Zenigata Heiji, created in a series of early 20th century novels by Kodou Nomura and later popularized in a long-running TV series.
US DVD Review
Manga's new Special Edition DVD is quite a production, and a definite step up from their older DVD release, and seems to be modeled after Disney's Miyazaki DVD series (even the box design is similar)--a good thing, since those are spectacular productions. It comes on a two-sided disc (instead of two discs), with the feature on one side and a second side full of bonus materials: A complete set of storyboards set to the soundtrack, an interview with the animation director, and trailers.
As for the feature itself, for a film from the late '70s, it's impressive: Anamorphic widescreen with rich colors, almost no visible dust or scratches on the print, and no reel-change marks, either (although there is a bit of a black border around the edge, reducing the size of the picture a bit on a widescreen TV). I have two small nitpicks, however. One, although the transfer appears to be progressive "film style," it was obviously transferred from an interlaced source, because occasional frames show interlacing. The second is the opening sequence, which sadly replaces the animated scenes during the credits with still frames; that was unfortunate, since the sequence is so beautiful. The film is otherwise untouched.
Languages consist of the original Japanese mono track (it's an old movie, but at least it's crisp), Manga's English dub in Dolby 5.1 or 2.0, as well as one-channel dub tracks in French and Spanish. There is a track of English subtitles which are translated quite accurately from the Japanese, rather than the dub script.
The only other oddity of the Special Edition is that the color of the box art seems to be off--it looks very "aged," and far less vibrant than the video itself.
About as clean as a Lupin III movie can get. There is quite a bit of fighting, but despite all the guns and swords it is largely bloodless and not at all hard-hitting.
Violence: 2 - A lot of fighting, but almost no blood or death.
Nudity: 1 - Lupin almost loses his boxers at one point, if that even counts.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - There are vague hints at mature themes, but that's all.
Language: 1 - Largely clean.
Available in North America from Manga Video on multi-lingual DVD Special Edition. Was previously available from Manga on bilingual DVD with less features. Prior to that, a dubbed version was available on VHS from Streamline Pictures.