First Thoughts on Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro / Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro (1979)

*All reviews contain spoilers*
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We’re delving back into the world of anime again for this week’s first article, with the debut film of Hayao Miyazaki, The Castle of Cagliostro. Several years before he cofounded Studio Ghibli with Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma, his first foray into theatrical animation was this entry into an established franchise, which he also wrote (with Haruya Yamazaki), designed (with Kazuhide Tomonaga and Yasuo Ōtsuka) and storyboarded in addition to directing. The film was made for Tokyo Movie Shinsha, distributed by Toho and was the second film featuring Monkey Punch’s thief character Arsène Lupin III following The Mystery of Mamo from the previous year. The character originally appeared in a popular manga series between 1967 and 1969, going on to star in no less than six different anime series from 1971 onwards – the most recent of which just finished its run a few months ago – and Miyazaki worked on several episodes of the earlier shows, which led to his being recruited as the director for this new film.

According to Fred Patten, who was involved in the first English adaptation of Cagliostro by Streamline in the early nineties, “The Japanese title is Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro, which is literally Lupin III: Cagliostro of Castle. So, which would be better in English; Cagliostro Castle, Cagliostro’s Castle, or The Castle of Cagliostro? It was my argument that The Castle of Cagliostro sounded the most sinister. “Cagliostro Castle” is just a castle’s name, like Windsor Castle, but “the Castle of Cagliostro” emphasises that it is the evil Count’s lair!”

To create the film, Miyazaki drew upon a wide range of sources for inspiration; chief among them were his own Heidi (1974) sketchbooks, a book called Italian Mountain Cities and the Tiber Estuary by Kagoshima Publishing, La Justice d’Arsène Lupin (1975) by Boileau-Narcejac, La Comtesse de Cagliostro (1924) by Maurice LeBlanc (the unauthorized use of whose work by Monkey Punch had previously led to a lawsuit regarding the lead character’s name) and an earlier version of Paul Grimault’s 1980 film The King and the Mockingbird (I’ve got this on my watchlist) dating from 1952, when it was called The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. The staff also added many personal touches to the film, particularly with the vehicles – Lupin famously drives a Fiat 500, the same car driven by the head of animation, Yasuo Ōtsuka, while Clarisse drives a Citroen 2CV in her chase scene, which was also Miyazaki’s first car.

Lupin in Cagliostro

It’s hard to believe, but Cagliostro only went into production in May of 1979 – just seven months before the intended release date in December. The thought of completing an animated film in so little time would have terrified any other director, especially at that time when every element was done by hand, but Miyazaki made it work. He began by drawing a bird’s-eye view of the setting to get a fuller idea of how to stage the action and, after getting his first draft scenario back with no changes, immediately began storyboarding. The plot was initially divided into quarters, but upon reaching the third quarter some changes had to be made as it looked like the film might exceed its allotted run-time. The animation began as late as July (amazing, isn’t it?) with storyboards only a quarter complete, but the crew still managed to wrap on schedule at the end of November, with the film going on to make its planned December premiere date.

The film’s lively, ritzy score was composed by Yuji Ohno, who also created the music for the shows. It incorporates jazz, romance and orchestral elements and also includes a variation of the TV theme tune, with all the music being performed by You & The Explosion Band, also veterans of the second TV show. In addition, there’s the song Fire Treasure, performed by Bobby (aka Toshie Kihara – and that’s not the shōjo manga artist Toshie Kihara, just to avoid any confusion), which was popular enough to get its own LP release; the wider film soundtrack had its first release on both vinyl and cassette in 1983, with a newly commissioned album release following in 2003.

The original Japanese cast included Yasuo Yamada as Arsène Lupin III (or “the wolf”), Sumi Shimamoto as Lady Clarisse d’Cagliostro, Tarō Ishida as Count Lazare d’Cagliostro (you may also remember him as Colonel Shikishima from Akira), Gorō Naya as Inspector Zenigata, Kiyoshi Kobayashi as Daisuke Jigen, Eiko Masuyama as Fujiko Mine, Ichirō Nagai as Jodo and Makio Inoue as Goemon Ishikawa XIII. Like most popular anime films, there have been multiple English dubs, but the one I watched was the newer, Animaze one, which starred Sean Barker (aka David Hayter) as Lupin, Ruby Marlowe as Clarisse, Kirk “Sparky” Thornton as the Count, Dougary Grant as Zenigata, Ivan Buckley as Jigen, Dorothy Elias-Fahn as Fujiko, Richard Barnes as Jodo and Michael Gregory as Ishikawa. I enjoyed all of the performances here, but I particularly loved Sean Barker’s youthful take on Lupin and Richard Barnes’s sinister-yet-smarmy butler act for Jodo.

Now, once again, I made the mistake of underestimating this one going into it. Animated films based on TV shows have a notorious reputation for being underwhelming, and since this was also the director’s first effort (he was thirty-eight at the time) I thought perhaps he would be “finding his feet” with it. Boy, was I wrong. This was as beautiful and engrossing as any Ghibli film, if not as nuanced or subtle – what gorgeous backgrounds it has! The plot is a classic caper featuring a charming young crook who, while on the run from the police, gets caught up in something much bigger and winds up helping everyone out. It’s immediately intriguing, an early clue to Miyazaki’s talents, and only builds from there, becoming a rip-roaring adventure similar to Castle in the Sky (right down to the aesthetics – no doubt Miyazaki returned to Cagliostro for inspiration seven years later when making the latter film). The wedding climax is particularly good with its disguises and a clocktower fight that would later inspire Disney, but damn, the Count’s death was gruesome.

Lupin overlooks castle of Cagliostro

I’m not familiar with the original version of the Lupin character, but I like the way he’s presented here; the original sounds like a bit of a jerk to be honest, but here he’s wonderfully cheeky and funny, getting you on his side right from the start. It’s a shame Clarisse isn’t given more to do though; she was my main problem with the film. I know she’s essentially a stock damsel-in-distress character and this was the seventies, after all, but she’s still a little too helpless and lovestruck for my liking, always being carted about or molested by the male characters. Her first scene is very promising with her involved in a thrilling car chase, but she’s soon unconscious, leaving Lupin to rescue her. I’m glad Lupin chose to keep his relationship with her platonic in the end (and I was laughing my head off at how uncomfortable he looked when she was throwing herself all over him) – after all, there’s a creepy age gap to be considered here, so staying “just friends” is better for both of them. Still, the film does scrape through the Bechdel test thanks to a short conversation between Clarisse and the much more badass Fujiko (seriously, I love her, and she and Zenigata make a surprisingly good team).

Lupin and Clarisse

The film made its debut at the very end of the seventies on December 15th, 1979 in Japan. Tokyo Movie Shinsha then began screening their new film in North America the following year, even showing it at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston for a marketing survey. Throughout the eighties it continued to get the occasional festival outing at events like FILMEX 82 in Los Angeles, yet despite critical acclaim it often failed to match the reviews financially; as Fred Patten pointed out, “most people did not bother to come to it since it was ‘only’ an animated-cartoon feature, not a ‘serious’ live-action movie.” That attitude still persists to this day, unfortunately, but that’s a topic for another day.

Eventually, the film was granted a full theatrical debut in America on April 3rd, 1991 in New York City, which was followed by a home video release in October of 1992. The English dub for this first release was created by Streamline Pictures, but in 2000, Animaze and Manga Entertainment came together to create a fresh one that has since had several re-releases of its own. More recently, the film has also benefited from Blu-ray releases which restored it to its original quality and include numerous extras.

The film won the fourth-ever Ōfuji Noburō Award at the Mainichi Film Awards and despite struggling at the box office, like so many others before and since, The Castle of Cagliostro has gone on to become something of a cult classic. Critics and animation historians have frequently praised it over the years, noting the recognisable themes and elements that would later be seen in Miyazaki’s works at Ghibli. The creator of the original manga, Monkey Punch, called it an “excellent” movie, although he did feel that Miyazaki’s version of Lupin was very different from his own. According to him, he “wouldn’t have had him rescue the girl, I would have had him rape her!” Oh. Well, I’m glad we got the sweeter version!

Since its release, the film has influenced generations of filmmakers, including the likes of John Lasseter and possible even Steven Spielberg (if unconfirmed rumours are to be believed). One early, notable nod to the film’s aesthetics came in 1986, when Disney’s film The Great Mouse Detective featured a climactic fight inside Big Ben’s Elizabeth clocktower reminiscent of the one in Cagliostro, and another scene based on it can be found in The Clock King episode of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). Gary Trousdale, co-director of Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), also said that a scene at the end of their film where the waters recede from the sunken city was directly inspired by a similar scene from Cagliostro (Atlantis also drew inspiration from Castle in the Sky). Elsewhere, one of the sequence directors of The Simpsons Movie (another one on my watchlist for next year) also cited Cagliostro as an influence.

However, it wasn’t all champagne and caviar for Miyazaki’s film. As with any established franchise, new directors can face a lot of backlash from fans for reinterpreting the characters, something that Miyazaki experienced with this. Some fans apparently disapproved of the changes he made to Lupin, toning down his original ruthless criminal persona into the more gallant hero we have in the final film. Although they felt this conflicted with how the “real” Lupin would behave, Miyazaki stood his ground and simply put the changes down to Lupin “growing up”.

If you haven’t seen this one yet – and especially if you’re a fan of Castle in the Sky – then I’d definitely recommend it. Following on from the surprisingly good Little Norse Prince, the fifty-year-old debut of Isao Takahata, I was equally pleasantly surprised by this little gem. It’s action-packed, exciting, old-fashioned fun, rather like an animated Indiana Jones film, and Lupin himself is sure to charm you with his antics. I’ll be watching this one again!


Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about this nearly forty-year-old anime classic. We’re not done with the anime world quite yet, because I have an article planned for next week on Studio Ghibli’s 1993 TV film Ocean Waves (when I said back in March that I’d completed the Ghibli canon, I was forgetting this one). However, before that, I’ll be taking a look at Ralph Breaks the Internet, which I’m finally getting the chance to see on Thursday. And it’s not long now until I can get stuck into The Prince of Egypt… oooh, yummy. Until next time, stay animated!


By Source, Fair use, – credit for the poster – credit for images – a discussion of the copyright issues surrounding the film and Maurice Leblanc’s work (and credit for the image of Lupin and Clarisse) – Wiki page – IMDB profile

4 Replies to “First Thoughts on Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro / Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro (1979)”

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