Castle of Cagliostro

Japan Movie Reviews: The Castle of Cagliostro

Castle of Cagliostro

by Hemanth Kissoon, August 2007

The Castle of Cagliostro.

"And I thought this would be dull!" Jigen

In 1979 legendary director Hayao Miyazaki released his first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro, an action-comedy. This was before the inception of Studio Ghibli in the mid-1980s.

Launching breathlessly straight into an action sequence, Lupin and Jigen pull off a daring robbery of a Monte Carlo casino. They are chased by machine gun-toting security guards as the duo speed off in a car packed with money. You can tell they've done this before. However, Lupin realises that the stolen money is counterfeit and so allow the cash to stream out of the car onto the highway. Out of curiosity or desiring compensation their next move is to go to the mythical source of these 'goat bills', the Duchy of Cagliostro with a population of 3500, the smallest in the United Nations. Lupin calls the country "the black hole of counterfeiting".

On the way they are passed by a bride driving a car chased by gangsters. Lupin likes the look of the girl, who he vaguely recognises. In their souped-up car they join the pursuit to rescue the girl. They fail after much effort, but Lupin is left with her ring that has an inscription in the dead language of Capron, "When light and shadow are joined once again, it shall be restored. AD 1517". The Count of Cagliostro introduced arriving in an autogyro, an old-school helicopter, is keeping the girl prisoner in a tower in his castle, only reachable by a retractable walkway. "Damn! When they lock someone up they don't kid around," Lupin. They now have to rescue the girl and find the source of these 'goat bills'.

This film is of a different variety to the usual Miyazaki, but not the worse for it. It has a greater grounding in reality and little of the fantastical, though there is still much imagination on display. There are ninjas dressed like metal gorillas, Lupin's handy gadget belt, and Gustav, the Captain of the Guard, talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Castle of Cagliostro really shows the director's understanding of pace and excitement. There are no boring parts of the film, it feels like a James Bond Lupin attempting to foil a dastardly plan and get the lady. However, he is not so wholesome, being a criminal himself. Let's not forget that our first meeting with him involved a robbery. He is probably closer to the character of Thomas Crown in The Thomas Crown Affair, and Michael Caine's Charlie Croker in The Italian Job. The film is very European looking, as well as musically (composed by Yuji Ohno).

Talking of wholesome, the film is more adult than Miyazaki's other work, though not thematically as this seems to be a straightforward morality tale about doing right and where criminals can have honour, but more in the proceedings. There is mild swearing, liberal use of weapons (machine guns, pistols, grenades, swords and an anti-tank gun), smoking, and references to Lupin and the Count being womanisers. Though don't be put off, it appears to be simply about loveable rogues having adventures. The movie is funny.

While tonally not as innocent, the director's brilliant attention to detail and visual verve appears to be fully formed from the out-set: swimming up a waterfall, a lipstick hint on a newspaper and a samurai sword cutting off Lupin's burning clothes. There are some nice self-referential touches too, a politician watching on a television refers to an Interpol agent's bad acting, and Lupin questions how there can "be a happy ending to this romantic tale".

The climax is exciting, and as any fan of Miyazaki expects, is unexpected. The Castle of Cagliostro still stands up 30 years on!

Japanese Cinema Reviews by Hemanth Kissoon

Black Rain
Castle in the Sky
Cyber City Oedo 808
Grave of the Fireflies
My Neighbor Totoro
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Porco Rosso
Tales From Earthsea
Tokyo Godfathers
Throne of Blood

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