If your experience with Hayao Miyazaki’s animated feature films is limited to the likes of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle, then Castle of Cagliostro will show you a side to the director you aren’t familiar with. His first feature film, made in 1979, is a continuation of the hugely popular Lupin III animated television series, of which Miyazaki directed several episodes. While the magic we’ve come to expect from him is absent within Castle of Cagliostro, the usual themes are there: love, friendship, adventure and a battle of good vs evil.
In this adventure, the main characters are thieves and con merchants, the setting is in Europe (unusual for Miyazaki) and the plot plays out like an animated version of a 1970s buddy movie. Castle of Cagliostro follows the iconic super-thief Lupin III. After the heist which he carries out in the opening sequence lumbers him with counterfeit cash, he sets off to the small European country of Cagliostro to find out why and stumbles across an ancient national conspiracy. Oh, and we can’t forget the beautiful Clarisse – the damsel in distress who needs saving from the prospect of a terrible marriage to Count Cagliostro.
Castle of Cagliostro is the kind of film in which the romantic sub-plot is likely to appeal to young girls, whilst boys of a similar age might be drawn in by the high-octane action sequences, car chases, and crafty storylines that wouldn’t work in any other setting than an anime, as well as the bumbling crooks who are our heroes. Even adults will enjoy this entertaining adventure, swept up in a wave of nostalgia for this genre. The cheesy music during the action makes you roll your eyes with fondness, but who cares? The stunning visuals more than make up for it.
From the castle which Count Cagliostro lives in, to the surrounding European scenery, the film is stylistically more beautiful than any live action movie of this genre I’ve ever seen. The fact that Castle of Cagliostro is an animation means that the filmmakers are able to create implausible eventualities which may have proved rather less achievable within the realm of live action cinema. Even using CGI to create a similar effect nowadays would be unlikely live up to the original, as so few animators possess Hayao Miyazaki’s spectacular sense of vision.
When you watch a Miyazaki movie, or any Japanese anime, you have a choice between English subtitles or the English dub. I decided to play the film with both English dub and subtitles on this Blu-Ray DVD, with some amusing results. There was a massive difference between the dialogue spoken and the subtitled translation. For example, the actors referred to Lupin as Wolf (a copyright issue from years ago). At one stage Lupin is speaking with Clarisse, and the English dub has her praising him for his romantic gesture in saving her, yet the subtitles on screen detail Lupin’s excitement over the possibility of getting his hands on another of the Count’s treasures entirely. This may be a minor issue, but it made for some interesting viewing – a demonstration of how the English dubbing has attempted to romanticise the original Japanese text perhaps? If this is the case, then I would certainly suggest that you stick to reading the English subtitles in order to get an idea of how the tale was intended to be told.
The plot and overall style of this film may be relatively different from what we’ve come to expect from a Miyazaki animation, but the writing is still clever and witty, and the plot is fast-paced and never dull. Whether you prefer Miyazaki’s more recent work, or the films that first made him famous in Japan, it’s interesting to see where the legend started.
Castle Of Cagliostro is out on Blu-Ray DVD in the UK now!