Review: Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro

Every time I watch a new Miyazaki film, it becomes my favorite. It’s so hard to criticize or pick apart any of his films, simply because his work captures you. None of his films are “perfect”, but, when your watching them, it’s impossible to think of any faults. There’s something magical about what he makes, and the first film he made was no different. I recently saw Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro for the first time in a very nice theater, with very comfortable seats. But enough about where I saw it, let’s talk about what I saw.

First, some History

Hayao Miyazaki was not always the wise old director we see him as today. At some point in time, he was young. In 1963, he was an animator for Toei, where he met Isao Takahata, with whom he worked with for the rest of his career. In 1978, Miyazaki and Takahata both left Toei and went to work at A-Pro, where Miyazaki and Takahata worked on the Lupin III. Lupin III was a manga created by Monkey Punch in 1967, and involved the Master Thief Lupin and his adventures. In 1971, the Lupin III anime series began airing on Japanese television. Hayao Miyazaki and Takahata directed many episodes for this series. In 1979, Miyazaki was tasked with directing the second theatrical movie for Lupin III. That movie, was The Castle of Cagliostro.

An Amazing Debut

Cagliostro is one of the best directorial debuts I’ve seen. It makes sense for Miyazaki’s first feature film to be a Lupin film. Miyazaki had a lot of experience working with Lupin at the time, and it shows. Everything done in this film feels confident and intentional. Miyazaki knows exactly how the characters of Lupin are, and how they should act. The character designs and backgrounds all have a semblance of that signature Ghibli style toow. It feels like a Miyazaki movie, even though it’s the very first one.

A Treasure Too Big For Your Pocket

This is an opinion piece, and I just want to say, I love this film. It is one of my top Miyazaki films, and I have a feeling it will stay that way for a long time. Anyway, one of the things that makes this film so great, is its appreciation of the calmer moments. There’s a part in the beginning of the film where Master Thief Lupin and his sharpshooter partner Jigen have sprung a flat. As Jigen fixes the tire, the viewer is treated with some beautiful shots of the surrounding landscape. As Lupin sits back and relaxes, he remarks on the beauty of it all. This connects Lupin to the viewer, as they were probably thinking the same thing as him. After the tire gets fixed, Lupin and Jigen get caught in an amazingly animated car chase. This shift in tone and pace from slow and relaxed to fast and frantic is seen a lot throughout the film. Of course, none of this masterful directing would work if the animation and art wasn’t as beautiful as it is. Every single action Lupin does is exaggerated as far as they can. He swims up waterfalls, runs across rooftops, and climbs up towers. The score, as well, is beautifully made. The music is set to the motion, and succeeds in exaggerating everything even more. My biggest complaint, and it’s a petty one, is that the side characters don’t get enough screentime. Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko are all great characters who have great moments, but understandably this is Lupin’s movie. The climax is one of the most exciting endings of any anime I’ve seen, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro is a classic, and it deserves a place in any anime fan’s collection. If you haven’t seen it, you can pick the Blu-Ray up for about $15 dollars off of Amazon. If you like adventure, action, Lupin III, or Miyazaki films, you should definitely check this out.

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