This one had better be PG-13. Now I'm confused about the rating system. I know that someone out there will know why this movie, made in 1979, can be rated PG-13. I thought that Temple of Doom was the first PG-13, but now my world is thrown into chaos. Perhaps this movie was only imported after the rating system was put into place. The American dub, which I quickly shut off, has all kinds of unnecessary cursing that isn't in the Japanese subtitles. There's comedic violence (and one scene of serious-ish violence) and some mild cursing otherwise. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
I'm now running into the problem of when one marathon binge session runs into another marathon binge session. The library sent me an email. Apparently, I couldn't renew The Castle of Cagliostro and I still really wanted to see it. This probably ended up being a bit of a blessing. I knew that I should see the first Miyazaki film (even though we had already recorded the Ghibli episode of the podcast). Perhaps it was a point of pride. I really like having an almost encyclopedic knowledge of a director's ouvre (and other phrases that justify me getting beat up in grade school). But I was expecting very little. A director's first work is always interesting from a history perspective, but very rarely is it great. I've seen Spielberg's first, Duel, and it is hilarious that young Spielberg grew up into old Spielberg. (Admittedly, I liked Duel, but that has nothing with what I'm discussing now.) The Castle of Cagliostro actually surprised me. It has this chincy box and a pretty bare bones transfer, but this was a ridiculously fun movie.
For those not in the know, The Castle of Cagliostro is actually a movie in a franchise called Lupin III. I had seen images of the character before, but considering that I'm not a manga or anime fan, I knew little about the character. This was going to be a snob watch on my part; an attempt to say that I powered through something that made no sense to me. But Miyazaki made an absolutely fantastic film here. Despite being just another entry in this long running manga series, the film establishes its premise and characters quite quickly without ever getting over-expositional. The characters wear their dynamics on their sleeves. Sure, it can get a little D&D character breakdowny at times, but that's really fun. The movie's goal is to be fun and it really achieves that. I can't take away from Miyazaki's later films. His later films are great and they have these important messages. But it is interesting to see this guy work without a message. This feels a little corporate, sure, but it is by no means cold. The way I understand it is that Miyazaki may have had history with the manga, so having him direct the animated film is partially his baby. It might be unfair to call it corporate, but Miyazaki has a much smaller scope to this movie (which is still huge compared to many other stories, but not to his later works). His goal is to make a well-shot, entertaining movie and it works. It works because the characters are fun, the action is remarkably over the top, and the jokes aren't bad. Lupin, as a character, is chaotic good. I love chaotic good characters and I really, really hate myself for writing this. The lovable rogue is somehow a really compelling character. Lupin himself is aware of his own crimes. He doesn't see that he is a good guy at any point of the story. He is fundamentally selfish and I would hate him in real life. But his moral code makes him compelling. Lupin, at least in this one, is completely in the right. Being chased by his own Javert gives the story a great team up. I mean, I get the dynamic. The movie leans hard into its archetypes. For me, that works great. Somehow, the movie doesn't ever feel lazy though. While I can see this getting tired, Miyazaki is playing heavily off of a sillier version of Bond. I usually hate that, but it works here.
I've complained about my disappointment with animated action. For those readers who don't hang on every word that I've ever written, I find animated action somewhat disappointing. There's nothing really at stake. I know that movie magic takes most of the danger out of a stunt, but the suspension of disbelief goes a long way with making me believe that a character could really be doing these crazy things in real life. Lupin never even implies a moment of reality. There's one moment where, for a good fifteen to twenty seconds, that Lupin tries swimming up a waterfall. He's more successful than anyone would be by a lot. I don't know why this works for me more in animation than it does in live action. But it totally does. Lupin doing stupid, anti-physics things in this movie is what makes the movie charming. When I watched the action sequences in the other movies where I was supposed to shut my brain off and just accept it, I wasn't engaged. The train sequence in Castle in the Sky did nothing for me because the set pieces weren't really doing anything that required a team of people ensuring the safety of everyone on that set. It was just distracting from the advancement of the plot. With Lupin, the action sequences are so over the top that it is more of a show of creativity. How can Miyazaki do something outside the box? Well, let him show you. That's super fun. But then I'm confused why I hate when live action does that? A lot of people like stuff like Shaolin Soccer where it becomes a live action cartoon. I am annoyed by that. It doesn't play as funny. It just seems stupid. I feel like there are no rules. I don't know. I guess here's what I want: My live action should let me believe that someone could really do that stunt and my animation should show off the creativity of what breaking the rules can achieve. This might be my own personal bone to pick, but I kind of stand by it. There's going to be something down the line that completely destroys this idea, but as of right now, I'm invested 100% (40%).
The story might be the goofiest thing about the movie. Like, I followed it. I did a good job of following it. But like many action movies with massive set pieces, it really doesn't matter. These plot points are all vehicles for bringing in action sequences and that's all that matters. As part of that, the supporting cast that don't exist in the Lupinverse don't really matter. The antagonist is generic as all get out. The girl is a tabula rasa, just taking on the attributes that people assign to her. It's so funny that I instantly knew which characters were recurring characters in the franchise because they were the only characters that were developed. I suppose a lot of that came from their interactions and their sense of familiarity, but The Castle of Cagliostro tried establishing that there was a connection between Lupin and Clarisse. (I'm not sure of Clarisse either, but Lupin calls the antagonist a pedophile at one point.) But I instantly knew that this seemed to be a bit of a retcon and that she was a totally new character. Again, these characters and this plot is simply an excuse for Lupin to be scaling walls and ducking lasers. But the setup works in terms of that. If the only purpose for having a plot and new characters was to get Lupin into fun scrapes, then the movie is remarkably successful. In the course of this movie, Lupin makes a fake ring, stands over the most convenient trap door in the world, avoids spikes, flies an autogyro (MIYAZAKI!), launches a car off a cliff, desecrates a cross in a church (maybe I should add this to my rating), and fights lizard ninjas...among other things. The movie is shameless, but that is also what makes it absurdly fun. This is one of those movies that succeeds because they threw the kitchen sink in. Smart? Heck, no. Fun? Absolutely.
And, somehow, it became one of my favorite Miyazakis. I think that could only have happened in a binge environment. After seeing so many intense movies, seeing a young director experiment with a tonally different film while establishing many of his skills is pretty great. Considering that most first movies kind of suck, this is a really good time. I'd watch this movie again. I wouldn't watch it with the kids because of the whole cross thing, but it is a great time. It's silly and I'm glad to know that Miyazaki really has that side to him.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.