Every genre has its face. Hitchcock is synonymous with suspense, Chaplin with comedy, and so on. At the moment, Hayao Miyazaki’s visage represents the world of anime, which is a plus and a minus. The man’s fantasies have given anime more exposure than ever, but that also means misguided viewers assuming Japan is only good for feline transportation and sentient scarecrows. Luckily, we have Miyazaki-san’s feature debut, The Castle of Cagliostro, to show that he wasn’t always trying to out-funky Guillermo del Toro. There’s no message or trademark reverence to nature here, just a heist flick as free-spirited as its protagonist.
If James Bond made crime his craft, he’d probably turn out like Lupin the Third (voice of Yasuo Yamada). The descendant of a legendary thief, Lupin robs from the rich and gives to himself, content to live from score to score. Intrigue is what he craves, and intrigue is what he gets after emptying a casino of what turns out to be a small fortune in counterfeit bills. Lupin tracks the operation to Cagliostro, an independent nation in which a dubious count (voice of Taro Ishida) plots to wed an heiress (voice of Sumi Shimamoto) against her wishes. Lupin can’t resist the challenge, but before he can get the girl, he has to bust into the count’s dreaded abode, a castle fortified enough to make Fort Knox look like a broom closet.
Don’t take The Castle of Cagliostro’s departure from Miyazaki’s usual style to mean that it’s in no mood for fun. It’s a very playful production, if not the most romp-worthy chapter of his career. He’s just trading in one fantasy for another, this one being the jet-setting life of a world-class cat burglar. But although Lupin’s a thief, he’s of the Danny Ocean school, pulling off jobs for the sake of seeing if he can get away with them. There’s not an ounce of malice to the guy, which makes it feel better wanting to be Lupin as he careens across rooftops and scales castle keeps. Plus, those he steals from usually deserve it, especially the count here. A villain with a mustache that must have taken some restraint to not twirl, the count is equal parts blowhard and bad mamma-jamma, a threat but not so scary as to quash Lupin’s giddiness.
The Castle of Cagliostro always has a little toe dipped in lunacy, never totally out of this world but silly in the right spots. The animation isn’t Miyazaki’s most intricate, but it suits the film fine and looks amazingly well-preserved for something that recently hit 30. Only synthesized chunks of soundtrack give away its true age, but the jazzier portions quickly wipe your memory. The voice work is roundly solid, with Yamada due particular props for a charismatic cad you never want to sock in the jaw. But lest they be well-acquainted with the Lupin universe, the supporting players will be of little relevance to viewers. Such archetypes like Inspector Zenigata (voice of Goro Naya) are a breeze to figure out, but ready yourself for confusion when samurai warriors and gun-toting commando gals put in abrupt appearances.
Though it predates The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective, The Castle of Cagliostro is as good as those or any other cartoon that dared to grow up. Ostensibly for the youngsters, there’s nothing about it that won’t impress grown-ups, who may appreciate it even more. Miyazaki’s living is made on ensuring no fan feels excluded, and The Castle of Cagliostro’s breezy charms are no different.
Check out the The Castle of Cagliostro trailer here.