Hayao Miyazaki is considered by many people to be one of the most influential directors of our time, a Walt Disney for our generation. The animators at Pixar have dubbed many of his movies, they cite him as being their major influence, and even Steven Spielberg was said to have called one of Miyazaki's films "the greatest action movie [he's] ever seen." High praise indeed, but what is this great film Spielberg is talking about? Well it's not the Oscar winning "Spirited Away" or the charming "My Neighbor Totoro," but is in fact Miyazaki's directorial debut "Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro." Now that might seem like a strange choice considering the impressive films Miyazaki went on to direct later on in his career, but there's no denying there's something about "Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro" that just shines.
It's certainly the black sheep on Miyazaki's resume. It was made while Miyazaki was a director for hire rather then the head of Studio Ghibli, the company Totoro built. Instead of being an original creation the movie was based off the famous "Lupin III" television series. And regular composer Jo Hisaishi was absent this time around, and composing the score was Yuji Ohno, a composer who mainly composed for television as opposed to Hisaishi's experience with composing for film and concerts. That said, "The Castle of Cagliostro" holds up surprisingly well. Unlike the television show and some of the previous movies, Lupin is clearly the good guy in "The Castle of Cagliostro." Where Lupin is a thief who normally gets involved in situations only if he benefits from the job, here he initially gets involved in a scheme to blow a counterfeiting operation, and falls in love with the beautiful Clarice, who he (temperarly) saves from some thugs.
Turns out Clarice is actually a princess of the (fictional) country of Cagliostro, and has been kidnaped because the current ruler of Cagliostro wants to marry Clarice and fulfil an ancient legend that would revel the location of the long lost treasure of the Cagliostro castle. Taken in by her good looks, Lupin makes it his mission to blow the Count's counterfeiting scheme and save Clarice, no matter the costs. His friends Jigen and Goemon have a hard time believing they are actually on a mission that won't result in any of them making money. Though a simple story, "The Castle of Cagliostro" works for several reasons. The first reason is that it's a lot of fun. Chases and fights are done with so much energy and excitement, it entertains the audience by giving them smart action as opposed to noisy action. One scene that sticks out to many people is the car chase at the beginning of the film, where Lupin drives up a mountain to get ahead of the thugs chasing Clarice.
Another notable scene is the fight scene in the clock tower between Lupin and the Count, a scene I suspect inspired Disney animators when it came time to animate the Big Ben finale in "The Great Mouse Detective." Though the film is more of a zany heist film then a dramatic work of art, several scenes throughout the film give the characters and situations a bit more depth then is required for a film like this, yet is appreciated because the movie ends up aiming a little higher then we expected it too. Fans of the series might be a little disappointed that the characters are more civil then they normally are, and designed slightly different from the TV show (Lupin even wears a green jacket as opposed to his classic red vest), but I think the compromise makes perfect sense.
Truth be told, the characters are only slightly different from their TV versions. Therefor people who don't watch the show can watch this movie because all the background information you need is in the movie, and the characters are familiar enough so that fans of the show won't feel left out. And while the movie is working on a much lower budget then his future films would be, there are many small details in the backgrounds, coupled with several artistic scenes that give us a glimpse of the masterful art Miyazaki would eventually come to be known for.
When I get down to it I know "Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro" is not Miyazaki's best film. It's not even in the top five. What it is though is a fun, adventurous romp that is similar to the classic caper movies of the sixties that has a keen artistic style. It also has likable characters, decent animation, and enough depth that makes it worth watching more then once. And truth be told, this is one of those movies that could easily entertain anyone from the ages 2 to 100 (though I must point out the dub adds some unnecessary PG-13 language in a movie that would have otherwise been an easy PG, which I find kind of unfortunate). It might not exactly be Oscar-worthy material like some of Miyazaki's later films are, but I still find it an easy recommendation.
What did you think of this review?
The girl turns out to be the Princess Clarisse soon to wed the Count of Cagliostro. The Count is seeking to find the lost treasure of Caglistro and needs the Princess's ring to do so. Can Lupin rescue the Princess, find the counterfeit money, and find the lost treasure? And just what is his secret past with both the Count and Clarisse?