Review: The Castle of Cagliostro / Director: Hayao Miyazaki / Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki / Starring: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Taro Ishida / Release Date: November 12th
Owing more than a little to Maurice LeBlanc's sleuth of the same name (a subject of lawsuits at the time), the gentleman thief Lupin was a popular cartoon character on Japanese TV in the '70s. But this, his second film outing, is especially memorable because it was the feature film debut of none other than Hayao Miyazaki. It's not a perfect movie, but for Ghibli fans, this is where it all began.
Things get off to a rollicking start with a caper in Monte Carlo. Escaping in his trusty turbo-charged Fiat Uno, Lupin discovers that his swag consists of counterfeit bills. Deciding to track down the source of the forgeries, he follows the trail to the small, San Marino-like principality of Cagliostro, only to become embroiled in an exciting three-way car chase as he encounters some hoodlums pursuing a 2CV driven by a damsel in distress.
This turns out to be Princess Clarisse, last scion of the impoverished royal family, who is about to enter into a forced marriage with the ruthless and venal Count Cagliostro. The bulk of the movie consists of Lupin's attempts to liberate her from the Count's castle and expose the evil-doing therein, while also keeping one eye out for some missing treasure and evading capture by the tenacious Inspector Zenigata. Luckily, he has gizmos galore to get him out of trouble, as well as several handy helpers – Fujiko, his female counterpart, who has already infiltrated the castle in the guise of a lady's maid; Goeman, a traditional samurai; and strong-arm man Jigen, who wears a pork pie hat and has an Abraham Lincoln beard.
It's not a great story, but it gives rises to plenty of thrills and spills, leavened with a good dose of humour. There's lots of scurrying across rooftops, a fair bit of cartoonish slapstick, and a brilliantly conceived underwater sequence involving the castle's labyrinthine hydraulic system. A steam launch makes an appearance, as does a bright red autogyro, early signs of Miyazaki's abiding interest in weird and wonderful modes of transport. And there's the fun of seeing these and various other creaky old vehicles shooting around at top speeds.
Some of the character design is pretty basic, but the film has a nice, airy ambience thanks to the lake and mountain backdrops and the attractively spindly architecture. True, it's all a wee bit shallow, with scarcely a trace of the emotional punch of the later films, but it has a compensating freshness and joie de vivre, and some might even prefer this jaunty, lightweight Miyazaki to the one who, in Princess Mononoke, seemed so burdened with ecological concerns. A boisterous and welcome addition to this series of Ghibli releases on Blu-ray.