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  Castle of Cagliostro, The Stop Thief!
Year: 1979
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Makio Inoue, Gorô Naya, Sumi Shimamoto, Tarô Ishida, Kôhei Miyauchi, Ichirô Nagai
Genre: Animated, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Arsene Lupin III (voiced by Yasuo Yamada) is an international thief much sought by Interpol, though he has evaded capture thus far. His latest scheme was to steal thousands from a European casino, which accompanied by his right hand man Jigen (Kiyoshi Kobayashi), he accomplished though it was only as they were driving away down the highway with their car packed with cash that Lupin realised they'd been fooled and the notes were counterfeit. He knows who's done this: Count Cagliostro (Tarô Ishida), a far bigger villain than he is, and their paths will cross...

For Hayao Miyazaki, he had been creating anime for television, often the Arsene Lupin III series, when the opportunity arose to direct his own feature film. It sounded like just another job for him, but it was a stepping stone to international fame and huge respect from some of the finest filmmakers of both his generation and those following him. The eighties would see his career go from strength to strength, but what of his Cagliostro movie, a low budget cartoon originally meant to do little more than cash in on a popular TV show, and even then not satisfying contemporary fans because he tried to mould the format to something more appealing to his own sensibilities?

Obviously in light of what arrived later, this unassuming little adventure was the subject of far more scrutiny than it would have been otherwise, and since Miyazaki made it big such luminaries as Steven Spielberg were keen to praise it to the high heavens, yet actually it didn't quite bear the weight of the adulation brought to it. It was light and fun, and well rendered within its means, but couldn't really compare with what the director conjured up over the rest of his filmography, not that it wasn't entertaining, it's just that the plotline wasn't as captivating or imaginative as the very best of his work. So this more like a frothy trifle, with nice action sequences and a selection of elements you might see better applied later in his career.

The story proper gets going in the first ten minutes when Lupin and Jigen spot a young lady overtaking them on the highway to Cagliostro, which is apparently a tiny country in Europe whose most prominent feature is, you guessed it, the castle. Nothing unusual about being overtaken, you might think, but she is being hotly pursued by a car full of heavies trying to smash her off the road, and Lupin, feeling gallant, opts to stop the bad guys in their tracks, something he does in an impressive action sequence which somewhat improbably sees him drive up a sheer cliff. But then, you'll have to get used to the hero pulling off incredible feats of physicality if you're going to get on with these shenanigans.

The damsel in distress is Clarisse (Sumi Shimamoto), who is due to be married to the evil Count much against her wishes, although Lupin gets to save her, hanging off a cliff (a different cliff) in the process, but also knocking himself out while she gets away to the castle, where she ends up held prisoner in a tower not unlike a fairy tale princess. While Lupin is a mercenary sort, this time around he's following his heart because he wants to save Clarisse from her potentially dreadful fate, though there's still a chance he can turn a profit should he get his hands on the supposed hidden treasure secreted around the castle. The building is almost a character in itself, full of contraptions and tricks which Lupin negotiates with aplomb, much as you'd expect from a gentleman thief and seasoned playboy, but it does grow predictable and close to monotonous after a while, with mainly the sparkly if slightly rough-edged animation sustaining the interest. But even Miyazaki had to start somewhere. Music by Yuji Ono.

[Studio Canal's subtitled Blu-ray looks excellent, with a storyboard and a trailer as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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