Welcome to the third volume of Scouse Ghibli; a critical analysis and exploration into the many varied works of the critically acclaimed Japanese anime movie company, Studio Ghibli. This issue takes a look into the third of three films released before the official found of Studio Ghibli, which is also the directorial feature length debut of the studio’s co-founder and revered director Hayao Miyazaki; The Castle of Cagliostro. Released theatrically in Japan on December 15th 1979, it endured the same kind of legacy as The Little Norse Prince; initially met with obscurity, but later being looked upon as a cult classic, with Animage magazine even voting it as being the best anime of all time at one point. The film also went on to influence various different works of fiction, including Pixar films (John Lasseter of Pixar citing Hayao Miyazaki as a major source of inspiration), various other Disney films, the Batman animated series, and even Capcom’s RPG video game series Breath of Fire. A second-hand rumour even emerged that director Steven Spielberg took the film as inspiration during the development of the Indiana Jones saga, as well as his adaptation of Herge’s Tintin.
The Castle of Cagliostro originally started life a manga series, with the main character Arsene Lupin III inspired by the Maurice Leblanc character of the same name; a gentleman thief able to even supposedly outsmart Sherlock Holmes. Hayao Miyazaki not only directed the film, but he also handled the story and the conceptual design, originally designing it in four parts, but ultimately shortening this in order to reach the desired running time of just over an hour and a half; the average time a film ran at back then. Fred Patten of Streamline pictures was involved in the choice of title for the overseas release of the film, and picked The Castle of Cagliostro on the basis that he thought it to be the most sinister sounding name of the all the other titles considered, picking it in conjunction with the evil count who owns the castle in the story.
The plot follows the adventures and exploits of the gentleman thief Arsene Lupin, codenamed The Wolf. After successfully robbing a casino along with his associate Daisuke Jigen, they find the money they made off with is actually counterfeit. They track the bills to a small country called Cagliostro, where they first attempt to rescue Clarisse, the runaway lady of the local castle owned by the country’s regent, Count Cagliostro. Later on Lupin calls on both Jigen and his friend Goemon, and then leaves the count his calling card in order to lure to the case Lupin’s ongoing nemesis, Inspector Zenigata to Cagliostro. Both Lupin and Zenigata are then later taken prisoner by the count, and form a temporary alliance in order to escape the castle, expose the count’s money-forging operations, and rescue Clarisse once and for all.
In stark contrast to Panda! Go, Panda!, I entered this film thinking that it was going to be a much more serious narrative, with a lot of action thrown in for good measure, as well as a fairly elaborate story about an over-glorified game of Cops & Robbers. Although that was indeed the majority of what I was presented with while watching it, it also had additional elements to it that I didn’t expect it to have; most notably comedic value. There are a fair few funny parts in the film, which keep it a little light-hearted, but not to the point where it takes too much of the seriousness out of it. The film also raises the issues of moral ambiguity in relation to criminality, since although Arsene Lupin is a crook and on the wrong side of the law, he is immediately endearing from beginning to end. You can’t help but like him; especially as his commitments change throughout the course of the film, from finding out where the real money is as opposed to the counterfeit bills he robbed to resolving to rescue Clarisse. It all lends credence to the notion of honour among thieves. Though the film doesn’t portray Zenigata as being the opposite to Lupin, an evil person on the right side of the law, it portrays him as showing a somewhat soft side at times, which again, panders to the film’s comedic element.
The Count is also portrayed as a very menacing villain, lending much credence to the notion that Lupin is simply the lesser of two evils. Though Lupin may be on the wrong side of the law, the Count is portrayed as a much more corrupt and sinister person, seemingly without a conscience, and for whom the end always justify the means, despite how far he is willing to go to get what he wants. Out of all the villains portrayed in many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, the Count certainly stands out as one of the best and most imposing.
Overall, because the film had all these additional elements to it as well as what I came to expect, I ended up enjoying The Castle of Cagliostro even more than some of Studio Ghibli’s later works. It’s action-packed, well written and very funny, with some particularly good voice acting from the likes of Bob Bergen as Lupin and Michael McConnohie as the Count. Out of the three features I have reviewed created prior to the founding of Studio Ghibli, I would recommend The Castle of Cagliostro the most, since it has the most depth to it in every aspect, and laid the foundations of the company’s later works perfectly.