I’ve been familiar and aware of the films of Hayao Miyazaki for years. Movies like Spirited Away and Ponyo are some of my favorite animated movies, and while I have seen all of Miyazaki’s films at least once, I need to revisit his body of work and really look at him as an artist. Thus, my wife and I agreed to do a chronological watch-through of Miyazaki’s entire body of work. When we began she had only seen Ponyo, Castle in the Sky, and parts of Kiki’s Delivery Service, and she is approaching the films at a distance, I think, simply because of the cultural, very un-American ways of Japanese anime.
Up first was, of course, Miyazaki’s maiden feature-length film, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, based upon a long-running manga (Japanese comicbook) series Lupin III. Miyazaki had previously worked on a few television adaptions of the Lupin manga. The Castle of Cagliostro was his directorial debut in the feature-length realm, and while it is very clearly different than Miyazaki’s later, more mature works, it also shows his handiwork and thumbprint. The attention to detail and wonderful characters are all trademark Miyazaki flourishes. Never minding the themes of flying, adolescence, and gluttony, all of which are visual ideas in this film but will later become full-blown themes as Miyazaki explores humanity in his later films.
At its heart this movie is a good heist flick, and its simply a lot of fun. My wife and I laughed throughout its running time, and enjoyed ourselves very much. Arsene Lupin and his sidekick Daisuke Jigen steal money from a casino, realize its counterfeit, decide to hijack the counterfeiting ring, and then end up trying to save a princess from an evil count. It’s all silly nonsense, to be honest, but it adds up to a great deal of fun and mischief.
There isn’t much to say regarding the plot, as the plot is mainly an excuse for action and comedy. Each event leads into the next in unexpected ways that never feel forced and are always fun. Miyazaki had his work cut out for him, as the character of Lupin is one which would keep even the best of writers on their toes. The dialogue is witty and funny (note: I watched the English dub, I’ve not watched the subtitled, Japanese version) and all of the characters are likable. This even includes the villain, the Count of Cagliostro himself, who functions as a very adequate nemesis for the hero.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro isn’t an incredibly deep cinematic experience, but it is an incredibly fun one. The animation is crisp (I have a few very minor complaints regarding the transfer), the story and plotting are a whirlwind of action, and the characters (I cannot stress this enough!) the characters are all fun to spend a few hours with.
Overall, this might be Miyazaki’s most fun movie, but his least thematic and philosophical. I love the movie though, don’t misunderstand, and will gladly revisit it many times in the future.
It’s a great date-night movie, by the way.