On Blu-ray: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

Japan, 1979: the scene of a cultural awakening, the birth of something beautiful. Hayao Miyazaki: the director.

Leaping out from a well of creative wisdom that had seen him work as animator and scriptwriter on several television shows and films, it was in 1979 when Miyazaki took the reigns of his first feature film: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro.

It marked the beginning of a career that will forever be associated with meticulous animation, magical kingdoms and mystical characters. The rest, as they say in Japan, is rekishi (…history). A mere 33 years, 9 films (detracting Miyazaki’s short films and numerous producing roles), and the founding of a production company later, Cagliostro now finds itself on pristine Blu-ray format in the UK.

The film follows master thief Arsene Lupin III, fresh from Monkey Punch’s manga series Lupin III, and a literary descendant of Arsene Lupin, a character penned by French author Maurice Leblanc (a nod to Cagliostro’s international influences, and eventual cross-cultural tone).

In this tale, Lupin stumbles upon a quest to save a princess from an evil Count, simultaneously unravelling the secrets of a treasure that the princess beholds, and those of the castle in which the Count resides.

At its heart, Cagliostro is a crime caper with a heck of an adventurous kick. Its opening involves robbery, guns and a conversation involving the UN. This is animation Miyazaki style: bold, extravagant and adult.

Aesthetically it’s just as engaging: marvellous vistas, European landscapes of striking colour (accentuated in this crisp Blu-ray version). Within five minutes you will be able to sense the great master’s innate ability to enchant – and if you’re yet to experience that feeling, you’re in for a treat.

It seems important, however, to remember that this is not a Studio Ghibli film. Nor was it a precursor to the work of that company. There is too much action and, dare it be said, convention (take Count Cagliostro, a strict, black and white antagonist, as an example) going on for the two to be related. There is not a female or child protagonist, or an adversary with some kind of redeeming quality (both traits that would feature heavily in Miyazaki’s later work).

Compared, too, to his pantheon of directorial achievements, Cagliostro lacks the sheer angelical charm of Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro. It is also unquestionable that animation techniques have improved over time, as staggering as that may seem given the talent on display here.

Nevertheless, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro deserves a place among any film collection as a seminal Miyazaki animation and, simpler yet, as exhibiting a darn entertaining story.


The extras of the UK Blu-ray of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro are two-fold: 1) a “picture-in-picture” feature, which allows you to see the animators’ original storyboards alongside the unfolding, completed frames of the film, meaning you can appreciate the thorough nature of the craftsmanship involved, and 2) the film’s original trailer, serving only as a trivial reminder of the difference in clarity between Blu-ray and its ancestral formats.

Somewhat sadly, then, this copy of Cagliostro relies on you to part with your money for story alone, as there really is little to get devoted in here. In truth, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as stated, the story is worth the investment), but it would’ve been enlightening, and wholly satisfying, for many to wile away a couple of hours listening to Miyazaki commentate on a scene, or to watch a documentary on the origins of such an historic Japanese animation. It all means the extras are found lacking: a waste of the disc’s unused storage space, and a disappointment considering the occasion.

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro will be released on 12 November, for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK.


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August 2022
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