“The Castle of Cagliostro,” the film that started it all

I don’t know how The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) made it on to Netflix; it’s not the kind of movie you would expect to get released on a streaming service. No Ghibli movies are currently available on these kinds of sites, despite having an obvious audience. But I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But, GKids is the American distributor for Ghibli and a lot of those films are on Netflix, so this could mean that movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo may end up there in the future.

Of course that means owning the DVDs is a bit redundant, but I know I’m not the only one guilty of this sin. But, for those of you who don’t know; it’s there and you should absolutely watch it.

The Castle of Cagliostro is the second film to feature the master thief Arsenel Lupin III (but there’s no need to watch the first film before watching this.) Miyazaki had previously directed the television show Lupin III and Lupin III Part II. The show is based off the manga of the same name.

But The Castle of Cagliostro was Miyazaki’s directorial debut. In the movie, Lupin and his friend Jigen head to the tiny country of Cagliostro in order to find the source of counterfeit bills. Not long after they enter the country, the join in on a car chase involving a young lady in a wedding dress trying to escape a group of men.

Lupin and Jigen discover the woman is Princess Clarisse, who is desperate to escape an arranged marriage to the Count of Cagliostro. The Count believes their marriage will fulfill a prophecy that will reveal a priceless treasure.

There are some amazing sequences; the car chase sequence at the beginning of the film is one of the most iconic car chases in the history of cinema. Stephen Spielberg is rumored to have called the film one of the best action films of all time.Considering that film has all the best aspects of 1980s’ action movies, I might have to agree.

The film might be dated by animation standards, and its story isn’t unique, but that’s less because it was one of the ones that established the tropes we’ve come to know so well. Particularly in Ghibli movies themselves.

Upon re-watching the movie, the similarities between this and Laputa: Castle in the Sky become fairly obvious, and not just due to the title; but the plot themselves are essentially the same: A young girl of royal lineage being forced to marry an older man from similar lineage in order to reveal a great treasure. The main difference is that Cagliostro is mainly a heist film, and Clarisse is a secondary character, while Laputa is more science fiction/fantasy and is geared towards children with themes focusing on nature, relationships and the hubris of mankind.

To compare it to Porco Rosso, there’s also a relationship between a young woman and an older more experienced man where the man has to stop the girl from making advances. But in Cagliostro, it seems that Lupin does have some interest in Clarisse, but he feels uncomfortable about it. It’s far funnier and the situation suits the film rather well.

It’s a bit odd though. If Cagliostro were a live action film, a romance between Lupin and Clarisse would be expected, and would likely escalate much further than kissing, particularly if it were an American movie. It’s that awkward kiss that reminds you that you’re watching a Miyazaki film.

And it’s easy to see the beginnings Miyazaki’s signature styles in this film. I love seeing where people got their start. Especially with someone as prolific and famous as Miyazaki. And the kiss in the film reminded me of one of the most important parts of any Ghibli films; the platonic intimacy of touch.

It doesn’t matter what kind of touch it is: hugging, kissing, or hand holding, touch is important in establishing characters’ relationship but its not strictly sexual or even romantic. It’s there because the two characters care about each other, and want to support each other in their challenges.

Miyazaki made the act of hand-holding in Spirited Away in the scene where Haku and Chihiro are floating seem like the only thing that mattered in the world. In Laputa, when Pazu catches Sheeta, there’s something very intimate about it.

The only American film I can think of that did something like this is Wall-E, where the titular character goes on a journey just to hold hands.

I don’t think Miyazaki would work on something like Cagliostro now; it doesn’t say anything about the human condition or the environment, and Clarisse is a bit different from the typical Ghibli protagonist. She’s not particularly independent, and doesn’t have much of a character arc or personality. She certainly wouldn’t be considered a feminist character today, but she accomplishes some pretty impressive feats nonetheless.

I don’t think she’s the role model Miyazaki is seeking out nowadays, and her relationship with Lupin definitely isn’t something that would appear nowadays. And in some ways that’s good, but I think focusing so hard on character archetypes, means that the stories stagnant, and we lose out on some really interesting movies.

That was part of the issue I had with Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

I love The Castle of Cagliostro and I loved Porco Rosso; I’d really like to see the studio try to go back to its roots a little more, and try make something old, new again. Play around with the characters, settings and themes and see if you can fit the pieces together in a new way.

But the film deserves far more credit than it receives, and is my movie of choice to introduce more “classic” movie fans who tend to dismiss cartoons to the medium of animation.

And that’s the scoop!


Score: 9/10

Length: 100 minutes

Available: Netflix,

Rating: PG-13

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