The second Hi-Def helping from Studio Canal and Ghibli in November is not a Ghibli film at all, it is an earlier work, directed by Miyazaki-san called “The Castle of Caglisotro”, aka Lupin III. Made in 1979, it is Miyazaki’s first full-length anime film, and features Wolf (or Lupin in French), a character created by the artist Kazuo Kazuhiko (also known as Monkey Punch). The Lupin/Wolf stories were massively popular in Japan and as such the film doesn’t bother to explain backstory or characters, it just dives straight in to the action.
The film follows the adventures of Lupin, a master thief wanted by Interpol, and his hat-wearing, chain-smoking sidekick Jigen. They’ve travelled to the fantasy European mountain kingdom of Cagliostro to pull off a heist…to steal the famed Cagliostro fortune. However, they are quickly drawn in to one of the world’s greatest car chases, attempting to save a mysterious bride-to-be from thugs and goons. After failing to save her, they head off to the infamous Castle of Cagliostro, an epic monument to fantasy castles, set in the middle of an enormous lake. Here, Lupin and Jigen infiltrate the castle in order to save the girl (who we now know is Princess Clarisse)…and grab some of the fortune, of course. In doing so they come up against their old Interpol adversary Zenigata, and a whole host of cunning castle traps and nasties. The bad guy is the Count, who wants to marry Clarisse and gain access to her family ring, which will help him discover the treasure for himself. Suffice to say, Lupin, with the aid of Jigen, master-of-disguise cat-burglar Fujiko, enigmatic Samurai Goemen, and even Zenigata himself, is able to foil the Count’s nefarious schemes and save the day…helping bring down a counterfeiting scheme in the process.
This is an old-fashioned crime-caper that is chock full of action and adventure, anti-heroes and good vs evil. It is old-school Hollywood, rat-pack fun and games. There is honour and friendship at the heart of the story, and while Lupin is technically a thief, he represents so much more and ends up as the real-deal hero of the piece. The film has an interesting mixed pace, from frantic action to contemplative, almost romantic moments. And while the plot is never truly original, it is always surprising and enjoyable. This is a film that is very easy to watch time and time again.
The movie has previously been released on a very good DVD set, which included some nice extras, including a great introduction by Japan-o-holic and all-round Far East expert Jonathan Clements (if you don’t own a copy of his superb Schoolgirl Milky Crisis book, go buy one now!) Sadly, here we lose those extras, and all we get is a storyboard comparison function. This is a real shame, considering the historical importance of the film, as well as the general lack of knowledge many Western fans will have of the Lupin phenomenon. A short but simple history of Lupin feature would have been good. And considering how much extra stuff Studio Canal have put on their other big release this month, My Neighbour Totoro, it does seem odd to have such a vanilla Blu-ray.
Another disappointment is the lack of improvement in the picture quality. While the colours are noticeably more vibrant than the old DVD release, and the sound is a marked improvement, the film looks its age, with a great deal of dirt and damage on full display…possibly made worse by the HD nature of the medium and displays? With so much effort and skill put in to up-scaling the Ghibli films, it is a real let-down that Cagliostro hasn’t been afforded the same treatment. Maybe this is because it isn’t a Ghibli film, and so the investment for restoration just isn’t there? Whatever the reason, this coupled with the lack of extras makes recommending buying the new Blu-ray edition hard for me. For completists (like me) it is a must-own. The film is, quite simply, superb, and I recommend that everyone watches it. But if you already own the DVD, I’m not sure the cost of the Blu-ray (plus DVD copy thrown in) is worth the investment. To be fair, this is the best looking copy of the film you can buy, and the improved sound is fantastic. It’s 6 of one and half a dozen of the other, flip a coin and see what the outcome is.
That all said, do make sure you see Cagliostro. As an anime film it is wonderful. As an early Miyazaki it is fantastic. But as a crime-caper it is unsurpassed. And that car chase at the start is, for me, the best car chase in cinema!