Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

The first film that Hayao Miyazaki directed was Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) is a spin-off of the popular manga by Monkey Punch. Miyazaki had worked on the TV series of Lupin III in 1971 and again in 1980. In 1979 Tokyo Movie Shinsha asked Miyazaki to write and direct the second Lupin movie. According to McCarthy (1999) “The challenge [with Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro] was to take the franchise and put his own stamp alongside that of the creator” (p. 52). And put his own stamp on it he did. To do so Miyazaki pulled his inspiration not only from the manga, but the Arsene Lupin novels by Maurice LeBlanc. Other inspiration came from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) and the James Bond movies (McCarthy, 1999). Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is a caper movie, with a dastardly villain, that provides both laughs and explosions (McCarthy, 1999).

The film is obviously handcrafted, a Miyazaki must. As McCarthy (1999) points out films has a summery color palate with day light representing good, while evil has a dark color palate and is linked with night and artificial light. The film is also filled with amazing detail work. According to McCarthy (1999) the film has “dizzying, soaring spires and turrets and the vertiginous rooftops all the way down to the dungeons, trapdoors, and oubliettes” (p. 54). Throughout the film Miyazaki “balances finely observed, realistic details with exaggerated movement and expression” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 48). Towards the beginning of the movie Jigen and Lupin drive up the side of a mountain, through thick brush, disturbing a bird, who chirps angrily, to get a head of the bad guys to save the princess, both of them are smiling and excited as their head lean out the window. Later, in the middle of a serene pond on a stone raised gazebo Jigen has Lupin in a head lock and Lupin comically struggles to get out, one leg flailing in the air, Jigen grinning . According to Odell and Le Blanc (2009) “The Castle of Cagliostro is skewed towards exaggeration because it matches the characters’ larger-than-life personas and their roles in this glorious pulp story” (p. 48).  The story is about a thief rescuing a princess from an evil and criminal Count. The thief, Lupin, is foolish and money hungry, but good at heart. The princess, Clarisse, is sweet and beautiful. The evil Count, is a counterfeit mastermind, who is forcing the princess to marry him to get an elusive treasure. These three are the extreme of their stereo-type and thus it makes more sense to have the whole film be exaggerated so that the characters do not seem out-of-place in the story.

The films western influence begins with “Monkey Punch’s love of placing his characters in exciting foreign settings” which “was magnificently exploited by the director” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 53).  For this film Miyazaki created a small European nation, which looks both Swiss and Italian. The Castle of Cagliostro “takes place in the never-never land that is the Japanese dream of Europe, a rustic paradise of crumbling yet infinitely sophisticated cities and castles; lakes, mountains, and high flower-strewn meadows” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 65). The landscape always stands out, the meadows are lusciously green, the mountains are snow-capped, the water a perfect blue, and stonework fountain is artistic. The ruins of the royal palace are beautiful, ivy and other plant life cover the stones of the burned structure, giving the impression of the places tragedy and beauty. The ruined ancient Roman City, still partially covered by water also gives that land a dream like feel. The setting is the most obvious western influence in the film, but it is not the only western influence, the food is too.  In the film the Count eats fine foods – fruits, stake, wine, desserts, etc. – on elegant china, at a long table, a very western wealthy tradition. The food that Lupin and Jiegen eat at the pub is spaghetti and meatballs, a famous and well-loved Italian dish. Between the setting and the food, there is a very western influence to Miyazaki’s first film.

Though the film is very western there are still Japanese influences. Miyazaki’s films never leave out his Japanese heritage, though sometimes it is more subtle, as is the case in The Castle of Cagliostro. The most obvious Japanese influence in the film is Goemon, he wears traditional Japanese attire (Hakama and a Kimono) – when everyone else one else wearing western cloths – and carries a katana.  Another hint that the director and the film is Japanese is when the Inspector and Lupin find the printing press and counterfeit money; the first currency that the Inspector mentions is Japanese Yen. Another Japanese influence in the film is Ramen. Lupin, Jigen and Goemon eat Ramen, with chopsticks in the ruins of the royal palace as they plan Clarisse’s rescue. The Inspector and his patrol men also eat Ramen, this time it is out of a cup as they stand watch during the counts party. These little hints at Japanese culture remind the audience where Miyazaki and the film came from.

Miyazaki’s motif of strong female characters started in The Castle of Cagliostro.  Clarisse – the petite, red-haired, blue-eyed, princess – “is a gentle yet courageous girl, with no experience of the world but with a sweet and giving nature” (McCarthy, 1999 p. 57). At the end of the movie she wants to leave with Lupin, even though he is running from the authorities, which shows her naiveté. At the end Clarisse says that the ancient roman city is for everyone, showing us that she is caring and generous.  According to Odell and Le Blanc (2009) “Clarisse appears to be no more than a damsel in distress but, despite her passivity, she does maintain some degree of plucky independence – trying to shield an unconscious Lupin from the tommy-gun spray” (p. 49). At the beginning of the movie Clarisse is involved in a car chase with The Count’s henchman, which Lupin rescues her from, just before her car crashing into the lake. Clarisse is later recaptured and Lupin makes his way to the tower where she is being held, to free her, again. Throughout the film Clarisse is being rescued by Lupin and his friends, showing that she is clearly a damsel in distress. However, Clarisse is still brave, she offers herself to the Count in return for Lupin’s safety and freedom, after shielding him from gun fire. This gentle, sweet, giving, brave, inexperienced female became “an archetype that Miyazaki was to develop in his later heroines” (McCarthy, 1999 p. 57). The other female in the film Fujiko is “introduced as a mildly daring undercover reporter” who is “eventually revealed as an action warrior, capable of rescuing Lupin from the jaws of death” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 49-50). When the audience first sees Fujiko she is dressed as a governess, and is watching over Clarisse. As the film progresses she snoops about the Counts castle, using passageways to listen in on and watch the Count, trying to find out his secret. Once she discovers what the Count is up to she takes off her dress to reveal army fatigues and helps Clarisse get to the roof to escape, using rope for climbing and a gun to shoot the oncoming guards trying to stop them. On the roof, after Clarisse gives herself to the Count in hopes to save Lupin and Fujiko, Fujiko grabs the wounded Lupin and jumps for the autogyro – piloted by the Inspector – before the Count’s men can shoot them. The Castle of Cagliostro has two strong women, Clarisse and Fujiko.

Flying machines and flight, a major Miyazaki motif are present in Miyazaki’s first film.  The evil Count has an autogyro, the first time the Count, is seen is in his autogyro, giving him a sense of power and wealth. During the film Lupin and his gang try to use the autogyro to help the princess escape. Lupin can pilot the machine without a problem, however the Inspector struggles and crashes into the roof, which is comical and at the same time demeaning to his character, taking away power. When the rescue of Clarisse goes bad the Inspector , Fujiko, and Lupin use the autogyro to get away from the Count, so that they can live. Flight this time is being used as a means of escape. Fujiko has a suit with wings, she uses it to separate from the group, flight now shows her independence.  At the end of The Castle of Cagliostro, Interpol airplanes sweep over the countryside looking for Lupin. In Miyazaki’s first film flying machines and flight start to been seen. Flight has a variety of meanings in this film; escape, power, and independence.

The theme of Environmentalism and the Anthropomorphism, Zoomorphism, and Metamorphosis motifs are not present in Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, though they are hinted at. The landscape is shown with great detail and like most of Miyazaki’s lead females Clarisse, the princess, is said to love nature. The princess’s dog, Carl, is slightly anthropomorphic in that he is “good judge of character” (Miyazaki, 1979). The dog stays with Lupin while he is injured and unconscious and barks a warning when trouble is near. The environmentalism theme and morphism motifs grow and develop more in Miyazaki’s following films.


2 thoughts on “Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

  1. This really is a great debut for Miyazaki. Though it lacks the depth of his later cinematic output, there is still depth there and it’s a fun flick to boot.

    1. He was just breaking out and had mostly been working on the Lupin TV show at the time, so switching over was probably hard. It is indeed a fun film. 🙂 I discuss his other works in following posts, though I don’t discuss depth much.

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