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Miyazaki Month: Castle of Cagliostro

To begin this month where I take a look at some of the Miyazaki’s works published within the U.S. I thought it would appropriate to start off with his first feature film and only franchise based work, Castle of Cagliostro. This is not only the first, but also best and most unusual works of the Lupin the 3rd film series, and clearly moves away from the 1960’s manga which is known for explicit slapstick and an alternative comic’s style. While it is clearly more typical of Miyazaki’s other work then the later Lupin the 3rd films, it clearly helped to influence the anime series and Lupin’s character. Miyazaki would later grow and evolve, but this feature definitely is incredible as theatrical debut for him and a work worth reviewing.

Even within this early work it is clear that Miyazaki is in expert in animation of movement. There is a distinct attention taken by Miyazaki to the timing and movement within his animation. It is clear that he has a distinct and precise sense of timing in all of his movies, and that each sequence of motion is carefully choreographed. It is this sense of movement that really made this movie to come to life so much and work so well as an action film. The breakneck paced action of this film, as well as a few of the more tender slow moments give this film a great grace and balance (though these slow moments are definitely refined as Miyazaki gained more experience). Without this sort of attention, especially within the action scenes the film couldn’t possibly have been nearly as good. Many of these the scenes are really achievements in animation such as the castle scaling scene, which is truly breathtaking to watch. Despite being a starting point and product of its time this film really hits the mark even to this day as one of the best action films anime has to offer.


The music for this work is mix of both great music and corny heavy handed sound effect cues. Castle of Cagliostro is one of the few Miyazaki movies not scored by Joe Hisaishi, since this is before the studio Ghibli period of Miyazaki’s career. Instead this work is scored by Ohno Yuji, who scored the music used in the Lupin the 3rd T.V. program. The music has a 1960’s Jazz feel and at its best it fits perfectly with the work. Tracks like the cool one used for the car chase theme (which would later become the Lupin the 3rd theme) and the exciting Samba Temperado were so well composed that they later became staples of the show, and fit excellently within the film. The main theme of the film Fire Treasure is remarkable, and an outstandingly beautiful song. The problem comes with some of the less musical cues which come off as distractingly silly or like over the top sound effects. I feel it would have been better if the film had removed most of these sound effect cues from the score all together. While some of these cues are distracting, the more musical parts of soundtrack is outstanding and befits the 1960’s action film setting of Lupin the 3rd.

With this movie I feel it is definitely best to go with the subtitles, because it feels like the most natural voice track for the characters and best acted. While neither dub does the sub justice, oddly enough I feel the older Streamline dub actually felt like it fit better with the character portrayal and with the film then the Manga entertainment dub, even considering the licensing problem forcing the Streamline dub to change of Lupin’s name to Wolf. While it takes a few frustrating liberties with the script, many of the characters feel as though their voice actors fit a lot better in the Streamline dub, such as the voice of Inspector Zenigata, the evil Count Calistro and his henchman Joto, and most importantly Lupin. I’d definitely advise though just seeing the sub version, especially since the Streamline dub is only official available on a rare video cassette version of the film.


The story for Castle of Cagliostro is fairly straight forward and can easily be followed even by those not familiar with the Lupin the 3rd franchise. The master thief Lupin and his partner the gunman Jigen rob a casino, only to find that the money they stole is an expertly made counterfeit coming from the small country of Cagliostro. It isn’t long before Lupin and his gang discovers a plot by the nation’s ruler an evil Count to forcibly marry the previous ruler’s daughter in hopes of revealing a treasure that is supposed to unveiled when the two blood lines are joined, and their two rings are connected. Lupin of course takes it upon himself to foil the evil Count, and his action attracts the attention of his archenemy inspector Zenigata of Interpol, as well as the femme fatal Fujiko who is also after the secret treasure.

Being a fairly simple story Castle of Caligostro has some interesting strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand the story is always exciting and never gets confusing or sidetracking. This allows for a constant stream of action which has been compared to works like Indiana Jones. The story also removes a lot of the raunchy and slapstick aspects of the manga, creating a more heartwarming and sentimental feel to this movie that would show up in other Miyazaki works. This treatment helped to tame the character and make him much more suited for a movie, and the television show which clearly splits the difference between the manga and this adaption of Lupin.

The problem with this simplicity, however is the story lacks a feeling of depth. Everything feels very straight forward, and despite having a few surprises for the most part the story is a fairly linear story of good vs. evil. Lupin goals are pretty straight forward: rescue Clarisse from the clutches of the evil Count and to search for the secrets of the royal family, all while foiling the Counts counterfeiting schemes along with Zenigata. What really sets the story the apart is the way it presents its actions and its characters. It is the details and timing that makes the story work far more than the basic concepts it presents.

The characters are given a fair amount of depth so that anyone unfamiliar with the Lupin the 3rd franchise will understand who they are clearly. In fact it is better perhaps to forget any assumption one might have about the characters if you are familiar with the franchise at all. The cast does lack the depth and personality; however that are found in characters within a later Miyazaki film in which the viewer can feel like the cast are like people familiar to them or at least believe that could they could be real. Those familiar with Lupin will be surprised by his characterization in Caligostro. Lupin is portrayed as a more mature and noble person with an ultimate goal, rather than being selfish and raunchy thief stealing from even more selfish people. He still has a charm and sarcastic wit to him, but feels far more of sympathetic character then in the manga or later adaptions. The Count of Caligrosto and his henchmen are fittingly slimy and sinister. I enjoyed how the Count attempts to cover his sinister temper with debonair manner, and how the more angered the Count gets the more this wicked he seems to appear. The most disappointing character of the cast is clearly Clarisse who is the only female Miyazaki lead other than Shita from Castle in the Sky to really to be mostly a damsel in distress character, rather than a strong female lead. Clarisse is constantly in danger, and rarely shows her own initiative (though she does get one chance to present a heroic sacrifice). She never really is given much characterization, other than being an innocent victim of the Counts cruelty.

The minor characters of the film are really interesting, especially in how they are portrayed. I really love how this Miyazaki handles the characters of Inspector Zenigata, and the femme fatale Fujiko.  Often Zenigata is portrayed in the anime as a bumbling buffoon obsessed with capturing Lupin or in the manga as a tired public servant who is usually one step behind Lupin. I love how Miyazaki redesigns the character to be unlike either of these character designs, presenting Zenigata as both a tenacious and driven, while still clearly a highly intelligent and noble character rather than an angry buffoon. The biggest change in character comes with Miyazaki’s blond Fujiko who is a strong willed and intelligent master of disguise, rather than a seductress who tries to use sex appeal to control people. This characterization differs from every other representation of Fujiko, and is far more respectful of her character and makes her character so much more deep and interesting. I really love how the movie really develops Lupin’s gang, especially Jigen who for first the part of the movie is traveling with Lupin (the samurai Goemon later arrives on a cart with a traditional rain hat). While Clarisse is a rather disappointingly weak character and the characters never really forge the emotional connection that some of Miyazaki’s other movies characters do such as those found Totoro, the characters are given a great reinterpretation and are easy for anyone to follow and enjoy.

While Castle of the Caligostro lacks the heartwarming depth that some later Miyazaki films have and Miyazaki clearly developed a lot since this film, it still is my 3rd favorite film created by Miyazaki. It is a simple effective adventure film, with a lot of heart and style and is definitely the best of the Lupin the 3rd films. I perhaps like this film too much since it doesn’t have as much depth or signature themes that are found in later Miyazaki films, but for some reason (perhaps because it is so different) I love this film. There is definitely a reason why Speilburg loves this film so much, and why I love it as well. I’d definitely recommend seeing this film, even if you haven’t ever heard of Lupin the 3rd before.


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