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THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO

Review by Ed Nguyen

Voices: Yasuo Yamada, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Makio Inoue, Sumi Shimamoto, Eiko Masuyama
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Audio: English 2.0 or 5.1 Surround, Japanese mono, French mono, Spanish mono
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Manga / Anchor Bay
Features: Feature-length storyboards, Yasuo Ohtsuka interview, photo gallery, trailers
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: August 29, 2006

"To hunt and be hunted is the nature of being a thief."

Film ***

In Japan, one of anime's more popular characters over the years has been "The Wolf" Lupin III.  Created by manga artist Kazuhiko Katö (a.k.a. Monkey Punch), this lovable rogue was originally inspired by another notable fictional character, Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief Arséne Lupin of French literary fame.  In fact, Monkey Punch's Lupin III is supposed to be the grandson of Arséne Lupin himself! 

Over the years, the character of Lupin III has enjoyed a great deal of success in Japan.  His on-going adventures have been featured in numerous comics, television series, and films.  One such film, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), follows the likable master thief in a romp through the fictional European nation of Cagliostro, itself an allusion to La Comtesse de Cagliostro, a Leblanc story featuring Arséne Lupin.

The Castle of Cagliostro was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, another beloved icon of Japanese anime and the creative mastermind behind such recent anime classics as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.  While The Castle of Cagliostro was just Miyazaki's first feature film, the director's flair for creating imaginative storylines, fantastical worlds, and endearing characters can already been seen in this early effort.

The Castle of Cagliostro opens with a casino heist by Lupin.  Unfortunately, the rogue has merely acquired of a carload of expertly crafted counterfeit bills for his troubles.  Unaccustomed to being duped, Lupin decides to strike back, focusing his criminal genius on the Duchy of Cagliostro, a very small European nation long rumored to be the source of such counterfeit bills.  As the nation is currently in the midst of massive preparations and celebrations for an impending royal marriage, Lupin easily infiltrates the countryside undetected.

The upcoming marriage is to be a union between Clarisse d'Cagliostro, daughter of the late Grand Duke, with the local Regent, the country's current ruler.  This Regent, Count Cagliostro, has grown too accustomed to power to be usurped by a naďve young girl coming of age.  By arranging a marriage of convenience with the reluctant princess, the Count hopes to retain power.  He secures the princess away in a castle tower and sedates her to dissuade any escape attempt.  Power is not the Count's only motivation - his claim to legitimacy would be further solidified by possession of Clarisse's heirloom ring, half of a key that purportedly reveals the location of the wealthy Cagliostro family's ancient treasure.

For now, the known wealth of the country rests in the Castle of Cagliostro, a virtual fortress.  Lupin, in his youth, once attempted to rob the place and barely escaped with his life.  Upon his return to the Duchy, Lupin quickly discovers that things are still not quite right.  His initial plans to pull a heist job soon transform into plans for a rescue operation.  After all, who knows what manner of gratitude a princess might bestow upon her savior and hero?

Regular characters from the Monkey Punch manga appear in the film.  The lady bandit Fujiko Mine, Lupin's equal and sometimes rival, resides incognito as a servant in the castle; she has a personal agenda for poking around the Duchy.  Lupin's two faithful sidekicks, sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen and blade master Goemon Ishikawa, help keep the wolves at bay while Lupin slinks around the rooftops at night.  And no Lupin adventure would be complete without Lupin's arch-nemesis, Interpol Inspector Zenigata, on the scene for his never-ending quest to nab the elusive thief.

What initially starts as a heist operation soon takes on additional complications.  The princess and Lupin share a common past from Lupin's past exploits in Cagliostro.  A romance soon blossoms between the pair, which rather interferes with certain nefarious plans for a marriage.  The villainy of Count Cagliostro even forces Lupin and Fujiko to cooperate with one another and forges a temporary (if begrudged) alliance between Lupin and his vigilant pursuer, Inspector Zenigata.

Lupin himself may be merely a thief, but he might qualify as a super-agent, considering the plentiful gadgets and gizmos at his disposal.  While Lupin is perhaps more Maxwell Smart than James Bond, he possesses the cunning to squirm his way out of any jam, whether he is careening over a cliff, plunging into a dungeon pit, taking a flying leap from the rooftop of a very high castle tower sans rope or parachute, or dangling precariously among the giant cogs and gears of a clock tower during the film's exciting climax.

Indeed, The Castle of Cagliostro has everything necessary for a rousing adventure film.  There are deadly assassins, a power-hungry villain, and a chaste and virtuous heroine.  There is also a castle replete with moat, secret spy-holes, and death traps.  Plus, Hayao Miyazaki's participation is a virtual stamp of quality assurance. 

In the end, Lupin steals nothing and saves everything.  The Count is defeated, and the surprisingly charming nature of the Cagliostro secret treasure is fully revealed.  Inspector Zenigata's dutiful pursuit of Lupin re-commences in earnest (so much for alliances).  If Lupin leaves Cagliostro with anything, it is perhaps the theft of the love of Princess Clarisse and lasting memories of yet another heist turned topsy-turvy.

Video ***

The Castle of Cagliostro is shown in an anamorphic widescreen format.  Aside from a few dust specks and instances of mild edge enhancement artifacts, the picture quality looks quite sharp and crisp.  This title replaces Manga's prior inferior, non-anamorphic DVD release.  The film's animation style is somewhat crude and jerky in the usual anime manner but does luxuriate in the cheery and bright colors that are a staple feature of many Hayao Miyazaki works.

Audio ***

In addition to the original Japanese track, The Castle of Cagliostro also features Manga's new English dub.  This dub is generally faithful to the original Japanese dialogue and takes less liberties with the translations than an earlier version by Streamline Pictures.

Features ** ˝

This release is a flipper disc.  Side A features the movie.  Side B holds the bonus features.  Interestingly, the DVD packaging of The Castle of Cagliostro, including its sleeve jacket, bears a strong resemblance to that for Disney releases of other Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki films.

There are other similarities, too.  As with the Disney DVDs, this disc offers a feature-length storyboards section.  The film is re-shown in its entirety via early rough sketches by Hayao Miyazaki.  Audio is in Japanese with English subtitles.

The actual animation on the film was directed by Yasuo Ohtsuka, who sits for a 26-minute interview about his film.  Again, the audio is in Japanese with English subtitles.  Ohtsuka describes the character of Lupin and his various incarnation in movies and television.  However, he spends more time rambling about the good ol' days while the interviewer appears content merely to shower superficial praise upon the animator.  Overall, the interview is rather ordinary with a dull presentation.

A small photo gallery offers rough sketches, background art, and movie stills.  There are thirty selections in total.

Lastly, there are trailers for The Castle of Cagliostro, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, the impressive-looking Karas: The Prophecy, the excellent Blood: The Last Vampire, the TV series Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd Gig, and Tactics.

Summary:

Part spy thriller, part comedy, Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro is an enjoyable action-adventure romp.  It may be animated, but it is fresh and engaging and certainly superior to most comparable live-action features today.

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