Studio Ghibli

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The Castle of Cagliostro

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 16, 2015

This is an ideal kids’ movie. The plot is propulsive, but not so propulsive that it doesn’t take time for character elaboration, or for comic/lyric digression. The animation is really lovely, with gorgeous vistas, foregrounds zipping by while the backgrounds graduate slowly (incident tempered by principle?), the resplendence of the colour green. It’s really funny: Lupin’s unsuccessful attempt at being a salmon-swimming-upstream, his feet getting ahead of him on that rooftop. The Castle of Cagliostro is also out-and-out melodramatic, but the good guy/bad guy architecture, the inevitable—rip-roaring!—resolution of the main conflict through physical confrontation comes as an affirmation of morality, and not as an affront to our humanity. Morality, when the hero is a crook? Exactly—it’s not so clear with the villain of the piece, but with this protagonist Miyazaki is clearly on his way to becoming anime’s answer to Budd Boetticher, if not Jean Renoir. Isn’t it true? Everyone has his reasons! The result of all of this plot/character stuff is fun, with heart. Here is an outcome, an entire film really, that you care about.

Did I say ideal kids’ movie? Older kids, maybe. I note that The Castle of Cagliostro is a bit earthy, even a bit adult. What does one make of or do with that? For my part, I conclude that these mild swear words, these little improprieties and sometimes quite striking outbursts of violence (the Count’s demise is in its own way as shocking as that dismemberment in Princess Mononoke), are not only within the capacity of youngsters to process, but that they’re actually quite healthy. Maybe they’re even necessary. I am thinking of what I might say to the youngsters that watch this alongside of me.

You and your friends will likely do a few off-colour things. You and your friends are more important than the occasional off-colour things that they might do, and you must not be characterized by such occasionals. Furthermore, this is not a Garden we’re living in. We want you to be harmless doves, but you might also need to become wise serpents. Material like this functions as a sort of inoculation, or maybe a self-defense lesson. Don’t become the aggressor, but it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few of his techniques…

Lastly, Miyazaki’s European interests and intertextual adeptness (Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin, for heaven’s sake!) are fully, wonderfully on display here, even if this is very early in the game. It’s not just his characters that have interesting, complicating pasts. His own life and work have those things too. Here’s the start of one of cinema’s most interesting, most edifying oeuvres.