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Review: Lupin III – Castle of Cagliostro

castle of cagliostro comparison

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki (director of most Studio Ghibli films, including Spirited Away & Princess Mononoke) don’t always know about his first feature-length animation: The Castle of Cagliostro. The 1979 movie features a master thief known as Lupin (the third), which translates to ‘Wolf’. The name Lupin III will be familiar to anyone who’s ever trawled an anime fansite or read a book on the history of the form, but I had never seen any Lupin prior to this film and it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of it.

Here’s a brief synopsis:
After raiding a casino and making off with 5 billion (dollars?), Lupin and his accomplice discover that the notes are counterfeit. So well made that even the casino was unaware. They decide to go to the source of the money, a small Monaco-like country called Cagliostro (Cal-ee-os-tro). There, they get tangled up in a web of political intrigue and a quest for hidden treasure that can only be unlocked by the fabled union of “light and shadow”.

Well. It’s a little over-the-top, a little crazy, a little Indiana Jonesish. But it’s fantastic. It’s a riveting and astonishingly well-animated movie that defies its place on the timetime. Looking at my review copy of Manga Entertainment’s recent Special Edition DVD release, I couldn’t see any signs of it having been made 27 years ago (apart from the drawing style). The colors are rich and vibrant, there’s no film noise or sign of ageing, and the sound has been remastered into a new 5.1 soundtrack. It’s the anime equivalent of Star Wars’ Special Editions, without the new CGI ‘enhancements’. See the full-sized view of the above comparison for an example of how much sharper and brighter it is now.

Animation aside, the story is the best thing about CoC. A printed blurb on the box says that Steven Spielberg has called it “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”. There are sources online which claim this quote has been misattributed, but even so, I don’t think Steve would mind because it really is that good. It’s a high point for the entire adventure genre, animated or not. It’s the perfect movie for satisfying all your campy ’60s spy movie needs, along with your Jewel of the Nile treasure-hunting itches, your madcap Woody Allenesque physical comedy aches, and your Studio Ghibli shakes to boot. And yes, it is unquestionably a Miyazaki film, despite its early positioning in the canon. It’s funny and charming, just like its lead character, always thrilling, and there’s a sense of exoticized atmosphere about the country of Cagliostro (a mishmash of Western European cultures with the mystery of old world Morocco) that keeps things interesting.

I have yet to check out the special features, but they are listed as such:

  • Interview with Animation Director Yasuo Ohtsuka.
  • Complete Animatic – Storyboards with Feature Soundtrack;
  • Imagery from Original Storyboard
  • Original Character and Set Drawings;
  • Fans Gallery;
  • Trailers

At the RRP listed above, I don’t think you could ask more of such a meticulously crafted special edition. It’s a pity that Manga doesn’t have the rights to produce one of these for Nausicaa, which now belongs to Disney.

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