Hayao Miyazaki is an uncontested master of animation. His films have steadily increased in popularity with American audiences, winning him awards, including an Oscar for Spirited Away. His legendary animation studio, Studio Ghibli, produces some of the highest quality animated materiel ever made. I stumbled across an early Miyazaki film, something that he directed before Studio Ghibli. The stories spawned from the escapades of the master thief Lupin the III are somewhat legendary in Japan, having influenced numerous Manga series, television specials and even a music CD. It is this master thief that Miyazaki centers this early masterpiece around.
Lupin the III is a mix between James Bond and Indiana Jones, a fact that becomes almost immediately evident with an elaborate chase scene at the start of the film involving guns, cars, gadgets and a woman who is the object of desire. Lupin rescues, albeit temporarily, a wedding gowned young Duchess who is fleeing in a car from a group of gun toting men. Lupin and his partner-in-crime, Daisuke, happen to be driving on the same road and witness the chase. Wasting no time, the flirtatious and adventurous thief joins the pursuit and manages to rescue the Duchess. The rescue is short lived, however, as he falls from the side of a cliff knocking him unconscious long enough for the Duchess to be recaptured. The adventure he embarks on to save the princess is just one of the many intricate aspects of the story in Lupin the III: Castle of Cagliostro. Among other things there is arranged marriage, Ninjas, a counterfeiting ring, Interpol agents, a Samurai, gadgets and romance. It’s a fast paced action adventure film the likes of which very few measure up to.
Though this is one of Miyazaki’s early films, his attention to detail and excellent storytelling through visuals is as present as ever. The film may lack a certain polish that comes from Ghibli’s recent offerings, but it’s nothing too distracting. Each character has an entirely unique personality that adds different elements to the plot as a whole. The villainous Count Cagliostro is a square shaped broad man with henchmen to spare, he is calm, collected and all business. His enemy, the flamboyant Lupin III on the other hand is cocky, cleaver and just as devious as the Count. Both the protagonist and antagonist have a veritable army at their disposal. Lupin’s rag tag bunch of friends and allies are far more colorful than the count’s, but the count’s calculating strike force is one of the most frightening aspects of the film. The elements within the movie are just as beautiful and intricate as the animation. It manages to jump from different emotions with absolute ease. It leads the audience to feel fear, joy, anger, laughter and every emotion in between as the events flawlessly parade across the screen.
While the rumor floating around at the time was that Steven Spielberg claimed Castle of Cagliostro to be one of the greatest adventure films of all time, it’s a praise that has yet to be verified (though the studio thought the rumor credible enough to put on the back of the DVD case). Spielberg very well may not have made that proclamation, but I have no problem doing so myself. The animation allows for rich action sequences and beautiful landscapes alike. The writing is witty and the pacing allowed for a steady understanding of the characters and their personalities while never finding itself in danger of boring the audience.