Give me all your Lupins
In The Castle of Cagliostro, master thief Lupin III and his hard-boiled sidekick Daisuke Jigen pull off a casino robbery, only to find that the booty is all in counterfeit bills. Lupin recognizes the fakes as coming from an operation in the tiny European kingdom of Cagliostro, which he’d tried to infiltrate years ago. This inspires Lupin to plan their next caper.
Traveling to Cagliostro by car, they save the life of a woman under attack. The girl turns out to be Clarisse, the nation’s heir to the throne – she’s being held prisoner by the evil Count Cagliostro, who has been serving as Regent. The Count plans to force her into a marriage that will make him owner of the castle, and give him free reign to uncover the fabulous fortune which legend states is hidden somewhere in the castle walls.
Lupin, of course, plans to get his hands on the treasure himself, and even announces his plans to rescue the girl in the process. What he hadn’t counted on was the Count hiring ninja assassins to eliminate the two foreigners.
Lupin sends for their enigmatic samurai friend Goemon Ishikawa to help against the assassins. He also sees that his nemesis, Interpol agent Zenigata, is called into the case, and counts on his presence to help in his plan to infiltrate the castle. Sneaking inside, he finds his lovely rival Fujiko Mine already there.
Our heroes manage to keep one step ahead of the Count, but it’s not easy what with the army of creepy ninjas and Interpol on their tails, trying to protect the Princess, falling prey to the castle’s many death traps, getting lost in the dungeon full of corpses. Still, it’s all in a day’s work for the world’s foremost super-thief. The action, though unconstrained by the forces of gravity, goes only slightly beyond the point of impossibility, which makes the film thrilling and suspenseful as well as funny.
Arsene Lupin, the gentleman burglar, whose exploits were recorded in a series of stories by Maurice Leblanc, became a sensational pop culture folk hero in his native France, but is little known today in the United States. He served as inspiration for To Catch A Thief, The Thomas Crown Affair, Once A Thief – not to mention TV’s It Takes A Thief. A cartoonist calling himself Monkey Punch was a fan, and decided to update the character for a modern manga series. His hero was the half-Japanese grandson of Arsene Lupin, also known as The Wolf or Rupan, but mostly as Lupin III. Punch’s skill at plot construction and gift for slapstick comedy made the series as big a hit in Japan as the original had been in France.
The Castle of Cagliostro is an early feature directed by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, whom many Americans have come to know through his recent hit Princess Mononoke. There have been eight anime features made adapting the adventures of Lupin III, each under the guidance of a different director. The Castle of Cagliostro is the second, following Soji Yoshikawa’s The Mystery of Mamo. All of them are great fun – a mix of intrigue, slapstick adventure and comedy within the heist genre – but this one is a standout due to the craftsmanship, attention to detail and raw storytelling talent of Miyazaki.
Manga Video has given the feature a superior presentation on DVD, with audio tracks in both English and Japanese, and removable English subtitles (the two translations differ quite a bit). The voice acting is quite good, with Fred Bloggs providing Lupin with a slight Christian Slater imitation. A fine print has been given a nice transfer, marred only by an occasional hair in the gate.