Castle of Cagliostro: (Blu-ray + DVD)

Long before Spirited Away, before Studio Ghibli, one of Hayao Miyazaki’s first directorial gigs was the Lupin III TV series. One of the most enduring characters in anime and manga aimed at adults, Lupin III followed the adventures of the grandson of renowned gentleman-thief Arsene Lupin. Starting off life as a manga, it became a big hit in animated form spawning several TV series (right up to this year’s The Woman Named Fujiko Mine) OAVS and countless TV specials. 1979’s Castle Of Cagliostro was the second theatrical Lupin III adventure and marked Miyazaki’s feature debut, which is now released on shiny Blu-ray for the first time.

Despite the rich history of the character, don’t be put off if you’ve never seen any Lupin before. In fact very little Lupin anime is actually available officially in the UK, so the chances are that that’s the case. No pre-existing knowledge of the characters is required to enjoy the film, so it is completely newcomer friendly.

The film brings Lupin and his friends to the tiny fictional European nation of Cagliostro, in search of the source of some counterfeit money. He gets sidetracked when he encounters a beautiful princess, who is about to be forced into marrying the dastardly Count of Cagliostro. Lupin has a famous eye for the ladies and instead sets about trying to rescue the princess before it’s too late, and if he’s able to uncover the mystery of the “Goat Bills” in the process, then that’ll just be the icing on the cake.

Due to the movie’s vintage, it obviously isn’t quite as pristine as the latest releases. However, despite slightly dated animation, it still looks beautiful, with lush painted backgrounds of the kind that would mark out future Ghibli works. The Blu-ray transfer is simply stunning, and the film has never looked or sounded better. If you’re a fan who only cares about the newest and most up-to-date looking stuff then the visuals will be off-putting, but for many the retro feel will only add to the appeal.

He may have only been starting out, but any Miyazaki fan can see that his style was beginning to take shape even then. In Clarisse (the young princess) we can see the foundation of the typical spirited Miyazaki heroine; although none of his latter-day ones would let themselves get kidnapped. The European-style setting is one he would return to time and again, in Laputa, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle. There’s even time for Miyazaki’s beloved flying machines, with some of his earliest airborne sequences.

Despite the fairytale style storyline, the flick still finds time to bring action set-pieces in abundance. The car chase in the first act is now legendary, with some claiming it to be one of the finest vehicular pursuits ever put to celluloid, animated or not. There are also nighttime escapes from ninjas, aerial stunts and even what might just be an early form of parkour: Bond, eat your heart out!

By all accounts, Monkey Punch – the original creator of Lupin III – isn’t too crazy about the way Miyazaki portrayed his creations, thinking it too soft. Having seen a lot more of Lupin than I had when I first saw Cagliostro, I can see he does have a point; to some degree. Although this incarnation of Lupin is more noble and heroic than others, it’s not like his actions are completely out of character – he will often go out of his way to help women and children.

I have only one minor grumble about this release, and I recognise this is entirely a matter of personal preference. This is one of the few anime to have been dubbed into English more than once: once by Streamline, and once by Manga. The original DVD release from Manga featured an all-new (brilliant) dub which featured the voice of Metal Gear’s Solid Snake in the lead role, under a pseudonym, and Richard Epcar as Goemon. The dub featured on this release is the much older one from Streamline pictures, directed by the late Carl Macek of Robotech fame. On the plus side, the voice of Lupin is one of the original Ninja Turtles (and the original Kaneda in Akira). However, the script is less faithful and (due to copyright shenanigans) Lupin is referred to only as “Wolf”. I would have loved for this version to have featured the superior dub, but I guess you can’t have everything. The gorgeous picture and sound quality more than make up for it.

Cagliostro is an amazing achievement in that it both manages to do the Lupin franchise proud – most would argue it is Lupin’s finest hour – while also just being a great stand-alone film in its own right. Whether you are a Miyazaki fan, or a Lupin fan, or just a fan of film in general, this is a film that you need in your collection. Nothing less than a stone-cold classic, and unreservedly recommended.

9 / 10