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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro

For those just joining us, I'm spending my August watching all of Hayao Miyazaki's films and review them here on the blog. First up, it's....

Lupin III: Castle of Cogliostro (1979)

Lupin III is one of the most popular anime franchises going. It follows the adventures of master thief Lupin III, the grandson of the legendary French thief Arsene Lupin, as he travels the world, breaking hearts, stealing the unstealable, and occasionally thwarting criminals plotting bigger and more threatening crimes. Joining him in his gang is the American gunslinger Daisuke Jigen, who never misses a shot, and the noble samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, who posses an almost-mystical sword able to cut through anything. They are sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by Fujiko Mine, a buxom femme fatale who is a master thief in her own right. And, they are constantly pursued by Inspector Zenigata, a world-weary Interpol agent who has made it his life's work to bring in Lupin. That, and it was one of the best theme songs in the history of television. I saw 1.5 episodes on TV in Japan, and the last half of a TV special, and instantly declared it one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. Since one of Hayao Miyazaki's first directorial gigs was directing episodes of the show, it only makes sense that he directed one of the spin-off films. Castle of Cogliostro wasn't the first Lupin III film, and it wasn't the last, but many agree, it is the best.

The film opens with Lupin III and Jigen making off with an enormous haul from a casino in Monaco, but during their getaway, Lupin makes a saddening discovery. The money is counterfeit. Not just any counterfeits, but the legendary "goat bills," counterfeit money of such flawless design that conquerors have used it to fund armies and terrorists have used it to cripple economies. This inspires Lupin and Jigen to head off to the country of Cogliostro for their next case...the long-rumored source of the goat bills. But, when they arrive in Cogliostro, they are soon swept up in a case of palace intrigue, and adopt a new mission: rescuing the Princess Clarice before she is forced to marry the evil reagent, the Count of Cogliostro. For you see, Clarice holds the secret to the long-forgotten treasure of Cogliostro, and the Count seeks to get his hands on it. Lupin has to call upon old allies and old enemies to rescue Clarice, foil the Count's plans, and ultimately, steal the treasure for himself.

What I Liked
Needless to say, this is a grand adventure film in the traditions of Indiana Jones, with hidden passageways, dangerous dungeons, and ancient artifacts. Lupin III is a wonderfully likable character, and the Count is a wonderfully slimy villain. And the Count sure has some creepy ninjas working for him!

What I Didn't Like
The animation isn't quite up to Miyazaki's later standards, but since it was based on a TV show and probably done on a TV budget, that's understandable. Most of the supporting cast is left on the sidelines, leaving Lupin III to pretty much be the star of the show. And the strong female protagonists that Miyazaki has come to be known for aren't quite there yet...Clarice shows glimmers of it, but is still pretty much a damsel in distress.

Final Verdict
A rollicking adventure film that'll keep you smiling, with glimmers of what Miyazaki will eventually become known for.

3 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
According to urban legend, Steven Spielberg saw this at a film festival in the early 1980s and promptly declared it "the greatest adventure film ever made."

Next Time
Following the Hayao Miyazaki filmography, next on our list will be his 1984 opus...based on the manga (Japanese comic book) that Miyazaki created, wrote and drew...and the profits from this film were so great that Miyazaki was able to form his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli.

Next time, it's NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind

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