Lupin the Third and the Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki and Maruya Yamazaki
Cast: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Matsuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi
Streaming for free on Hulu
As Hayso Miyazaki’s Lupin the Third and the Castle of Cagliostro opens, legendary thief Arsene Lupin III and his sidekick Jigen are escaping from the scene of a brash casino robbery. As they run, each towing huge sacks of cash, they leap twice over the metal gates barring their exit, and they jump much higher and much farther than would be humanly possible. The security staff of the casino they just robbed gives chase, but they find that their vehicles have been sabotaged, with one of them even splitting in half as it tries to start. Kooky happenings like this occur regularly in The Castle of Cagliostro, and they make for a marvelously fun movie well worth seeking out.
The film follows legendary thief Arsene Lupin (pronounced Loo-pon) the Third as he unravels the secrets of the ancient kingdom of Cagliostro, beats the bad guy and saves the damsel in distress. The character of Lupin III is essentially a cross between James Bond and Bugs Bunny, outsmarting authorities and villains wearing a playful smile. This character was once wildly popular in Japan, with a staggering list of movie titles to his credit, but this one is special. This is Hayao Miyazaki’s first film, and it has him establish a spirit of fun and inventiveness he would go on to display in Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Miyazaki’s endlessly inventive imagination pours from every cell of the film, making for some of the craziest action I have ever seen.
This is particularly true of one sequence wherein Lupin scales an impossibly tall and thin tower and sets up a miniatured rocket on its pointed roof. After he fumbles with the rocket and it slips from his grasp, he chases after it, gaining enough speed from his descent down the roof of the tower that he is able to simply leap all the way to the princess’s tower, which previously had seemed at least two football fields away.. This moment further confirms that the rules of physics and common sense have no place in this world, making of it an ideal setting for the adventures of an invincible super-thief. In an earlier scene, Lupin and his partner Jigen, a character pulled out of hard boiled detective fiction and given a military railgun, are attacked by a crowd of ninjas and lead a chase over the rooftops before dropping into their Beetle and speeding away.
Lupin ricochets from one impossible situation to another, swimming up a waterfall and tricking the buffoonish Inspector Zenigata at every turn, he is the perfect foil around whom to build a world of true imaginative energy. In the English language dub (available for free on Hulu), as the thieve’s hotel room is crowded with skulking ninjas, Lupin chirps with a bright and optimistic voice, “Hey look, the whole gang’s here!” In this age of conflicted, hyper violent heroes and dark messages about the real world, it’s good to escape into a world of fun, and The Castle of Cagliostro offers just that.