The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki & Haruya Yamazaki

My Studio Ghibli marathon began with a non-Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, though that film is often grouped with Ghibli, so it only seems fitting that I should finish out my marathon with another non-Ghibli Hayai Miyazaki film, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, or just The Castle of Cagliostro. Based on an anime series, also overseen by Miyazaki, about a thief called Lupin, The Castle of Cagliostro  is the oldest film in this marathon by 5 years, but finds itself with no less impact, enjoyment, or the trademark Miyazaki touch when it comes to the animation and storytelling. It has been an incredible ride, and while I didn’t see this film in the bog screen, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see all of the other films in a darkened theater with a big screen and theater sound. It is an experience I won’t soon forget.

The film opens quickly, showing our hero, the great thief Lupin, and his sidekick/partner Jigen rushing away with a car full of money (quite literally). But soon, Lupin recognizes the money as “goat” money, some of the best counterfeits in the world. Disappointed, the thieving pair head to Cagliostro to investigate the source of these counterfeits bills, but are soon involved in a complicated plot that involves the beautiful Princess of Cagliostro an evil count, and his maniacal plan to marry the princess, thereby usurping all of the mysterious power in Cagliostro in order to uncover the great treasure of the kingdom. Lupin and Jigen, along with Fujiko, a former lover of Lupin who is disguised as the princess’ lady-in-waiting, and Inspector Zenigata, whom Lupin tips off about the counterfeiting, must find common ground to stop the count and his evil plans.

The “for [insert year here]” argument is a tired one, so I will just say that the animation on display here is quite good and reminiscent of other Miyazaki works. I must say however, that the film felt distinctly like a television show for a couple of reasons, none of them truly bad. For one, everything seemed a little more cartoonish than what I have become accustomed to with the Studio Ghibli films. The animation of the characters, their mannerisms and actions, are all slanted to the unrealistic/cartoon realm of the spectrum. In addition, the plotting is familiar in a manner that it is easy to see this as just part of a larger story. Lupin is a character to build a series around, with multiple adventures, encounters and antics. The Castle of Cagliostro, to our benefit, is likely his most adventurous and entertaining, making it a good choice for the feature film version of this character.

Lupin is a charismatic lead with bravado and intrigue built in. As a result, it is quite a bit of fun seeing him work within the context of this adventure, which sees him wooing a new suitor, working with a previous lover, collaborator with his presumed longtime pursuer from law enforcement, and thwarting a big time criminal. By making Lupin a criminal himself, the story slants somewhat to the Noir side of things, though very little else mirrors the genre. Instead, adventure and action are center stage. I must say, however, that I felt the first half of the film was far more entertaining than the back end of the story. The first time Lupin infiltrates the titular castle is a ton of fun, making his return trip anti-climatic in many ways. That is not to say the ending is bad, it’s not. In fact, it is quite good, but it just feels like a slight letdown after the fun action at the beginning of the caper.

In all, Lupin is a fun hero to follow. His character is mischievous, but not without a moral side, which makes cheering for him a bit of a struggle, but within a story like this, it is easy to see who the true villain is. As it ranks among Miyazaki’s other works, I think The Castle of Cagliostro is certainly not one of his more imaginative. In fact, it may be his most standard and least unique films in his filmography, but it’s still darn entertaining as a proficient action/adventure story with good characters, fun settings, and interesting twists. I’m sure I would rank the film somewhere near the middle of the pack, or a little lower, when it comes to the very elite filmography of Studio Ghibli. In that sense, the ending of this marathon is a little anti-climatic as well, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had watching all of these great films for anything. Thanks for following along on my journey!

*** – Good

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