Saturday, January 22, 2022

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

Whether or not you’re aware of the anime/manga franchise Lupin III, there’s no understating the influence of Arsène Lupin III’s second feature-length adventure, The Castle of Cagliostro, best known as the directorial debut of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Scenes are often lifted from it or referenced in some fashion in both animated and live-action works and it’s one of the most, if not the most, well-known Lupin III adventures, despite its initial poor box office in Japan. At this point, over forty years after its initial release, Miyazaki’s involvement makes The Castle of Cagliostro a must-see for animation fans and students, though those who have seen other Lupin III works beforehand would have a different perspective. Indeed, our initial viewing of the film, through the Discotek Blu-ray set, came after we saw a few Lupin III anime and Lupin III: The First, which we enjoyed. As such, while we loved The Castle of Cagliostro, it noticeably feels different from what one would expect from Lupin III.

In the year 1968, Arsène Lupin III (David Hayter) and his associate, Daisuke Jigen (John Snyder), have successfully robbed the Monte Carlo Casino, only to find that the bills they’ve stolen are high-quality counterfeits. As Lupin heads for the alleged source of the counterfeit bills, the small country of Cagliostro, he nearly rescues Princess Clarise (Bridget Hoffman) from a group of men sent by Count Cagliostro (Kirk Thornton). When she’s taken away, leaving her ring behind, Lupin sets out to save Clarise and stop her arranged marriage with the Count, who wants to unite his ring with her own to obtain a hidden fortune.

Lupin III (David Hayter, right) resolves to save Princess Clarise from
Count Cagliostro; Also pictured: Daisuke Jigen (John Snyder, left)

As one would normally expect from a Hayao Miyazaki film, The Castle of Cagliostro has very strong writing that helps the film work entirely on its own merits while also hitting the expected beats of a Lupin III story, including the satisfying way he outsmarts the antagonist. The different subplots all come together very well in the third act and Lupin’s unexpected connection with Princess Clarise adds good depth to their characters and helps lead to an emotional conclusion. There’s also a good amount of laugh-out-loud humor throughout, though the film knows exactly when to be serious, including Count Cagliostro’s rather tragic comeuppance. If there’s one issue we had, however, it’s that out of the core Lupin cast, Goemon Ishikawa XIII (Michael Gregory) hardly does anything outside of a couple action sequences.

Along with strong writing, The Castle of Cagliostro also features spectacular animation that holds up very well to this day. Though the art style is filtered through Hayao Miyazaki’s own, pretty much all of the characters fit in with the Lupin III universe and several impressive action sequences have inspired countless others even decades later. For example, the ending of Atlantis: The Lost Empire explicitly took influence from the ending of this film and the climactic clock tower fight between Lupin and the Count also regularly influences similar scenes, including the climactic fights in The Great Mouse Detective and Batman: The Animated Series S1E25, “The Clock King.”

The visually striking clock tower fight is often referenced.

While the film has strong music, including the calming theme song, The Castle of Cagliostro is also known for its multiple English dubs. The first dub, produced by Streamline Pictures, played theatrically in 1991 and saw a 1992 home video release while the second, produced by Manga Entertainment, would see a home video release in 2000 and notably featured a script that stuck more closely to the original Japanese. For the purpose of this review, we viewed the film through the Discotek Blu-ray, which contained both dubs, as well as a cleaned-up “family-friendly” version of the Manga dub, which included some swearing, and the original Japanese audio plus a variety of subtitle options.

Manga Entertainment’s dub voice cast can take some getting used to for those familiar with other Lupin III casts, but everyone does a very good job in their respective roles. This includes David Hayter, whose delivery as Lupin III demonstrates that he indeed has a vocal range outside of Solid Snake and Naked Snake from the Metal Gear series. Kirk Thornton’s voice also matches Count Cagliostro’s appearance and personality perfectly, effectively drawing out the character’s villainous qualities. While this dub does feature some swearing not present in the original Japanese, there isn’t that much and what is there is tamer than one might expect. Still, it’s good that Discotek provided a cleaned-up version for those who aren’t fans of the swearing.

As for the original Streamline dub, the voice acting sounds stiffer and the script noticeably deviates in some places. Since Maurice Leblanc’s estate still held the copyright for the original Arséne Lupin at the time, characters in this dub usually call Lupin “the Wolf” instead, though the one time his real name is spoken, it’s mispronounced. This doesn’t really detract from the experience, since the name change has a reasonable explanation, though Inspector Zenigata’s name is notably mistranslated as Keibu Zenigata rather than Koichi Zenigata. Bob Bergen plays Lupin III here, though his delivery doesn’t quite fit the character and there are points where he almost slips into his Porky Pig voice. Kirk Thornton is also in this dub, and the only voice actor in both, though he plays more minor roles. On a minor note, the word “Cagliostro” is also pronounced differently than in the Manga Entertainment dub.

As alluded in the opening paragraph, while Hayao Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Lupin III universe works well for this film, the more traditionally adult aspects are toned down. Most noticeably, Lupin behaves more selflessly and Fujiko Mine (Dorothy Elias-Fahn), usually depicted as a seductive character, is heavily desexualized in both her appearance and characterization. Fujiko’s appearance in particular got to the point where even though I figured out that one character was actually her in disguise, another character had to confirm her identity through dialogue.

No matter your motivation, The Castle of Cagliostro is an incredible film well worth your time and worth studying for those interested in the art of animation. However, if you’re a pre-existing fan of Lupin III, it’s best to go in with the expectations of a Hayao Miyazaki film for the best experience. If you watch it in English, we’d also recommend the Manga Entertainment dub.

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