Six years before founding Studio Ghibli, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki made his directorial debut with this, the second and by far the best film in the long running Lupin III series. Based on a TV series and manga of the same name about a ‘gentleman thief’ and his gang of mercenary misfits, it’s a strange debut for Miyazaki, restraining him to the conventions of someone else’s creation though nevertheless leaving room to develop his own style.
Look closely and you’ll spot many of Miyazaki’s hallmarks emerging here – including incredible attention to detail, unusually bold female characters and a penchant for a romantic depictions of flight. But Castle Of Cagliostro is less interesting for its Miyazaki spotter’s checklist and more for what it does differently to the Ghibli catalogue.
Lupin III’s comedic adventures bring out a playful side not often seen in the animator’s work. Ponderous scenes of silent inaction are kept to an absolute minimum in favour of a brilliantly paced caper that bounds effortlessly between drama, comedy and blockbuster action that use the strengths of the medium to their utmost advantage.
Rooftop chases, swordfights and high-speed car pursuits push the unreality factor just far enough that they manage to be both exhilarating and amusing at the same time, with a knowing acknowledgement that, yes, this is a cartoon, so let’s make every frame as visually interesting as possible. Even during dialogue there’s something fun to look at. A scene in which lead characters Lupin and Jigen fight over a bowl of spaghetti while talking about something entirely unrelated is just the sort of detail that separates Cagliostro from merely adequate animated movies.
In this Blu-ray debut, The Castle Of Cagliostro’s visuals naturally look better than ever. An especially colourful film, it pops off the screen and is beautiful to behold in high-definition, particularly in those scenes that show off the stunning mountainous landscapes and classical architecture inspired by an idealised version of continental Europe. An unbelievably clean transfer, it looks like the film was made yesterday rather than 33 years ago.
As StudioCanal made the baffling decision to not include credits on the disc, we can’t tell if the audio track is a new English dub or the one made back in 1993 and later used on Optimum’s 2005 DVD, though common sense suggests it’s the latter as Optimum and StudioCanal are the same company. But a side-by-side comparison reveals that this definitely isn’t the same dub that appears on Manga Entertainment’s 2000 DVD. The acting and script translation are completely different, so if your previous version is the Manga one then this blu-ray release is an even more worthwhile addition to your library. Of course, the original Japanese track is here too and presented in 5.1 DTS-HD.
Packed with the action and humour the 45-year-old Lupin III series is known for, and combined with the detail, imagination and sheer quality of Japan’s greatest animator, it’s a winning formula as compelling as, say, Sam Mendes directing a James Bond movie. Best of all, its relatively believable subject matter and entertaining execution make Cagliostro the rarest of anime – one just about anybody can watch and enjoy. And perhaps that’s what it most has in common with Miyazaki’s later works.