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February 15, 2005

Review: The Castle of Cagliostro

The Castle of Cagliostro

Well, I thought I had seen everything available by Hayao Miyazaki. Sure, I've been waiting for the new release of Nausicaa and the DVD release of Crimson Pig, but those just haven't been easy to come by until now. As it turns out, I actually had seen everything, sort of, except that I sort of hadn't either. Confusing, I know, but bear with me a bit.

The Castle of Cagliostro features an adventure in the life of Lupin the Third, master thief, who was not too long ago making a series appearance on Adult Swim and appeared in a videogame last year. Like the shows, it's basically a heist -- though longer and a bit more involved, and with a sort of love story thrown into the bargain, a damsel in distress, a bit of a twist at the end, and some of Lupin's own history. It's not hugely different from other heist movies, but then, it doesn't have to be and we don't expect it to be.

I sat down to watch the movie after it turned up on Jamie's list of favorites via Netflix. I was intrigued, and I looked into it further -- I'm always on the lookout for some Japanese animation that might not be entirely boring -- and discovered that here was a film by Miyazaki that I'd somehow missed. But in the opening few minutes of the film, I was completely confused -- I had very clearly seen this movie before, with the two main characters vaulting over roadblock sawhorses at the very beginning. It was very, very familiar -- beyond déja vu -- but at the same time I was very certain I hadn't even heard of the film before. And Japanese animation was hard to come by in New Hampshire 25 years ago when this came out originally.

I started the film again, desperate to trigger a memory -- my memory is generally quite good for this sort of thing, and so I was genuinely baffled -- and my fingers started to twitch¹. And then it clicked -- I hadn't seen the movie before, I had played it!

Back in the early 80s, I was a devotee of laser disc games -- I was really intrigued by the great visuals of those games, even if the gameplay itself was thin². There were a few of them that I played, Dragon's Lair, of course, but also Badlands, Space Ace. And of course, Cliff Hanger.

Cliff Hanger turns out to have been bits and pieces cut from this movie. I never made it that far into the game -- I never seemed to have enough quarters, and this one was 50¢ a pop to boot -- so now, 20 years later, I get to see how it all turned out for Cliff. Or Lupin. Whatever.

For those familiar with Miyazaki's work, there's a lot of little nuggets here to be pleased with -- not fully developed yet, to be sure, but there nonetheless. There's the humor and physical comedy, appropriate to both the character and the genre, but also the scenes of serenity and touching sweetness which I think are really Miyazaki's gift and hallmark³. For fans, it's worth seeing just for that. While it certainly doesn't rise to the greatness of some of his later work (especially Totoro and Spirited Away), it is slightly better than others in its genre, and well worth a look for fans of Japanese animation.

*** (out of four)

¹Actually, rather more times than were necessary -- and I thought stretching gameplay was a relatively new phenomenon!
²No thinner, to my mind, than most Contra games, with their maddening memorization of a series of moves which must be exactly executed.
³It's always wonderful to me when my sons can really enjoy a movie like My Neighbor Totoro -- it tells me that they are still quite innocent at heart. They love the original Winnie the Pooh movie, too. I find both of these movies touching, and not in some simple, sickeningly precious sort of way, either.

Posted by Brett Douville at February 15, 2005 08:32 PM


Cagliostro has a special place in my heart because Lupin was my introduction to anime and Cagliostro is the best of Lupin. Carl Gustav Horn, a high school chum who ended up devoting his life to anime, led me down the dark path. Miyazaki also directed a couple episodes of the series - his Laputa robots make an appearance - but I'm not sure if you'll find those particular episodes on Adult Swim...and you'd have to wade through all the lame episodes to get to them. Oh yes: Cliffhanger - actually borrowed both from Cagliostro and Mystery of Mamo. Not sure if I can recommend Mamo - I loved it (there's a scene where Goeman the samurai faces down a helicopter in a Parisian sewer that makes the movie for me) but I recognize that my tastes may be peculiar here...

Posted by: Jamie at February 16, 2005 11:15 AM

Oh, I'm sure your tastes are peculiar. After all -- aren't you the guy who loves Galleon?

I like the character of Lupin, quite a lot -- I may check out Mamo as well. Generally, I enjoy anime, as long as it's intelligible and the animation is of high quality. I'd definitely say this is one of the better ones I've seen.

Posted by: Brett Douville at February 17, 2005 09:34 PM