Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Castle of Cagliostro Review - Can you pronounce "Wow"?

Congrats if you're not American: you probably know Lupin, the fictional thief. France knows him, because Maurice LeBlanc's character is basically their Sherlock Holmes. In Japan, Lupin III is an old, popular anime/manga/movie franchise. Better still, the 2nd Lupin film is by Hayao Miyazaki, a master of the smart, fun and beautiful ride.

I won't write it all again - I love that guy; not like "more than a friend," but... He's a Japanese Roald Dahl, in animated format. He's focused on story, and delivers stunning visuals. What Pixar is now, Miyazaki has always been.

I don't cover him too often, since he's made 10 films. A convenient choice, The Castle of Cagliostro is so upbeat and energetic that the plots don't matter much. It's no flaw - the story progresses so quickly that you just take it as it comes. Then the voice actors and animators ground it all so nicely, you'll just flow with a story that breezes by you.

Wait, I'm sorry, I should front-load my thoughts instead of saving them for the end: F my review. This movie is free to watch on youtube right now, so just go there. Pause it, let a few minutes load, and read my review in the meantime. You'll be sold within the first 10 minutes, I guarantee, and you won't believe it's 33 years old.

Then come back here and comment like mad.

Anyway, on to storytime: Lupin III is the grandson of the French Wayne Gretzky of thieves. He's just broken out of a casino with a massive haul, only to realize he's stolen fake money! Tossing it all makes for a nice diversion, but he wants to find out how he got duped. You have to love a thief who wants to steal the right cash.

Investigating the counterfeit work draws him to a tiny European nation. Once he arrives, he meets a scheming Count trying to discover an ancient treasure, a fierce and pretty runaway bride who's sure to die, and plenty of new enemies that he fights alongside his old friends.

Look at this dub comparison, then please try to watch it in Japanese.

My brevity isn't lazy, and it's not just a change in my writing style: Castle (I won't type "tCoC") moves along at lightning speed. The appeal and pace and charisma and excitement are actually on par with Raiders of the Lost Ark. I'm not kidding, I'm claiming Hayao Miyazaki created an animated equivalent to one of the best damn movies ever made.

I wouldn't type those words lightly. The Castle of Cagliostro is charming and exhilarating and inventive and clever. Please watch it in Japanese with subtitles, yet it'll actually work in any language. It's a joy, and one that a kid can appreciate - but it's even more fun for an adult...

The sheer ingenuity of the sequences takes you from one impressive threat to another. The hero only feels invincible a few times, in part because his challenges are jaw-dropping. Miyazaki has a gift for taking people through a visual rollercoaster full of neat ideas and solid dialogue and themes; compared to Howl's and Spirited Away, this is a simple picture. The sheer rush of watching it, tho, is maybe more intense.

Intensity is easier when you don't double as an environmental pic.

As a last little note, you might remember that I'm a lawyer. Well, if Lupin III isn't as popular as it should be, it's because the creator never got permission to write those stories. If you wrote about the grandson of House, M.D., you'd need permission to publish (for profit) from the creator of House. Because Monkey Punch (great pen name) didn't take this step, Lupin III usually went under another name.

I'm still impressed by the way it shifts between cool and semi-zany combines with a wild tone that makes me think of Ian Fleming. It's not just the occasional 60's spy cues, as the nifty soundtrack is heavy on jazz. Films that get this light don't often try for Bond-era cool, much less make it work. Yet Hayao hits a bullseye again. Castle is free on IMDb and Hulu and Netflix Instant (for pay). Go now and thank me later.


  1. There's a long-standing rumor that Spielburg has always been a Miyazaki fan. In fact, part of this rumor claims that he's called the car chase in Cagliostro the best ever made in a movie. So it's not at all surprising that there are similarities between the feel of Cagliostro, and the feel of Raiders, which was probably in production when Cagliostro was released. Might be a stretch, since I'm not sure when Cagliostro was seen first in the West, but great minds think alike, that's for sure.

    1. Thank you so much for the info! Honestly, if a guy of his stature wanted to see Cagliostro - even in 1979, I'm sure he could've gotten access. Or traveled abroad and seen it there (like Lucas hearing the word "Jedai" while he was in Japan).

      The amazing thing is that the animation is used in a way that is truly exhilarating, like the best stories or songs...

  2. The clock tower scene is also famous since Disney basically reused it in The Great Mouse Detective.

    1. Oh, lordy, now I have to watch The Great Mouse Detective. Thanks!


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