The Castle of Cagliostro

4 out of 5

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

Most often, in his long-running, multi-generational anime, Lupin III is a gentleman thief, loving and backstabbing Fujiko, with Goemon and Jigen always there for last minute assists, as Inspector Zenigata chases him off into a never-setting sunset.  Occasionally, though, we’ll lean into Lupin as the hero (as he’s certainly always, at least, an anti-hero), and his thieving ways are temporarily set aside to right some wrong.  …Inevitably to steal something at the very end, but all the same.

Director Hayao Miyazaki was already familiar with Lupin, having worked on the anime’s first part and two fantastic second part episodes, so, with his film debut – and Lupin’s second feature length – there’s no need for him to establish himself with the character, or with the outlandish tone of the world.  However, given the director’s later works, it’s probably no surprise that he leans more into adventure and fantasy than thievery, and with that comes Lupin The Hero; ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’ features the lead in more of a bumbling do-gooder fashion than as a charming rogue, with his money-taking tasking relegated to the film’s lead-in – an exciting heist, with Zenigata and cops in pursuit, Lupin realizing his score is all counterfeit bills and thus tossing them out behind his getaway car to throw off the chase – and to a flashback, when he’s a “greenhorn” thief, and meets Celeste, the girl kept sequestered in the titular castle and in need of rescuing.  Some further changes are apparent, most notably with Fujiko, who’s had all of her damsel-y, femme fatale ways stripped of her: the entirety of the flick she’s in army duds, and wholly remains in charge of her own business (she’s at the castle for her own heist, of course) and never reliant on Lupin.  While these shifts in tone and character may seem to go against the “classic” Lupin mold, Miyazaki’s characterization of Fujiko is perfect – she’s a horrible, dated cliche in the original anime, and too often used for lustful yuks – and the spirit of Lupin, I’d say, remains very much intact.  Thieving, plotting or not, he’s a good soul, with good friends to back him up, and that’s all here.

After noting the counterfeit bills, Lupin sets out to put a stop to their maker, the Count of Cagliostro, requiring him to infiltrate a massive castle with tricksy security.  On the way, he realizes another connection he’s had to the place: a past run-in with the princess of Cagliostro, who he comes to realize is being held against her will in wait for marriage to the Count, so that a fabled treasure of the Cagliostro line can be inherited.  Insert some magic rings and metal-plated ninjas.  (And Zenigata, butting in to try and capture Lupin and the counterfeiters at the same time.)

It’s 1979, so some of the animation is still jerky, but Miyazaki’s attention to details and awareness of where to focus fluidity is perfect: the film is eye-grabbing in all of the places it needs to be; fantastical where it needs to be and grounded where it needs to be.  Everyone has a lot of character and flourish, with our regular Lupin voice cast giving it their all to make the movie lively and exciting throughout.  The castle boasts a lot of great set pieces and props for action, including the wonderfully fun break-in to the princess’ tower and the final battle, although it feels like we get shorted on exploring the larger castle and its traps, and I felt like the geography of the entire location was a bit murky – the relation of the towers to one another; where exactly people were inside the castle at any given point…

Most of this, though, is churned ‘neath the sense of escape and adventure the movie offers, as well as an appreciated fleshed out storyline for the princess – as with Fujiko, the movie refuses to simply damsel her – and another classic chase into the unsetting-sun for our heroes and his besty, Zenigata.