Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
An oft-forgotten and under-appreciated Miyazaki classic. Then again, they’re all classics.
Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro is about a master thief and his right-hand men who bump off a casino, hit the road and quickly thereafter find themselves rescuing a princess from being killed during a high-speed chase. One thing leads to another and the gang winds up at a legendary castle where the princess is set to wed a total dick of a guy against her will while he’s printing counterfeit millions under everyone’s noses. Since he’s one of those thieves with a heart of gold, he sets out to save the girl, take down the main douche and his whole damn empire, and ideally make off with some loot without getting nabbed/killed in the process.
Word on the street is that the Lupin the 3rd franchise is a big freakin’ deal back in good ol’ Japan. It was a long-running manga series, a TV show that even made its way to Adult Swim for a while (back when Adult Swim wasn’t lame), and a whole slew of movies got churned out of it, but The Castle of Cagliostro – the second movie in the series – is about as far as my knowledge goes. Kind of a shame considering how awesome this movie is and how much I dig quality anime, but I’ll hopefully take care of the situation somewhere down the road when I hole up with a lifetime supply of Cheetos and completely geek out to the point of no return.
But whether you’re on the level or are still trying to figure out how the hell to pronounce “Cagliostro”, all you really need to know is that it’s debut directorial effort of living Japanese deity, Hayao Miyazaki. You liked Spirited Away, right? Of course you did! Everyone loved that thing! No, this doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Spirited Away outside of having the same phenomenal storyteller behind the wheel, but if you liked that (which you totally did), give this a chance, I’m thinkin’ you’ll like it, too.
So Miyazaki gained his epic reputation as Japan’s answer to Walt Disney/Abe Lincoln/everyone that Americans hold dear for a lot of reasons, but what arguably stands out most about his movies (aside from the whole “Master Storyteller” thing) is the vivid imagination behind them. Take a look at every last one of his movies and it shouldn’t be hard to realize that this guy is operating on a whole different plane of creative existence…except for this one.
This is the only Miyazaki movie where everyone and everything can feasibly exist without the aid of peyote at Burning Man. And while he also co-wrote the screenplay (which is pretty damn good), Lupin the 3rd was never his creation to begin with. All the same, Miyazaki’s the man and he makes it his own.
From an animation standpoint, it all stands up surprisingly well over three decades later. The characters are very retro and could probably use some more detail outside of their wide gamut of facial expressions, but the sprawling sets and scenery are still darn gorgeous. But there’s something very charming about that retro vibe, something very lively and unique about it that you can’t really find in the last few decades, and I really like that.
And the action scenes are awesome! There’s a certain sense of realism to it all, but since the beauty of animated films is that Sir Isaac Newton and all his cockamamey “physics” mumbo-jumbo can go get effed, a certain kind of Three Stooges element gets thrown into the mix where guys achieve superhuman feats without checking their shoes for traces of Flubber and get knocked around like gangbusters without even having to brush the dirt off their shoulders. It’s not like they’re Highlanders or anything, it’s just fun in a way you rarely see set at a pace that moves along gloriously.
One of those things that would make for a seriously kickass shot-for-shot, live-action remake. Highly doubt that’ll ever happen unless this Cowboy Bebop adaptation with Keanu ends up being an international megahit, but hey, a geek can dream.
Folks, this movie is just a time. No big moral or message, just pure animated escapism. Lupin – our part-Spike Spiegel, part-Robin Hood protagonist – is a riot to watch and the same goes for his demo man, Jigen, and his traveling samurai, Goemon. Fun characters with fun dialogue caught up in a fun story, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. And bonus points for getting David Hayter (Solid Snake himself) to voice Lupin. Minus points for re-dubbing it with unnecessary swearing. Just seems out of place, I guess.
Rumor has it that Steven Spielberg went to a screening of this back in the day and called it “one of the greatest adventure movies of all-time,” or something along those lines. Now, I don’t know if that’s just some internet bullshit fueled by some kid trolling around the Ponyo message boards, but I can’t find any Spielberg quote denying it, so I’ll let draw your own conclusions on that one. But whether or not this does actually have the Spielberg Seal of Approval, The Castle of Cagliostro is a damn fun way to kill some time, it’s even further evidence that Miyazaki has always been at the top of his game, and since the Anime section of Netflix Instant seems to be jam packed with more garbage than I knew existed, you really could do a whole lot worse. Not the best thing Miyazaki’s ever done, but it’s nevertheless a borderline 9.