Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Yasuo Yamada, Sumi Shimamoto, Tarō Ishida, Gorō Naya, Kiyoshi Kobayashi
The film is the directorial debut of Hayao Miyazaki, who co-founded Studio Ghibli and headed such cinematic gems as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Castle in the Sky. His hyper-detailed, fantastical architecture and apple-cheeked, wide-eyed protagonists are iconic in Japanese animation. Miyazaki’s signature style displayed in Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro as well as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind also inspired young Disney animators in the 1980s, and the character designs of Ariel, Belle, Aladdin, and Tarzan all trace artistic heritage back to those films.
I am personally obliged Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro because I love fights on giant clocks. Two of my chief stylistic inspirations are The Great Mouse Detective and Batman: The Animated Series. The climactic fight in “The Clock King” episode of Batman‘s first season informed much of my pulpy writing sensibility. Little did I know, however, that both sequences were homages to Cagliostro’s climax!
Hayao Miyazaki is retiring. At 82 years old, he wanted to dedicate a film to his grandson, one the child could watch his grandfather passed. That film, The Boy and the Heron, premiered last month in Japan to positive reviews. Since I imagine I’ll see Miyazaki’s final movie later this year, it only made sense that I should also watch his first.
Thus, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro begins this month’s theme of…
An auteur is a filmmaker who puts an artistic stamp on their work. Audiences can easily guess which movies an auteur has directed because that director has stylistic flourishes identifiable throughout their collection of work. Martin Scorcese deals with the effects of East-Coast mobster crime. Jordan Peele casts Black actors to tell horrific allegories. Christopher Nolan explores intricate ideas enveloped in oppressive sound design.
This whole month, Oblogatory will explore notable works by signature filmmakers.
Lupin III, grandson of famed literary French thief Lupin Arsene, has scored big with his latest heist. He, along with his pal Jigen, have ripped off a casino in Monte Carlo! Just as they’re about to suffocate trying to keep all the money in their car, Lupin notices one flaw in their score–all the bills are counterfeit.
Noticing a distinct style on the fake cash, Lupin decides to track down the plates that made the money… in Cagliostro. Upon arrival, Lupin and Jigen help rescue a girl being chased by henchmen. They fail, but she leaves behind a ring, which Lupin recognizes as half of a royal signet/vault key. The owner of the other half is none other than the criminal Count of Cagliostro. The girl that the thieves were trying to rescue, then, is the princess!
As Lupin and Jigen learn more about the country, they also learn that the Count is not only printing the fake bills, but is also forcing the princess to marry him. That way, legally, the Count will own both halves of the rings and can unlock the vault. The Count’s counterfeiting scheme has already made him rich beyond belief, so what greater treasure could lie beneath the Castle of Cagliostro?
I hope that I didn’t lose any readers with that plot summary–because that was only the setup. There’s an hour more development followed by a climax. After that, of course, comes the resolut– and credits! Unfortunately, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is overstuffed on plot, much of it circular. With only three minutes of runtime remaining (I had to pause to make sure I hadn’t missed anything), Lupin infodumps the emotional resolution onto the princess as well as his friends. I was so shocked by the anvil-level clunkiness of this storytelling that I hadn’t noticed that I’d been laughing at it for a good ten seconds.
Upon researching the film’s production, I learned that the filmmakers divided Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro into four quarters, then began working to animate each part. By the time they got to the ending, however, they’d run out of time and money because the animation became indulgent, each action sequence taking up more of the runtime than anticipated. Frustratingly, had the director directed his teams to rein in their efforts, this movie would’ve had time to properly resolve its characters’ dynamics.
Frustrating seems to be the describer for this whole viewing experience. There is so much good in this movie–the lush scenery, the all-too-human expressions, the fine-tip characterization. Additionally, I came into Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro as a massive Miyazaki fanboy! The lax pacing paired with a truncated ending, however, keeps this movie out of the top tier for me, though I remain thankful for its influence on both Japanese and American animation.
The 1970s were dim years for animation, so Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro stands a cut above its contemporaries in visuals alone. The movie also has appeal because many of Miyazaki’s signature flourishes are already visible. Besides the copious cigarette smoking and gentleman-thief premise, there’s not much objectionable for kids. Honestly, it’d make a great family viewing, and older children would dig the heist and escape sequences. This movie is 45 years old, however, so expect dated gender roles.
I think the average animation fan will appreciate the movie for its historical value, but those searching for early-career Miyazaki brilliance are better off with his second film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.