When thinking of which piece of media to review for my first official blog post, the first thing that came to mind was Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Released in 1979, this film is considered by fans as the best entry in the Lupin III franchise. Furthermore, many anime fans regard it as one of the greatest anime movies of all time, right up there with other classics such as Spirited Away and Ghost in the Shell. Speaking of Spirited Away, Castle of Cagliostro was renowned director Hayao Miyazaki’s theatrical debut. Miyazaki was no stranger to the Lupin III series, as he was the co-director of Lupin’s first anime series. But before we talk about Castle of Cagliostro, let me first inform you of the Lupin series as a whole, as it is somewhat of a hidden gem to the Western world.
To put it simply, Lupin III is like Japan’s Scooby-Doo or Doctor Who: a series that has existed for decades, with several TV series and even more movies and TV specials. Lupin was introduced to Japan in 1967 in the original manga, which was written and illustrated by Monkey Punch, the pen name of Kazuhiko Kato. Despite its cartoonish art style and overall absurdity, the original manga is quite dark, with Lupin often raping women to get information (yikes). While most Lupin installments are relatively child-friendly and a lot of fun, a few retain the original manga’s edgy vibe, specifically the 2012 series Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which, uh, you probably shouldn’t watch with your parents. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Fans, to avoid confusion, categorize Lupin installments based on what color jacket he is wearing. There is the Green Jacket-era, Red Jacket-era, Blue Jacket-era, and Pink Jacket-era. It is generally accepted among fans that Green and Pink Jacket-era installments are more lighthearted while Red and Blue Jacket-era installments are grittier. Despite its overwhelming amount of content, Lupin III is one of those rare series that you can start watching from practically anywhere. None of the movies or TV specials are interconnected, and only a handful of TV episodes follow the same storyline. Each installment has a similar plot: Arsene Lupin III gets word that there’s treasure he can steal, gunslinger Daisuke Jigen and samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII accompany him, and the trio’s plans are thwarted in some way by Fujiko Mine, Lupin’s love interest and fellow thief, and Koichi Zenigata, a detective whose sole purpose in life is to capture Lupin. Basically, Lupin III is a lot of fun, and it’s the perfect series to watch if you want to turn off your brain for a while.
The Castle of Cagliostro belongs to the Green Jacket-era and has a cheery, almost romantic tone to it. The film begins with Lupin (Yasuo Yamada) and Jigen (Kiyoshi Kobayashi) escaping from a casino in a yellow Fiat filled with stolen money. In the back of the car, buried under mountains of cash, is Geomen Ishikawa (Makio Inoue), a samurai who is the descendant of the legendary Japanese outlaw of the same name. Lupin inspects one of the bills and quickly realizes that the money they stole was actually well-made counterfeits. This discovery propels Lupin and Jigen to head to the bills’ rumored source, the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro. Once there, a young red-haired woman dressed in white passes them. Seeing that she is being chased by a car of dangerous-looking men, Lupin and Jigen follow her with the intention of saving her. What follows next is an exciting and expertly paced car chase scene, which is found in most Lupin media and is considered to be the best part of every installment. This one is no exception, as this scene had me fully invested in the movie not even five minutes in. Lupin and Jigen successfully get the men off the girl’s tail, but their luck runs out by the end of the scene as Lupin is knocked unconscious and the girl has been captured by a group of men on a boat. Lupin awakes to find that the girl has left a ring in his coat pocket. He recognizes the ring as the Cagliostro family ring and remembers that he had met Clarisse (Sumi Shimamoto), the girl, before. Clarisse is the princess of Cagliostro and was fleeing because she does not want to marry the Count (Taro Ishida), the movie’s antagonist. Later that night, Lupin and Jigen learn that the marriage will be an arranged one and that the Count only wants to marry Clarisse for power and her ancestral ring, which, when joined with his, will supposedly uncover Cagliostro’s treasure. Knowing that Lupin has the ring, the Count sends his assassins to kill Lupin and retrieve the ring, but they are unsuccessful. Never one to back down from a challenge, Lupin and Jigen head to the castle, only to find that the security is extremely tight. Refusing to let this deter him, Lupin informs Geomen and Koichi Zenigata (Goro Naya), a Japanese detective with Interpol ties, of his whereabouts, and the two are quick to arrive. Lupin is able to enter the castle by disguising himself as Zenigata. I love castles and their aesthetic, so it’s no surprise that I am a fan of this film’s setting. The various traps and mechanisms even reminded me of Resident Evil 4, one of my favorite video games. Meanwhile, the real Zenigata finds himself trapped in the cellars of the castle. Lupin runs into Fujiko (Eiko Masuyama), who is also after the treasure and has been acting as Clarisse’s caretaker for this reason. Lupin then reunites with Clarisse and returns her ring, but the Count finds out and uses the trapdoor in Clarisse’s room to send Lupin to the catacombs. He failed to consider Lupin’s intelligence, though: the thief had given Clarisse a fake ring.
While exploring the castle’s cellars for an exit, Lupin runs into Zenigata, and the two agree to set aside their differences and work together. They escape by tricking the Count’s assassins, and on the way out, Lupin and Zenigata stumble upon the source of the counterfeit bill: a room filled with printing presses and stacks of forged money. Zenigata, being the detective that he is, wants to take some of the “money” as evidence, but Lupin insists that escaping the castle is more important. What follows is an exciting action sequence that results in Lupin being severely injured and Clarisse once more under the Count’s control. While Lupin recovers from his injuries, Zenigata tries to persuade his superiors at Interpol to arrest the Count for printing counterfeit money, but as he does not have enough evidence, he is promptly removed from the case. Meanwhile, Lupin awakes to a black dog lying by his side, who he recognizes as Karl. The castle’s gardener asks Lupin how he knew the dog’s name, as the only ones who know his name are him and Clarisse. The mention of Clarisse causes Lupin to remember everything, and he eats all the food the gardener had brought in an attempt to recover as quickly as possible. He reveals to his friends that he and Clarisse had met ten years earlier when she had saved him after nearly dying when trying to steal Cagliostro’s treasure.
The next day, a fully recovered Lupin returns to the castle by disguising himself as the Archbishop. He quickly learns that the Count has drugged Clarisse, so she can’t object to the marriage. Lupin disrupts the ceremony by having his “ghost” inform the audience of the Count’s counterfeiting and that he isn’t marrying Clarisse for love but power. I felt that this scene would’ve frightened me if I had seen it as a child, as afterwards “Lupin” explodes, sending his “head” at the Count’s feet. The real Lupin opens the Archbishop’s cloak to reveal dynamite, which he throws at the Count and his assassins before fleeing with Clarisse and her and the Count’s rings. Fujiko, disguised as a camerawoman, follows Zenigata to the printing room, revealing the Count’s counterfeiting to the world. Despite things not looking too good for the Count, the stakes are higher than ever: the Count and his assassins chase after Lupin and Clarisse in a fast-paced action sequence that’ll have anyone on the edge of their seat. While it’s challenging to pick a favorite scene from such a great film, I like this one the best as it masterfully edited, animated, and not to mention, exciting.The chase comes to a halt on the castle’s clock tower. The Count threatens to kill Clarisse if Lupin refuses to give him the rings, so Lupin hands them over. I quickly noticed that this scene parallels that of an earlier scene, when The Count threatens to kill Lupin if Clarisse does not give him the rings. Except this time, the roles are reversed. He and Clarisse are thrown off the tower and land in the lake surrounding the tower. They watch as, on the clock tower, the Count joins the rings, only to be crushed to death by the clock hands. While we don’t see The Count’s crushed body, this is a hard moment to watch. However, it’s one of the more creative death scenes I’ve seen in animation, and The Count deserved to die in such a way. The water surrounding the clock tower drains to reveal the real treasure of Cagliostro: ancient Roman ruins. The film ends in typical Lupin fashion, with Zenigata chasing after Lupin and friends and Fujiko leaving with her arms full of treasure.
The ending, while simple, is uplifting and Disney-esque in a way. Sadly, the anime community, like most media-related communities, suffers from gatekeeping. Meaning, you aren’t considered a “real” anime fan if you don’t strictly watch sophisticated series and films. As you can see, Castle of Cagliostro is a fun romp with no underlying themes, yet it’s loved by every kind of anime fan. Perhaps this is due to the fact that its director, Hayao Miyazaki, is regarded as a god in the anime world. Regardless, Cagliostro is the rare type of film that can please just about everybody. The film boasts a well-deserved 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an impressive 8.2 out of 10 stars on MyAnimeList.net. The film has been the source of inspiration for several Disney and Pixar films, and some of its more iconic scenes have even inspired scenes in Atlantis: The Lost Empire and The Simpsons Movie. The film is also said to have inspired the Indiana Jones series. Not to mention, it’s pretty to look at, with plenty of color and animation that looks great even 42 years later. The only problem Lupin fans seem to have with this film is its depiction of the titular character as a knight in shining armor as opposed to his typical portrayal as a self-serving thief. While this film is never directly referenced in any other Lupin installment, an article with Cagliostro’s face appears in the 1998 TV film Lupin III: Tokyo Crisis, but since the Lupin series refuses to follow a consistent timeline, this is merely fanservice. While I am by no means a film buff, even I know that Castle of Cagliostro is excellently paced, excellently animated, excellently directed, excellently everything, really. I watched it for the first time last summer because I thought it looked interesting, and I definitely didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Afterward, I immediately watched the latest Lupin III theatrical release, the fully CGI 2019 film Lupin III: The First, which I may or may not review in the future. Needless to say, Cagliostro left me hungry for more Lupin. I simply couldn’t get enough of the characters, their dynamics, and the energy Cagliostro consistently provided throughout its hundred minute run time. This same energy can be found in even the less regarded Lupin entries, ensuring that one can have just as good of a time watching an S-tier entry like Cagliostro as they can have watching an E-tier entry like Legend of the Gold of Babylon (1985). Naturally, a franchise as old as Lupin is bound to have dozens of different writers working with the same cast of characters, and it certainly has. For the most part, the main five (Lupin, Jigen, Goemon, Fujiko, and Zenigata) are portrayed the same way in each entry regardless of the writer. The dynamic I am the most fond of is Jigen and Goemon, and they work so perfectly as a pair because they are the least like Lupin. Jigen and Goemon are introverted men who don’t care much for love or money, while Lupin is an extroverted ladies man who literally makes a living by stealing expensive treasure. The character I relate to the most is Goemon because of his quiet, serious personality. In fact, his dynamic with Lupin reminds me of that of me and most of my friends, as they are extroverts who “adopted” me, as it were, and I often have to stop them from doing something they shouldn’t. In conclusion, the Lupin III franchise has something for everyone: fast-paced action sequences, decent comedy, colorful characters, and fun music. Many fans consider Cagliostro to be a perfect starting point for newcomers, and I strongly agree as this film was my introduction to a series I will remember for years to come. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is currently available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Brittany Crosse’s Bio:
Brittany Crosse is a senior at Lewis University who has previously attended Moraine Valley Community College. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and hopes to one day make a career out of writing short stories, which has been a goal of hers ever since she was little. In addition to writing, she also plans to teach fiction writing at the university level. Her interests outside of writing include TV shows, anime, music, video games, and books, her favorite authors being Neal Shusterman, Stephen King, and Haruki Murakami. Brittany spends most of her time with her dog Cordelia, a.k.a. “Cordy.”