Anime Review: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

TL;DR – Lupin, renown thief and lady’s man, pulls a heist at a casino but discovers the money he has stolen is counterfeit. He wants to find out who is behind the counterfeit currency and how they are made (so he can steal it), which leads him to Cagliostro. But there he finds more than he planned – a princess wanting to escape an arranged marriage, a legend of a hidden treasure within the Castle of Cagliostro, and a Count wanting to establish a throne of power.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Hayao Miyazaki’s directional debut tells the story of Lupin III, a gentlemen thief, that performs heists more for the thrill of it then to get rich. He is joined by his right-hand man, Jigen, an expert marksman and Ishikawa, a renegade samurai. This eclectic trio are constantly being chased by Inspector Zenigata, who I expect enjoys the chase more than actually trying to arrest Lupin for his crimes.

Miyazaki’s sense of vision, animation and story-telling are laid out in full in the The Castle of Cagliostro and would establish him as a pioneer and leader in anime (and indeed the world over) for decades to come. The vast array of comedy, action, story, diverse characters and distinct animation elements in Miyazaki’s films have influenced many others including Makoto Shinkai (Director of ‘Weathering with you’ and ‘Your Name’) and John Lasseter (Disney/Pixar).

The opening scene where Lupin and Jigen rob a casino and are driving away in an Italian Fiat 500 overflowing with cash is immediately engaging and comical (reminiscent of something out of Looney Tunes but with much finer animation). When Lupin eyes the multitude of bills that are practically obscuring his windscreen while he is driving, he realises that they are counterfeit. Instead of being angry, he is excited and sees this as his next job to find out how the counterfeits are made and steal the technology. Lupin and Jigen then proceed to open the doors and roof window of the Fiat and releasing a stream of counterfeit cash on the freeway. From an animation point-of-view it is spectacular, and from a story perspective, you are immediately cheering on Lupin and Jigen even though they are crooks.

This leads them to the principality of Cagliostro, population 3,500; a small state that Lupin coins the ‘black hole of counterfeit bills’ because people who enter the principality to snoop around are never seen again. There they encounter the princess of Cagliostro, trying to escape from some henchmen who work for Count Cagliostro. Lupin finds out that the Count has arranged a marriage with the princess to cement his power. It also means that the count will be in possession of two ancestral rings – his own and the princess’s ring – which will supposedly unlock an ancient treasure within the castle of Cagliostro.

Lupin’s ‘job’ now expands to rescuing the princess because if there is anything more attractive than pulling a heist, it is rescuing a damsel in distress being held against her will by an evil Count.

Miyazaki’s stamp of approval comes through the story. For his first anime feature film, he does not treat his audience like a bunch of otaku, and delves into what really drives stories and connects them to the viewer through the wonderful dialogue between Lupin and his crew, Lupin and the Count, Lupin and the princess, and Lupin and Inspector Zenigata. These characters play out against a magnificent European backdrop that is Cagliostro along with a plot that has enough mystery and comedy that will leave your entertainment tank full by the time the credits roll. And if that is not enough, Miyazaki also throws in a beautiful soundtrack and sound effects that capture the atmosphere of this film in its entirety.

Still not enough? Then there is also Fujiko Mine, who happens to make a showing and is Lupin’s on-again off-again love interest who also happens to be… you guessed it… a thief.

Wonderfully intricate, visually engaging, and entirely fulfilling as an action adventure mystery. You have a magnificent mind, Hayao Miyazaki. Absolutely magnificent.

10 out of 10

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