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The Castle Of Cagliostro

The Castle Of Cagliostro

By Arpad Lukacs • November 11th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Tokyo Movie Shinsha / Topcraft

Original release: December 15th, 1979
Running time: 100 minutes

Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers Haruya Yamazaki, Hayao Miyazaki

Cast: David Hayter, Bridget Hoffman, John Snyder, Dorothy Elias-Fahn

The Castle Of Cagliostro

There could be a wonderfully passionate debate somewhere in a university classroom or perhaps in a dimly lit pub about what was the first ‘real’ Hayao Miyazaki feature film. There would be those (amongst them myself) who say the first film was the one that also marked the foundation of Studio Ghibli. Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984) has the themes, story and characters that fans of Miyazaki recognise and love today. But those who disagree would be, at the end of the day, right. There was a film before Nausicaa, that Miyazaki co-wrote and directed, which can be an interesting exercise for the fans to find his fingerprints in the midst of a franchise where so much was predetermined by already established characters and narrative structure.

The Castle Of Cagliostro was the animated feature where Miyazaki first got his chance to open his wings – which, in a way, becomes true in a literal sense. The second animated feature in a long line of films that followed an anime series and the successful manga version – this film exists within the mythology surrounding the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III (David Hayter) that comes with inevitable restrictions for an aspiring filmmaker, but there’s room for auteurship, still.

As soon as Lupin and his partner-in-crime Daisuke Jigen (John Snyder) effortlessly escape in the immediate aftermath of the robbing of a casino in Monaco, they’re in a world much more suited for a Miyazaki-uesqe adventure. Upon recognising they’d just stolen uniquely high quality counterfeit money, Lupin decides their new mission is to find the source of this criminal artwork, which takes them to a distinctly European but nevertheless fictional country called Cagliostro. In this world, royalty, dukes, princesses and castles are still defining features of the social hierarchy, setting a tone we can attribute to the filmmaker’s body of work.

The Castle Of Cagliostro

If you are like me, coming to see the very first animated feature after seeing all the others in his repertoire with a particular soft spot for Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind, you’re in for a surprise. The franchise seems to require a damsel in distress and she’s Clarisse (Bridget Hoffman), the princess who’s about to be forced into marriage with Count Cagliostro (Kirk Thornton). My jaw dropped when I recognised someone I already knew in Clarissa: her character design is practically identical to that of the boyish princess Nausicaa, while her personality being very much the opposite. Clarissa’s an impressionable and weak character I believe to be a victim of those predetermined factors I mentioned before; and maybe, just maybe, Miyazaki reincarnated her in the inquisitive, assertive and down-to-earth Nausicaa in his next film as an attempt to find redemption for her – and for himself.

The Count’s custom built autogyro and its subsequent role in a fast-paced scene of escape does more than just to foreshadow the director’s now-well-known fascination with aviation. Flying may not be as prominent in The Castle Of Cagliostro as it is in many other Miyazaki films, but the personalised craft that enables a free and more cognitive flying experience is surely not a mere accidental occurrence.

Fujiko (Dorothy Elias-Fahn), a female professional thief, much like Lupin, also shows off her own glider set when she decides to The Castle Of Cagliostroseparate from the group towards the end of the same action sequence. This character is much less conflicted with Miyazaki’s feminism than Clarissa; she’s no less than equal to Lupin when it comes to fighting back against imminent threats and she does so with a restless feisty attitude. Her past affair with Lupin is implied and her contempt for him is crystal clear. She warns Clarissa about Lupin’s dubious character while referring to him as a “rat”, but Clarissa’s no Nausicaa.

While Miyazaki fans are likely to take issue with aspects of the story and characterisations in The Castle Of Cagliostro, it’s undeniably a highly entertaining film that’s clearly the work of a promising talent in spite of an almost completely unlikable protagonist. Lupin’s clever devices bring the James Bond franchise to mind, the many scenes with burglars running on rooftops at night are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) and the film borrows much from Hergé’s The Adventures Of Tintin as well.

Just as The Castle Of Cagliostro is nostalgic with those works, we can’t help but feel nostalgic towards Miyazaki’s first film when watching it today. Lupin’s a character that may have been acceptable when it was conceived, in a world more sexist than it is today, but I’m not sure if he has redeeming qualities in the 21st century. I’d like to think when Fujiko talks about him, it’s in fact Hayao Miyazaki speaking.

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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