Lupin the Third lost himself in the hands of Hayao Miyazaki!
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast/Voices: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masayuma, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Gorô Naya, Tarô Ishida
Related Animes: Golgo 13, Cowboy Bebop, Princess Mononoke, From up on Poppy Hill
The curse of Cagliostro
It’s funny that The Castle of Cagliostro has come to represent the entire Lupin the Third-franchise in America and Europe. If you ask Japanese Lupin-fans about the film, they will acknowledge its masterpiece-status, but also tell you that it’s not a «real Lupin-movie».
Arguably, The Castle of Cagliostro became famous in the west because of its maker. Films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle created a worldwide cult of Miyazaki fanboys.
The name Hayao Miyazaki is like catnip for western anime fans.
– JCA –
Many of us took an interest in The Castle of Cagliostro for the very same reason that the Japanese Lupin-fans lost interest. To be fair, some voices in Japan do favor the Miyazaki-version, but die-hard Lupin-fans will claim that Miyazaki did not stay true to Lupin from the manga series.
The conception of Lupin the jolly burglar
Maasaki Ôsumi was the original director of the pilot film (1969) and the first anime series (1971-72). His vision was closer to that of the manga, which is to say more adult than the version most viewers are familiar with today.
Due to few viewers, and the fact that Ôsumi refused to adapt his directing for a younger audience, he was replaced by Miyazaki midway through the series. From there on, violence, sexuality and other adult themes were replaced by the family-friendly shenanigans we all know from Lupin the Third.
Ôsumi was ahead of his time, but his legacy remains. His work on Lupin the Third is noted as the first example of adult themes and complex storytelling in Japanese anime. His ideas did seem to linger somewhat, however, even after Miyazaki took over. This might, to some extent, explain the many-sided nature of Cagliostro.
Getting into The Castle of Cagliostro
Even though it was released seven years after the first anime series, The Castle of Cagliostro still seemed like a patchwork of influences. Not only did it fuse Miyazaki-antics with slightly mature topic matters, it melted Japanese anime with Robin Hood, James Bond and French animation («La bergère et le ramoneur»).
The film is set in European mountains and Monte Carlo suburbia. This is where snooty noblemen, ninja-looking bad guys, Interpol, damsels in distress and our cheeky burglar gather to seek the truth about the real treasure of Cagliostro.
Absurd comedy and quirky characters have since then become the staple of modern-day anime, at least in certain genres. This could possibly be part of the reason why so many people hold Cagliostro in such high regard.
The plot in all its senseless glory
The story is somewhat incoherent and nonsensical, but not too far-out to grasp if you keep your eyes peeled to the screen at all times.
After robbing a casino Lupin and his accomplice comes into a buttload of counterfeit cash. Hell-bent on finding the weasel responsible for making their invaluable loot, they set out on an adventure to discover big secrets and even greater dangers.
The multitude of entanglements that follow is sort-of besides the point of the film. Action, comedy, adventure and romance fuel the story and cleverly cover the somewhat weak storyline, much like Lupin himself would do. The full synopsis can be found at Wikipedia.
A few notes about production quality
Compared to any modern-day anime, The Castle of Cagliostro definitely has the advantage of possessing that classic atmosphere of pre-2000 anime productions. The drawing style and cinematography are solid for sure, and more than adequate to satisfy fans of old-school anime.
That being said, the hand drawn settings and action sequences are not particularly jaw-dropping, even for its time. This is a matter of opinion, but the tangy action in Golgo 13: The Professional (1983), for instance, tickles my «old-school anime-fancy» much more than the clean Miyazaki-lines in Cagliostro.
On the other hand, the car chases and the rooftop action offer some pretty sleek visuals. It is a definite plus that all the action is very well choreographed. More than once it made me think of the pristine fighting sequences from Cowboy Bebop.
What The Castle of Cagliostro lacks in 80s anime grit, again, it cleverly directs attention away from with high entertainment factor. Especially when the story and dialogue venture into unnecessary territories, the comic relief keeps straying minds at bay.
Between the lines of good and evil
Trying to find some deeper meaning behind The Castle of Cagliostro is not easy, which explains why very few discuss this topic online. Some reflections are worth mentioning though:
Brian Eggert (Deep Focus Reviews) describes the film as a «highly symbolic battle between good and evil». Lupin represents the middle ground, the gray area between decency and decadence. A familiar place for many, with or without the redeeming heroics of a cocky burglar.
Lea Schnelbach (Tor.com) notes that Lupin appears the complete opposite of the police inspector chasing him. Inspector Zenigata is the human embodiment of Japanese morale: A hardworking and unrelenting cog in the wheels of society.
«Zenigata serves as … a symbol of the life Lupin fears most»
– Lea Schnelbach –
Another interesting side note – also pointed out in Schnelbach's insightful article – is that the damsel-in-distress-character (Clarisse) is considered by some to be the origin of «Moe»; a slang term that appeared in 80s Japan:
«Moe» describes strong affection or devotion towards cute characters in manga, anime, video games or other media. In later years its meaning has expanded to signify all kinds of pseudo-romance with unobtainable characters or objects.
Eggert also states that Lupin's journey throughout the film is defining his status as the anti-hero. By the hands of Miyazaki, Lupin became more likeable, less crude, and morally indecisive. In other words, Lupin became more accessible for all, not just a selected few.
Though Cagliostro showed a more streamlined Lupin, the film doesn’t feel like a Miyazaki-film. The mix of James Bond-like action, dark humor, sarcasm and Lupin's anti-establishment ways, makes for a mishmash of filmmaking.
Lupin’s questionable character is underlined by the choices he makes after the grand finale in Cagliostro. Safe to say, Lupin is rather un-Miyazaki in his mindset, which in this particular case is necessary in order to uphold the franchise. It's not like James Bond to settle down, and neither would Lupin for many years to come.
Final verdict for Cagliostro
From an outsider’s standpoint – meaning not a die-hard Lupin-fan – The Castle of Cagliostro is odd and silly, yet manages to keep our attention for the 102-minute duration. In other words, Cagliostro is not without its flaws, but it also has a lot to offer.
It became an anime phenomenon, perhaps due to being released in the right place at the right time. Some 40 years later, it still captivates new audiences, which is impressive in its own right.
Many will claim this is a must see anime, but there are quite a few classics out there we'd recommend before this one: Galaxy Express 999 (1979), Barefoot Gen (1983), Angel's Egg (1985), Fist of the North Star (1986) and Akira (1988), to mention the tip of the iceberg.
That being said, the mix of flaws and fun gives The Castle of Cagliostro a certain unique touch. If you want to broaden your horizon and be entertained at the same time, it is not a bad choice. For anyone interested in the history of anime, it is a mandatory curriculum for sure.
Deep Focus Review: Lupin the III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Whacha Watchin'?: The Castle of Cagliostro Re-View
Wikipedia: Lupin the Third Part 1