The Castle of Cagliostro: a Lupin III movie

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is one of those famous anime films that seemingly everyone has seen and enjoyed, even if you’re not a cartoon nerd. The debut film of Hayao Miyazaki, it’s a film I initially couldn’t get into when I first watched it some years ago. I think the spectre of Miyazaki – legendary and beloved director behind countless classics, and the expectations which come with that – loomed over it in my mind, as it did for any of his other films that I attempted to watch. At the time, I’d only seen the previous Lupin III film The Mystery of Mamo, so I only went in thinking of Cagliostro as a Miyazaki movie.

I’ve often found it hard to separate expectations from my experience of any given work if I’m made aware of them, and they plagued my initial viewing something fierce. I can’t tell you what I thought of it beyond an overall feeling of disinterest. Watching an hour-long analysis by someone called The Humble Professor (which is sadly no longer available, I now find) did help me to appreciate aspects of it a little more, but not by much. As I discussed before, it’s the difference between “understanding” something on an intellectual level and “feeling” it emotionally, and I just couldn’t feel Castle of Cagliostro.

However, I started thinking about the film again recently. I’m not sure what prompted it, but I’d seen plenty more of Lupin III in the meantime, such as a couple dozen episodes of Part II, a few of the movies and TV specials. I found myself itching to give Cagliostro another shot, with the idea that as a Lupin fan I could view it purely as another adventure in this overly long series. Maybe this time I’d finally feel it?

To my surprise and delight, I did feel it. I don’t love it, but it is quite a good movie with plenty to like and think about. In fact, I want to discuss one thing it got me thinking about in particular; Cagliostro as a Lupin III film.

Castle of Cagliostro has a very weird place within the Lupin III pantheon (Lupantheon?). On the one hand, its place within the filmography of Hayao Miyazaki has resulted in countless people watching it without any prior experience with Lupin. And on the other hand, it is a Lupin III movie and has been seen by many Lupin fans, some of whom view its deviations from what could be considered the typical “Lupin” style as a flaw.

My impression of the typical “Lupin” style is that it features a combination of sexiness and ugliness, and the way those concepts contrast against each other at the same time. There’s often thieving taking place in high-society settings, which are sometimes run by corrupt people or act as cover for dirty dealings. Lupin drives round in stylish cars like the Mercedes Benz SSK, but is frequently crass when flirting with women. There’s a coolness to the presentation, with smooth jazz-funk music or classy illustrations, that is also accompanied by deeply goofy animations and reactions. Maybe the best way to visually demonstrate it is with the archetypal image of Fujiko Mine, the conventionally attractive and sexualized lady, punching out Lupin with a boxing glove sprung from downstairs.

But Cagliostro is never sexy nor ugly in that same fashion. The castle is presented with a sense of sophistication and features dark secrets, but it’s not quite presented as a place of desirable opulence. Lupin drives a dinky Fiat 500 and comparatively acts like a gentlemen. The music is still smooth and the direction is classy, yet the character animation never goes truly ridiculous like it would elsewhere. Most notably, Fujiko is never sexualized; aside from her tight camo suit (which shows nothing in terms of cleavage or legs), she’s never ogled at or forced under kinky forms of torture.

Cagliostro is quite different from what would be expected of “Lupin”, make no mistake. However, I think that’s actually one of the best things about it. In general, I always appreciate when creators taking on a work within a pre-existing series decide to do their own thing, exploring whatever ideas interest them rather than adhering to some preconceived notion of what it “should” be. It makes for unique experiences that show the creators’ specific interests and stand out from the rest of the series.

For example, I love Fujiko’s portrayal in Cagliostro. As previously mentioned, she’s never sexualized or gets placed in a situation where she’s compromised. Her selfish streak is still there, but she’s presented with a degree of unshakeable self-confidence that I can’t help but find inspiring. She’s always in control, and always able to find a way to take advantage of a situation to impressive degrees. Her escape from the castle and her later teaming up with Zenigata to publicly expose the counterfeiting facility are proof of this. Had the film been more traditionally “Lupin”, we’d never have gotten this and I would have greatly missed it.

In regards to Lupin, I only recently started to consider myself a fan after watching two Part II episodes – Episode 99: “The Combat Magnum Scattered in the Wasteland”, and Episode 112: “Goemon’s Close Call”. Both of these episodes lean far from what I would’ve expected from Lupin, the former focusing on Jigen and the latter featuring a kidnapping story with no thievery whatsoever. It gave a closer look into the relationships between Lupin, Jigen and Goemon, and made me realize that they legitimately care for each other.

Part of what makes Lupin III so interesting is the fact that all these various incarnations can be so different from each other, even between episodes in the same series. In terms of tone, presentation, story, concepts, you name it; not one thing in Lupin is truly like the other. There’s always something new to find, to consider about these characters and their adventures, to enjoy and be inspired by. That’s something that should be celebrated, and that’s something I happily celebrate about Cagliostro.

That said, I do think there is something here that rings true for what else I’ve seen of Lupin, and that’s how frequently different points in time clash.

The series takes place somewhere between the late 60s and the present day, depending on which story you’re experiencing, but the past is often not too far behind. Treasures are discovered from long lost civilizations, characters come up against friends and foes from times gone by, and a good chunk of the main cast are descendants of legendary (albeit fictional) outlaws and detectives. Things crash together so often it can be hard to pin the specific point in time the story is taking place, which provides a sense of being “out of time” or “timeless” (though not in the complimentary way that people usually use that phrase).

Cagliostro keeps this alive, with the conflict surrounding a centuries-old castle inhabited by staff who still act like it’s the early nineteenth century, despite fending off thieves and police officers using modern-day guns and gadgets. Lupin and the gang hide out in the ruins of the old family manor, which lands somewhere around Belgium-Netherlands architecturally. The Count dines on fine food to the strains of string quartets, while both the gang and the police eat instant noodles. Even minor details like the Count’s men using Stielhandgranates (a standard German grenade during World Wars I and II) to blow up Lupin’s car during the car chase add to this.

And then you get to the deeper details: how the counterfeiting operation hidden in the castle has influenced the course of history for hundreds of years, Lupin’s past attempt to infiltrate the castle impacts his decisions, even the secret of Cagliostro is rooted deep within the past. No matter how far apart they may be chronologically, the past and present are stuck together like Zenigata to Lupin.

Perhaps it’s worth observing that despite being drastically different, this thread is just as consistent in the Lupin III film released the year before, The Mystery of Mamo. An island full of art, buildings, people and even advertisements from all throughout history, owned by a man seemingly as old as the cosmos, and a plot revolving around the mythical Philosopher’s Stone. Mamo is generally considered to be much more closer to the original manga’s sensibilities than most other adaptations, in essence a purer example of the “Lupin” style. So the fact that this idea is equally prominent both here and Cagliostro demonstrates that the latter is just as much a “Lupin” film underneath despite its different approach.

Castle of Cagliostro may not be in lockstep with other Lupin works tonally, but it still retains aspects of the series at its core while presenting its own ideas that help it to stand out. It’s a different kind of Lupin III adventure, and that’s one of the best things about it.

Special thanks to Adrian Dalen/Aerro, who suggested that the old ruins might be based on architecture around the Belgium-Netherlands area.

FrDougal9000 writes for as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

Leave a Comment