The Castle of Cagliostro (DVD)

Lupin will be here…

Danger, romance, excitement, and adventure all await at the Castle of Cagliostro.

The Castle of Cagliostro is part of the continuing adventures of Arsène Lupin III, gentleman thief, ladies man, and all-around goofy guy. At the start of the tale, he and his weapon expert sidekick Jigen rob a casino. Driving away with a car full of cash, they soon realize the money is nothing but “goat bills”: extremely well made forgeries that are legendary in the crime world. Looking for a big score, Lupin and Jigen set off to the rumored source of the goat bills: the Castle of Cagliostro. Along the way, the duo is nearly run off the road by a woman in a wedding dress and the tough guys chasing her. Never one to leave a damsel in distress, Lupin gives chase and almost helps her to escape. In town, Lupin learns that the woman was Clarisse, the daughter of dead royalty and who is now betrothed to the evil Count Cagliostro. He vows to kill two birds with one stone — find the source of the goat bills and rescue the princess. It also helps that there is a fabulous treasure to be found…

Like I said, The Castle of Cagliostro is just one tale of Lupin III, master thief. The character first appeared in 1905 with a series of short stories and novels written by French author Maurice LeBlanc. The original Arsène Lupin appeared on screen several times starting in the silent era, and in 1932 was played by John Barrymore. The roots of The Castle of Cagliostro can be seen in LeBlanc’s novels. In 1924, he wrote La Comtesse de Cagliostro (“The Countess of Cagliostro”), and in 1934 La Cagliostro se venge (“The Revenge of the Countess of Cagliostro”). In La Comtesse de Cagliostro, he married a woman named Clarisse. In the 1960s, a Japanese artist with the pseudonym “Monkey Punch” created a manga series featuring Lupin III, the grandson of the original thief. In 1971 it began a 23-episode run as an animated series, which was one of the first attempts to bring animation to an adult audience. Hayao Miyazaki began his directorial career with this series, taking over after about the seventh episode. It was replayed in syndication, where it developed quite a following (not unlike “Star Trek” here), and a second animated series began in 1977, which ran for 155 episodes (of which Miyazaki only directed a handful). A theatrical film, The Mystery of Mamo (not directed by Miyazaki), was released in 1978, followed by The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979. The Castle of Cagliostro and the second TV series were followed by a short-lived third TV series, four more theatrical films, and several made-for-TV movies. All told, Lupin III is one of anime’s most enduring and popular characters.

I’ve name-dropped Hayao Miyazaki in hopes that you recognize the name. He is one of the best-known anime directors, despite the fact that few of his films have been released theatrically in our backwards little country. Many have called him the Walt Disney of Japanese animation. He has directed nine other films in addition to The Castle of Cagliostro, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and his best known of all, Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki’s distinctive style is readily evident, even if The Castle of Cagliostro‘s artwork sticks closely to the established designs of other Lupin III anime and manga. It’s somewhere in between the cutesy, unrealistic characters of something like “Sailor Moon” and the stylized, hyperrealistic artwork of “Fist of the North Star.” It is a clean, uncomplicated, yet still detailed style that befits the frenetic action. American viewers who are familiar only with Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke might be surprised by the simplistic artwork, but this earlier film has the same cinematic feel.

Speaking of frenetic, The Castle of Cagliostro moves at a breakneck pace, and it takes you on one heck of a trip. Lupin uses just as many gadgets as James Bond, though at times they stretch the bounds of credibility even further than 007’s toys. The eponymous castle is as impenetrable as Fort Knox, with innumerable traps and dire security measures — but of course our intrepid hero can sneak in without breaking a sweat. To boot, Lupin must evade his nemesis Inspector Zenigata, a Japanese Interpol operative, as well as Fujiko, a female thief who is also after the vast fortune hidden in the castle. The count is a merciless rogue who reminds me of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, only more megalomaniacal. He only wishes to marry Clarisse to join together the two families that split the castle’s fortune many centuries in the past.

Manga Video is a small publisher who releases stateside Japanese anime of all sorts. Their DVD release is a year old, but I believe the rights, along with most of Miyazaki’s films, now belong to Disney (but more about that in the next section). It is touted as having “digitally remastered picture and sound.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are particularly good. The film is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. It appears the DVD transfer was struck from a theatrical release print, for “cigarette burns” — those marks in the upper right-hand corner that signal the end of a reel — show up in precise intervals. The image is rather grainy, though colors are bold and overall the image is not distracting. Audio is presented in Dolby Stereo, both in its original Japanese and in a new English dub. (There’s a long explanation for why a new dub was done, which I’ll save for the Closing Statement.) The Japanese track is slightly muffled and of poorer quality than the new English track. While I generally prefer to watch films in their native language, the English dub is reasonably accurate and is tolerable in part because of the better sound quality. Extras are the standard Manga Video promotional fare — a catalog of their products and previews of their other discs.

While researching this movie, I turned to a website I’ve visited several times in the past, I was shocked to find in their news section that Buena Vista was releasing several of Miyazaki’s films on DVD in Japan, while no word has been heard of their U.S. release. The Castle of Cagliostro was released in April as a two-disc set, and Kiki’s Delivery Service will be released in June, also as a two-disc set. Buena Vista’s Japanese and American arms are run separately, so they have the rights to different products (and Castle of Cagliostro is not one of their U.S. titles). I’ve heard that these movies are being delayed in Region 1 because domestic discs are very expensive in Japan, and that imported Region 1 discs are much cheaper. The Japanese arm of Buena Vista doesn’t want their lucrative market taken away by the imported discs, so they’ve pressured the U.S. arm to delay the release of Miyazaki’s movies in the United States. It’s such a shame, because more people here need to be exposed to his fantastic work. I have heard rumblings that we may see Kiki’s Delivery Service here in the U.S. by the end of 2001, but only time will tell. In the meantime, if you have a multi-region player you can pay about $50 for an imported Kiki’s Delivery Service DVD, and many other Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli titles are available as imports. Doggone it, I want to see them, but I don’t want to pay that kind of money.

Perhaps Manga Video did the best with the elements available to them, but the audio and video of The Castle of Cagliostro still leave much to be desired. That’s unfortunate, because it’s such a great movie. It deserved better extra content as well. In my searchings on the web, I found boatloads of information about Lupin III, and it would have been nice to have seen some of his rich history on this DVD.

At a retail price of $29.95, The Castle of Cagliostro is a bit expensive, especially considering it’s very nearly a bare bones disc and the technical presentation is less than impressive. For serious otakus, it’s a maybe-buy, moving toward a must-buy for die-hard Miyazaki fans. I’d recommend that anyone rent it, because it’s a showcase for the awesome entertainment potential of the animation medium that our U.S. studios have only begun to comprehend.

All right, so why the brand-new dub? The explanation goes back to the 1960s with Monkey Punch’s manga work. Japan didn’t have strict international copyright protections back then, so plagiarism could be committed with impunity. Lupin III was based directly on the work of another author. Of course, that posed a problem later when the manga and anime with Lupin were to be exported. To be able to use the name Lupin outside of Japan, permission needed to be obtained from Maurice LeBlanc’s estate. To get around that provision, for some films his name was changed to Rupan, a transliteration of the Japanese pronunciation of his name. In others, he was dubbed “The Wolf” (since “Lupin” is derived from “lupus,” the Latin word for “wolf”). That’s what he was called in the original English dub of The Castle of Cagliostro released in the United States by Streamline Pictures. Manga Video may have needed to secure the permission of the LeBlanc estate for the new dub, though possibly not, since some of LeBlanc’s stories have lapsed into the public domain.

You might be wondering where the name “Cagliostro” came from. There was a real Count Cagliostro in the 18th century. He was a thief and scoundrel, but he was also interested in alchemy and other occult practices. He seemed to do marvelous feats, but it’s generally considered that he was a fraud. One of the most notable events of his dubious life was his involvement in the “Affair of the Necklace,” a scandal in France that was one of the contributing factors to the French Revolution in 1789.

I am deeply indebted to a number of websites that gave voluminous information about both the works of Maurice LeBlanc and the history of Lupin III. I have provided links to these sites.


Due to lack of evidence, charges of apathetic presentation against Manga Video are dropped. Hayao Miyazaki is awarded punitive damages for suit even being brought against this terrific movie.


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