This next film on our list is quite a departure from those we’ve already seen. Where The Little Norse Prince gave us a square-jawed hero of the people, and the Panda! Go, Panda! films showed us tales of child-like innocence, The Castle of Cagliostro gives us a story of greed, possession and violence, and its anti-hero, the devious and wise-cracking Lupin III, master thief.
Lupin III was originally produced as a manga created in 1967 by artist Kazuhiko Katō, aka Monkey Punch, himself inspired by a series of stories and books created by Maurice Leblanc from 1905, and their protagonist, the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin.
Lupin III follows the misadventures of Arsène Lupin’s grandson, Lupin III, and his companion Daisuke Jigen, expert marksman. They are also joined at times by master swordsman, Goemon Ishikawa XIII, and femme fatale Fujiko Mine, all while being chased by the relentless Inspector Koichi Zenegata of Interpol.
The manga spawned several Lupin the Third television series - the first originally repurposed out of the unsold pilot film - that ran from 1971 right up to present day. Having recently joined A Productions and hit a dead end with their Pippi Longstocking project, Miyazaki and Takahata were appointed as Directors by Otsuka to replace Masaaki Ōsumi on Lupin III, taking over creative control completely midway through the first season.
Miyazaki’s involvement continued right through to the end of the second season (a total of 155 episodes) and his team had a big impact on the Lupin character, evolving him from bored, born-to-riches, grandson, to witty, happy-go-lucky, outcast chasing riches.
I’m not sure where the request came from, but we were compelled from somewhere in the organisation to make changes in the direction of the old Lupin series. We (Takahata and I) were in a fix, having taken over direction midstream, and wanting more than anything else to get rid of this sense of apathy that infused the story. – Hayao Miyazaki, ‘Lupin was Truly a Creature of his Era’, Starting Point (1996), Studio Ghibli
The plot of The Castle of Cagliostro revolves around Lupin and Jigen’s trip to the Duchy of Cagliostro to find the source of the ‘goat money’ or counterfeit money. It’s here that he runs into Clarisse, the soon-to-be-wedded Princess, being held against her will by the evil Count, and starts to unravel the real secret of Cagliostro.
While the manga is well known for its gratuitous violence and sex, in contrast, the anime is noted as being more family-friendly albeit more adult-oriented than was usual for anime in Japan at the time. The Castle of Cagliostro is much more palatable than either and the characters give a different feel. Lupin is still the scheming, womanising, reckless thief, but there’s less of the wanton violence than the manga and early anime. He only fights back when attacked and overall manages to avoid violence through his wit and cunning.
He seems to have more of a conscience here and shows his sensitive side whenever Clarisse - his love interest of the film - is around. He’s a thief with a heart of gold. Jigen and Goemon play smaller roles than i’d like. The film doesn’t really give us any backstory to their characters. You wouldn’t know without having read the manga or seen the anime, for example, that Goemon was at one time Lupin’s sworn enemy.
Jigen is Lupin’s right hand man and sharp shooter. He’s styled like a gangster and is happy when he’s in the thick of it. He has a good rapport with Lupin and there’s an entertaining scene early on where he pumps Lupin for information.
Goemon shows up later in the film as the strong silent type. You can tell that he doesn’t approve of Lupin’s madcap capers but also that honour and loyalty are important to him. Jigen and Goemon are complete opposites but seem to have a silent approval of one another and look after Lupin in their own way.
Fujiko is the strong female lead of the film, continually getting one over on Lupin while at the same time bringing everyone together to help him. She doesn’t display any of the overt eroticism of the manga - a conscious change on Miyazaki’s part while creating the series - and she’s pretty handy with grenades and a machine gun to boot.
In contrast, Clarisse is the typical helpless princess locked in a tower, and there’s a lot of symbolism around purity and innocence throughout. Her best scenes are those where she steps up to protect Lupin and the touching moment when she is reunited with the grandfatherly groundskeeper and his dog.
Inspector Zenigata is one of my favourite characters of the film and you really feel for him as things never seem to go his way. For all his chasing of Lupin, I get the feeling both need each other in a Catch Me If You Can sort of way. His ‘accidental’ discovery of the source of the goat money thanks to Fujiko is hilarious. The Castle itself is home to many devious traps and seeing Lupin counter them with his cool calm and wise cracks is a joy. He’s also a master of disguise and the many costume changes and fake props he employs throughout the film are a lot of fun.
Vehicles play a big part in the film from Lupin’s Fiat 500 to the Count’s autogyro - and indeed Miyazaki has a love of flying machines as we will later see - and all are faithfully realised here. The environments too are beautiful and the details in the workings of the clock tower towards the end are stunning.
It’s a fast-paced romp of a film with high speed chases, death-defying acrobatics, and thrilling shoot outs. At times it’s quite dark - even creepy - with Clarisse being drugged and a dark cult beneath the Castle. We also get a not-so-subtle hint of a rather gruesome death which is unusual for a Ghibli film.
There’s a lot of slapstick and humour in the film which counterbalances the violence well though. It’s not my favourite Miyazaki film as I find Lupin a difficult character to swallow at times. He can be arrogant and selfish, and his lasciviousness is cringeworthy, while at other times you can see his bravado slip away and underneath he has a vulnerability and naivety that’s endearing. There is a good guy in there somewhere.
Next up: we change pace yet again with Takahata’s depiction of a young girl’s struggle to reunite her troublesome parents