Anime Feature Film Review – Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
by HELEN GEIB
Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro is part of Japan’s popular “Lupin the 3rd” franchise. The original 1960s manga series has spawned multiple sequel series, anime television series, and feature film adaptations among other media tie-ins. Castle of Cagliostro is the second of five anime feature films to chronicle one of the continuing adventures of master thief Lupin the 3rd and his confederates and antagonists.
This background is for informational purposes only. The film is a standalone story. I can attest that prior acquaintance with the character and his universe is not at all necessary to enjoy this particular entry- Castle of Cagliostro is the first and so far only Lupin the 3rd work I’ve either watched or read.
Lupin’s market presence in the U.S. does not remotely approximate his popularity in Japan, although several of the series and films have received U.S. distribution and there are rumors of a Hollywood live-action adaptation. American interest in Castle of Cagliostro has little to do with the Lupin the 3rd franchise and much to do with Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki, who also co-wrote, made his feature film directing debut with this film; he had previously directed several episodes of the Lupin the 3rd anime series. It’s a most enjoyable diversion with the humor, charm, and high-quality animation typical of Miyazaki’s films.
The story gets off to a lively start, joining up with Lupin and his partner-in-crime Jigen as they make a fast getaway from a casino heist. The duo celebrates by pouring out sacks of money in the bright yellow car until only Lupin’s eyes are visible through the mass of green bills. Their glee is cut short when Lupin realizes the paper is counterfeit. Jigen throws out great armfuls of bills that swirl about and fill the air behind them as they set course for Cagliostro, the tiny European kingdom rumored to be the base of operations for the world’s biggest counterfeiting operation. Cagliostro is of course a made-up country (in literary terms, a Ruritanian kingdom), a proper backdrop for Lupin to meddle in palace intrigue, escape from a dungeon, rescue a beautiful damsel in distress from a forced marriage, and expose a centuries-old criminal conspiracy.
I emphasized the coloration of the getaway sequence because this is a film painted in assertive colors. Lupin dresses garishly in a green coat and yellow tie. The villain prefers a purple cloak with a red lining worn over a red military uniform. The yellow-haired female spy wears a bright red dress as a disguise and green camouflage in escape. The red-haired princess is locked in a tower room with deep blue walls and a window looking out on bright blue skies. Cagliostro is a country of rolling green, flower-bedecked hills.
While Castle of Cagliostro has a self-contained plot, it does exist within the Lupin the 3rd franchise. The film assumes some audience knowledge of Lupin and several among the supporting cast are obviously recurring characters, entering the story with little to no introduction and evidently on terms of long-standing acquaintance with the great thief.
That the film is fully accessible to all audiences despite this is largely because the characters fall within familiar types. Lupin is a literary descendant of French novelist Maurice Leblanc’s famous creation, gentleman thief Arsene Lupin (Lupin the 3rd is reputedly much more the gentleman than usual in this outing). The supporting characters include his two loyal, weapons-proficient cohorts; the police inspector dedicated to and eternally incapable of capturing Lupin; and a femme fatale who is his sometime rival, sometime ally, and sometime lover. Moreover, Castle of Cagliostro is decidedly plot-driven. There is little more to the characters than I have described here; that is, aside from colorful and often amusing quirks of personality.
Much of both the comedy and action is based in exaggeration. The character designs are realistic, but facial expressions are frequently comically exaggerated: Lupin’s huge, toothy grins; the inspector’s paroxysms of dismay and fury; the villain’s leers and evil laughter. The medium of animation permits incredible physical feats by Lupin and wild brawls among his mutually antagonistic groups of pursuers without the film seeming fantastical. The castle is rigged with trap doors to the dungeon many floors below and an array of absurd medieval and modern death traps. The climax is set inside the mechanical workings and on the face of a crazily enormous clock.
Review Series – Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Next: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1983)