The Castle of Cagliostro
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Arsene Lupin was a creation by French author Maurice Leblanc during the beginning of the 20th Century. He was a gentleman thief who swindled various pompous marks out of their jewelry, fortunes, or schemes. The Japanese manga king with the odd penname Monkey Punch revitalized the character in his famous serial comic Lupin III, with the not-so-gentlemanly grandson of the gentleman thief. He is joined in his adventures by comrades Jigen and Goemon who are a marksman and a Japanese swordsman respectively.
Hayao Miyazaki adapted one of the stories for the screen in 1979. It was to be the beginning of what would eventually become one of the most successful and highly acclaimed animation studios in the world: Studio Ghibli.
While this is an animated feature, it is not necessarily for small kids. In the English dubbed version, Lupin and his gang use few choice swear words. The violent scenes do not pull any punches as well. Lupin and his gang make a daring heist of a Casino just to find out the cash they lifted is all counterfeit. Laughing and flinging money in the air as carefree as can be, they decide to make way for the possible origin of the “goat bills:” Cagliostro. Themes from the film’s plot will be recycled to great effect in Miyazaki’s later masterpiece “Castle in the Sky”. Tales of old families coming from a long line of powerful rulers and with descendants attempting to consolidate power by forcing marriage on the remaining bloodlines should ring a bell to Miyazaki fans. No sooner do Lupin and company enter the country than view an innocent looking young woman on the run in a high speed chase from henchmen-like pursuers. Attracted more by a spirit of adventure than heroics, Lupin joins the chase outfoxing the mysterious posse with commendable and comical antics. Later on we meet the boss of the cadre, the Count of Cagliostro, who wants to marry the young lady, who is the last surviving Countess of Cagliostro for himself. He seems to want something more having to do with her family ring, which has been passed down throughout the generations. Despite the Italian sounding family name, the Count’s royal guard has a Germanic leader with circa WWI pointed Kaiser helmets. The black robed Ku Klux Klan-looking clawed ninjas are another story. Along the way, Fujiko Mine, a sexy heroine with a sharp tongue and quick wits. She has intimate memories with Lupin and knows all of his little secrets. She gets him out of a few pinches throughout the film with a sort of detached sense of purpose. In a hilarious scene, she gives a news report in a bright cheerful voice while fighting back Klan ninjas with a steel pipe and point blank revolver rounds.
The pace of the film moves constantly forward balancing humor, immediate danger, mystery, and romantic moments in an effective, light, wide-eyed with wonder adventure for almost the whole family. There are James Bond-like traps and horrible deaths but all from afar. Some characters constantly smoke and wine is consumed at some point. Altogether it is a fresh and fun adventure as thrilling and exciting today as it was in 1979.