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Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro (The Castle of Cagliostro) was Japanese animation superstar Hayao Miyazaki’s first directorial feature, and the second Lupin III film. The television series (and the original manga by Monkey Punch, of course) had, however been running sporadically since 1971, and was up around 170 episodes at the time.

Although Lupin is undeniably Monkey Punch product, Miyazaki’s hand is all over this film: from the new character’s design, to expressions and movement of the existing characters, backgrounds and even the way the story is told. Arsène Lupin III, the half-Japanese grandson of the original Arsène Lupin character (by Maurice LeBlanc and recently played by Romain Duris in the 2004 French Production), along with his right hand man Jigen go from heist in Monaco to the fictional Grand Duchy of Cagliostro in order to find the source of the worthless counterfeit notes that they have just stolen. They have a fantastic car chase, get to the small duchy, and almost immediately meet a damsel in distress, Lupin realises that she is Clarisse, Princess of Cagliostro. She is taken away by the evil Count of Cagliostro and we learn that he is forcing her into marriage because of the ancient legend of a treasure, which states that when dark and light meet (representative of the rings that he and Clarisse have inherited from their respective sides of the family), the treasure of Cagliostro will be revealed.

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There are some assassins, then the rest of the gang turn up; Goemon Ishikawa XIII (the descendant of the original Goemon[1], the sexy lady-thief Fujiko, and even Interpol’s Inspector Zenigata, who, as always, is after Lupin. Lupin discovers the secret of the counterfeiting ring, the secret of the treasure, saves Clarisse, evades Zenigata and defeats the evil count all with a humour and endearing rascal quality that was Miyazaki’s lasting addition to the character. Almost every scene is memorable, and the direction and character’s animation are outstanding. The backgrounds, too are wonderful and detailed, with so much care and energy obviously put into the design of the architecture. The setting is that typically Eastern fantasy perspective of Europe, where every house is a castle and the landscape is always picturesque and perfect.

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Although Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro (The Castle of Cagliostro) is ostensibly named after the the novel, La Comtesse De Cagliostro (1924), the plot has nothing to do with the original. Presumably, the Count is a descendant of the countess. It’s trite and cliché to bring Disney into the equation, but if you are unfamiliar with Miyazaki, that’s the best equivalent.

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The film (and Miyazaki in particular) has been criticised by many fans for taking the hard edge out of Lupin III, making him goofier, selfless, and less slick, but it’s hard to imagine this film being any other way. This film is both classic Lupin and classic Miyazaki; and, although it may lean slightly closer to the later, it is still a wonderful addition to a really fun series.

Chances are, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know because you have seen this film, but if you haven’t yet, do because Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro (The Castle of Cagliostro) is a fantastic example of Japanese animation.


[1] Like the Japanese Robin Hood