Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Released: 15 December 1979
Production Company: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
Relation to Ghibli: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (he also wrote the screenplay)
Welcome to my first Ghibli review! This is the start of my project to watch, and then discuss, every Ghibli movie created. Starting from beginning, I plan to analyse the development of the company and how social, cultural and historical influences affected Ghibli’s use of themes, style and art.
Just a small disclaimer: The first two titles I discuss aren’t technically considered Ghibli titles, as they were created before the company was made. However, I find them to be important in mapping out both the company’s foundation and thematic development. As such, it would be a disservice to ignore them, and the impact they’ve had on Ghibli and its viewers. Now, let’s begin!
The Castle of Cagliostro opens with our protagonist, Master thief Arsène Lupin the III and his partner Jigen Daisuke, as they successfully rob the Monte Carlo Casino. As they escape, Lupin recognises that the bills that make up their “earnings” are high quality counterfeits. Intrigued by the source of these fake bills, the team travels to the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro, where they suspect a large amount of counterfeit money is being created. While there, they uncover an international conspiracy, a forced marriage, an ancient treasure, and a look in to Lupin’s past.
In creating this project for myself, the aspect of Ghibli I was most curious about was animation development. While the advancement of technology resulted in a leap from hand drawn to digital art, did cell animation differ in quality throughout the Ghibli catalogue? The animation in The Castle of Cagliostro was very advanced, and I was pleasantly surprised by this film, which turns 40 years old in 2019. There were very few situations where the frame was still with only the mouth moving – a lot of the time characters were slightly adjusting poses and shifting through facial expressions. These actions made the characters seem much more human behaviourally. However, the animation did still show signs of its age. While watching the first scene, the large amount of movement made it difficult to watch, as it felt quite jarring, as if certain frames had been taken out of the final release.
The overall pacing of this film was too fast. There were no subtleties in the story, it just jumped from plot point to plot point. I couldn’t really relax and enjoy the movie for the most part, instead trying to be alert as to not miss any important information. The movie felt like it was tripping over itself, and the perpetual rush left me in a state of anxiety. Will the movie finish on time? The characters mustn’t think so. The plot points were never bad, and if you didn’t realise it you would probably have a great time. But a bit of mundanity would go a long way in adding charm full substance and character development.
The character designs were very simple visually, staying faithful to the source material written by Monkey Punch. I had no issue with simplicity, as their appearances did what they needed to do: add implicit information on the character’s nature in a colourful way. The design of the count’s henchman, the clawed assassins, was simple and yet terrifying. It’s interesting to note that this type of simplicity is something Ghibli would adopt when creating characters, a technique they still use to this day, shifting focus from flashy designs to more intricate animation. Interestingly, almost all the characters in this film have roundish faces, a prevalent design quirk in Ghibli character creation. Little to no persons have sharp features in their movies, reserving these traits for characters who will exhibit wicked or evil personality traits. It’s an implicit way of implying the personality of the character without having to do anything, and is a technique not touched upon often.
For me, the highlight of this movie was the background art. The Italian mountains that Lupin drives by in his yellow Fiat are absolutely breathtaking. I found myself pausing the movie, just so I could spend a few minutes staring enviously at their colour and radiance. Similarly, the classic european inspired castles and villages weaved throughout the storyline add a tinge of romance to what is otherwise mundanity, adding to an already thriving and vibrant world.
From the get go it’s evident that the characters that inhabit Cagliostro are derived from classic tropes. Each person is only known for one or two personality traits, with the rest of the character creation coming from recycled designs (e.g damsel in distress, evil wealthy villain, cunning and handsome protagonist). However, it was still fun to watch them, even if their actions were predictable. Lupin and Jigen were always smiling, looking like they were having a great time, whether they were being attacked by bulletproof assassins of hanging off of a clock tower.
The music used in this film was good, but not memorable. It did a great job at evoking emotions of tension, sadness, and escalation, while not being too serious, staying consistent with the almost relaxed atmosphere the protagonist creates. I cannot remember the songs individually, but they all unified to create a well rounded soundtrack. The English dub for this film, to put it bluntly, was not great. There wasn’t much diversity in delivery – they all sounded like the same person putting on bad accents. It was obvious some characters would have stock accents (e.g. Geomon the samurai) but they sounded pretty bad. It also sounded like the actors didn’t understand the motivation of their characters, and there was little emotion in their tone. Because of this I’d recommend watching it with the original Japanese audio.
The only major gripe I have with The Castle of Cagliostro is the sound effects. Throughout the movie, there were points where I shook my head in disbelief, unsure if I had actually experienced something so ridiculous. (for example, a dramatic jingle when a character, in an incredibly normal situation, turns and looks at the camera). I thought that the sound effects were used appropriately 60% of the time, with the other 40% missing the mark, hindering its ability to evoke realness. What was more irritating was the unnecessary addition of sounds for no reason. There were scenes where silence would have been more powerful, or just a better decision, yet unwanted sounds entered my consciousness. And with an already unreliable set of sound bites, the risk did not pay off. It could be argued that they were used for comedy’s sake, but they seem quite tacky today, and did not really add any source of enjoyment.
When you don’t think too much about it, Lupin III is a very enjoyable movie. It’s linear plot and tropic characters are not flaws serious enough to detract from its simplistic charm. It’s a classic film that stays within a mould rather than breaking one, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. I’d recommend this film primarily for younger children, but anyone looking for a good time would surely find some pleasure from this work.