Thoughts on Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

Camouflage isn't flattering on you, Fujiko.


Last night, Robin and I went to the Fathom Events special screening of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. It was an amazingly pleasant evening. The theater seats reclined. There were only about three other people there (two women and one man, making women the majority of the audience), and they were all quiet and enrapt; I was probably the loudest person in the theater because I was almost the only person laughing out loud. The movie was, as always, a joy.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that The Castle of Cagliostro is far from my favorite piece of Lupin III animation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good movie. It’s obviously a great movie, and probably the best piece of the Lupin III franchise if you’re not someone, like me, who prefers the impulsive, lecherous anti-hero of Monkey Punch’s manga to Miyazaki’s noble rogue.* With that said, my opinion of the film actually went up last night.

I realized shortly into the film that this was the first time I ever watched The Castle of Cagliostro subtitled. I’m not the kind of anime purist who demands subtitles over dubs; in fact, some dubs (Cowboy Bebop being the legendary example) equal or surpass the original Japanese vocal tracks. Since Japanese voice actors record after primary animation is already complete, they’re basically just trying to match their performances to the lip flaps the same way English-language actors do when dubbing anime; it’s not like most western animation where the vocals are recorded first and the animators incorporate the actors’ performances into the cartoon. Despite that, watching the Japanese-language version of Cagliostro was a revelation.

It was, after all, performed by the classic Lupin III red jacket series cast—Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, etc.—and hearing them play the parts largely wiped away most of my objections about mischaracterization. The Streamline and Manga Entertainment casts seemed to go out of their way to instill a weariness, an ennui into Jigen, Fujiko, and (especially) Lupin that the animation and script support but don’t actually require.

Yasuo Yamada’s Lupin III is still the same clownish yet capable rascal he was in the red jacket series and The Mystery of Mamo even when he’s denying himself the chance to live happily ever after with Clarisse or reflecting on his nearly disastrous attempt to break in ten years earlier. Fujiko might look dowdy and warn the princess off of the man she was “maybe lovers” with over a year ago, but with Eiko Masuyama’s voice, she still sounds like a vivacious femme fatale. Kiyoshi Kobayashi’s Jigen is his normal grumpy self—a slightly-older peer of Lupin’s, not the old man the Manga dub turns him into. Yes, there’s an undeniable air of wistfulness throughout the film, but the core cast are still themselves with the Japanese cast voicing them.

(The effect would probably still be the same if Tony Oliver and the rest of the Phuuz cast were playing the roles, but I sincerely doubt anyone’s going to do yet another dub of The Castle of Cagliostro.)

(Also, Zenigata and Goemon come off fine even in the dub versions.)

Other notes:

  • I genuinely got chills when the car chase started and Yuji Ohno’s classic Lupin III theme started playing. I could probably fault Miyazaki for not using the theme more, but that’s probably a reflection of the divide between what I want out of Lupin and what Miyazaki wanted to create.
  • In the context of the late 1970s, it’s interesting to see Miyazaki pivot Fujiko away from being a femme fatale and toward an ass-kicker; within that context, it seems downright liberated to make her more than eye candy. Nearly forty years later, though, it just feels like a wrongheaded attempt to clean up a fascinatingly messy character. Y’know, I think the only adult, sexy woman I’ve ever seen in a Miyazaki film is Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke—the quasi-villain who gets her arm bitten off. I’m not saying Miyazaki has issues, but… (I kid, I kid.)
  • Before the show, they played an introduction by/interview with John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney. He spoke about analyzing every frame of the film, but I don’t know if he’s ever actually listened to it. He pronounces “Lupin” like the flowers Dennis Moore steals in that Monty Python sketch and Cagliostro with a hard “g” instead of the proper silent Italian “g.”
  • The authors of the Wikipedia article identify a number of previous LeBlanc Arsène Lupin works and foreign films that presumably influenced Miyazaki and team, but I binged the original green jacket Lupin III TV series before going to the movies, and it really looks more like Miyazaki self-plagiarized. Episode 10 (“Target the Cash Counterfeiter!”) involves counterfeiters, a clock tower with gigantic gears, and the aristocracy while Episode 11 (“When the Seventh Bridge Falls”) has Lupin saving an innocent maiden from a bad guy who lives in a castle with an entry via boat.
  • After the film, there were interviews with Monkey Punch/Kazuhiko Kato and one of the animators who worked on the film. Monkey Punch’s comments were amusingly polite, saying that he “never gets bored” of watching The Castle of Cagliostro, that it’s his favorite Miyazaki film, and that Miyazaki was important in helping the franchise make the transition from “men’s magazine” manga to family viewing television… before then praising the blue jacket films and show for being the first anime to really capture his own cool and stylish vision of the character. Ha!
  • [EDITED TO ADD] Also, if Miyazaki can get away with Ruritanian romance in 1979, why can't I do the same thing in My Middle Name is Larceny? I've been debating this for a bit. I couldn't get over the idea that the original imaginary Mitteleuropean countries—Ruritania, Graustark, etc.—would presumably be behind the Iron Curtain in 197X, but that didn't stop Hayao Miyazaki. I'd just need to put it in the Alps or the Pyrenees.
*No, scratch that. The Italian Adventure is better.


  1. Great film, sank lots of $$ into the Cliff version back in the day...


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