The feature-length debut from Hayao Miyazaki, who went on to found legendary anime production company Studio Ghibli, is really unlike any of his other films. Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro is a sparkling, highly stylised action comedy which doesn’t contain the same level of character/narrative depth we expect from Ghibli, but makes up for it in spades with energy and joyful abandon.
Lupin is a fantastic protagonist: charismatic and endlessly likable, able to weasle his way out of any hairy situation. While the arc of the action in Cagliostro is reasonably predictable, part of the joy of watching this movie is just going along for the ride with it. We know that if Lupin is captured he will escape, but the question is how: what brilliant scheme has Miyazaki devized to save his protagonist this time?
In this regard, watching Castle of Cagliostro requires suspension of disbelief to quite a large extent: the action here is silly, outrageous, and wildly imagined. Characters leap across buildings and grab onto moving planes just in the nick of time, or fall huge distances off cliffs and emerge with nothing more than a bruise. Things like this might serve to cheapen a lesser action movie, but they’re a perfect complement to the outlandish, flamboyant tone of Cagliostro.
The movies fantastic soundtrack does a lot to generate the carefree mood which oozes from its every pore, too. Yuji Ohno put together a jazzy, psychedelic and somewhat proggy score that really makes Cagliostro stand out from Miyazaki’s later movies, which often opt for more subtle and classical sounds.
It’s fascinating to see Miyazaki approach an existing manga/anime series and put his own spin on it with Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro. The man’s brilliance was more than evident even from the beginning of his career, with a feature length debut that remains very different to every Ghibli movie that proceeded it. And one that, I would say, can rub shoulders with the best of them.