FILM REVIEW: Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)

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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. ┬áThe 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.

8.8/10

FILM REVIEW: Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997)

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David Lynch’s Lost Highway plays like a companion film in a lot of ways to Mulholland Drive, which the director would release a few years later and perfect his particular brand of surrealist nightmare-mystery. Here we have a lot of the same ingredients as that film and just as much ambition in the themes, ideas and images on show, but not quite the same level of execution.

Like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway is a story that suggests more than it tells, and is full of seductive mysteries that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Who is the pale-faced man in the cabin? What happened to Pete on the night of the transformation? Did Fred really murder his wife? Lynch leaves all these questions unanswered and, in doing so, smears a gooey and inescapable layer of psychological intrigue all over his film.

The structure of Lost Highway is quite brilliant, too. The opening scenes act as a more traditional narrative set-up in the vein of a horror movie, but after a climactic (orgasmic?) point at the 40 minute mark, things start to unravel into a nightmarish sequence of half-cohering scenes which are tied together more by their psychological intensity than by any sense of a structured narrative. This is a key technique that Lynch developed in his later films, from the ‘entering the blue box’ scene in Mulholland Drive to the glorious marathon-nightmare-clusterfuck of Inland Empire.

But while the vision and the technique is all there, the execution is somewhat lacking at points. I find all three of the main actors a bit flat, to be honest: both Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty are trying too hard to be enigmatic while just coming across as a bit passionless, while Patricia Arquette isn’t really given much scope to be anything other than breathy and alluring.

It could perhaps be said, also, that Lost Highway leans on sex a bit too heavily in creating its atmosphere of seedy, glossy mystery. Where Mulholland Drive is full of richly imagined moments like Club Silencio or the encounter with the Cowboy, Lost Highway falls back a few too many times on psychodramatic sex scenes which begin to wear themselves out towards the end.

While not perfect, Lost Highway is a film that could only have been conjured out of the vivid, twisted and surreal imagination of David Lynch, and is a clear stepping stone towards his later classics that remain some of this century’s greatest movies.

8.2/10