Legendary criminal mastermind Arsène Lupin III has succeeded at a robbery of a casino in Monaco, along with his good friend and excellent marksman, Daisuke Jigen. While celebrating in their getaway car, Lupin is disappointed to find that the bills from the loot are all fakes. He knows from a near death predicament in his past that the largest and most hidden source of fake bills come from a small Principality known as Cagliostro, so he decides that he should try and uncover the hidden mystery of the money by heading there again. Shortly after arrival, they meet a young girl named Clarisse after rescuing her from a group of thugs. She turns out to be the Princess of Cagliostro, and she is being chased by the country’s ruler, Count Cagliostro, who is forcing her to marry him so he can obtain a secret treasure hidden in the main castle. It’s up to this professional criminal to become the hero of this country, along with his friends including Jigen and samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, as well as his enemy Inspector Kenichi Zenigata, to solve the mystery of the fake bills and the rescue of one young princess.
In 1971, Tokyo Film Shinsha released Lupin III, an anime TV series based off the popular manga by Monkey Punch (real name Kazuhiko Katō). While most of the early episodes were directed by Masaaki Ōsumi, the series was mainly directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Although the show originally had poor ratings and after 23 episodes it was cancelled, series became so popular that a second season called “Lupin III Part 2” was made and a feature length animated film, known outside Japan as “The Secret of Mamo” was made. In 1978, after the success the second season and Mamo, Hayao Miyazaki was brought on to direct a second feature length film known as “The Castle of Cagliostro”. This was Hayao Miyazaki’s feature length directorial debut, as well as the project that began the friendship between Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, which later led to the creation of Studio Ghibli, so this film has significant importance to his career.
The animation is really fun to watch, it has the feel of a 1980s and 1990s anime series. It can get over the top and some of the movements are exaggerated, but not in a bad way as you can tell the animators were having fun turning a cheesy criminal TV series into a feature length ride. The animation can get quite good at times, and the action scenes do keep your attention throughout the experience. The character design for the most part is faithful to the anime series, but for some reason like in Chie the Brat, two characters in particular, some of the characters look different from all of the other characters. They are well drawn and Count Castliogro’s design really suits his slimy personality, reminiscent of a James Bond villain.
The music is also fun to listen to, especially if are into cheesy secret agent, police squad and criminal heist TV shows and films. It’s very jazzy and 1970s, with the occasional orchestral pieces for the serious drama. It’s the kind of soundtrack that’s hard to critics, although the music can occasionally be repetitive and I personally don’t enjoy the vocal tracks. I think anyone can like this soundtrack, but if you are into the kind of TV shows I mentioned before, you’ll probably love the soundtrack more.
The Japanese cast consists of the main cast from the anime series such the late Yasuo Yamada as Lupin III and Goro Naya, a set of well-known Japanese voice actors who do an alright job and work well with the character traits, Lupin being crafty but fun loving criminal, Jigen being the gruff and sometimes comical side kick and Zenigata being the uptight police officer for example. As far as the other cast members, they are alright, nothing too special. The Count sounds like your average mysterious villain and his servant sounds as slimy as ever. There are two dubs that have been released, but sadly I only own the oldest and easily available version in the UK, which was done by Streamline in 1991. Despite this, I don’t believe the more recent dub that Manga did in 2000, is any better. Granted the Streamline version uses an altered script from the original Japanese version, but I think the voice acting and even the dialogue is better as an English dub of an anime compared to the later version. Some of the voices in the Manga version are a lot more gruff and raspy, which doesn’t sound right.
What I found really interesting about the story is that, when you think about it, a young and adventurous guy trying to protect a young and shy girl, who is actually a member of a Royal Family, from a slimy political man, who is also technically a member of the same Royal Family, who wants her for a piece of jewellery which holds a key to some source of great wealth and power. It makes me think that the plot here bears some striking resemblance to a later epic from Miyazaki, Laputa: Castle of the Sky. Even the princess Clarisse and the Count’s designs and characters also share similarities to later Miyazaki characters. Many fans of the franchise consider this the best Lupin film to date and it’s easy to see why. You don’t need to be a Lupin fan to enjoy this film, I only knew of Lupin when I first saw this. My only real problem is that the romance between Lupin III and Clarisse seems tact on and there are one or two plot holes, mainly involving Jigen and Goemon. Other than those problems, this is a really fun film, and it was a great debut of the great animator Hayao Miyazaki.
The Castle of Cagliostro is available from Manga Entertainment and Optimum Releasing. The previous anime film, “The Secret of Mamo”, directed by Sōji Yoshikawa, is also available from Manga Entertainment. A third film titled “Legend of the Gold Babylon”, directed by Seijun Suzuki and Shigetsugu Yoshida, was available from AnimEigo but apparently it is currently available from Walt Disney, a fourth film titled “Farewell to Nostradamus” directed by Shunya Itō, is available from FUNimation. The first and a later third season of Lupin III are apparently not available officially in western areas, but the second season was available from Geneon. The original and a later manga subtitled “World’s Most Wanted”, both by Monkey Punch, are available from Tokyopop.