21 June 2013

#2LR Kicking it Retro - with Lupin III, The Castle of Cagliostro

This is going to be one of the most characteristic of the #2LR Too Late Review posts.  The Castle of Cagliostro was Hayao Miyazaki's first directorial job.  It was released almost thirty-five years ago, and features a character that has been featured in multiple movies and television shows.

The character, Lupin III, is a cat burglar on the screen, sort of an anti-James Bond.  It's also a character that is a thief in its own right, using the name of Arsene Lupin, a copyrighted character from a French series of novels.  As a result, the character is known in Japan where the copyright laws weren't tightened (at the time), but is pretty much not known at all in the U.S.

On top of that, if you were to want to purchase this movie, you're looking at either a bootleg (poetic justice!) or somewhere between $40 and $60 dollars.  So, to sum up... really old movie, barely-known character, AND difficult to find and watch.

That's just what Too Late Reviews was built for.  Spoiler Space begins here.

Lupin III has just completed a heist in Monaco with his partner in crime, Jigen.  As he's driving off, he realizes that the money is purely counterfeit, albeit extremely good counterfeit.  Lupin and Jigen drive through the European countryside until they happen across a girl driving a 2CV trying to escape a car full of thugs.  After attempting to help (yet failing), Lupin and Jigen decide to follow after the girl, entering the tiny European nation of Cagliostro.

Lupin gets the backstory of who the girl is (a princess) and why she was wearing a wedding dress (she's to be married to the count) as well as the country's story (their rulers perished in a palace fire seven years ago). He also realizes that this is the place that the counterfeit money is coming from, having tried to breach the walls of the "new palace" ten years ago and failing.  The evil Count wants to marry the Princess in order to consolidate his power.  The count also is searching for a treasure that is rumored to be connected to a pair of rings, one each held by the Count and by the Princess.  The Count is not happy that Lupin is in town, so he sends a bunch of minions after Lupin and Jigen.  Both crooks manage to escape the assault and take up temporary quarters in the ravaged abandoned palace.  In the meantime, Lupin calls for another partner in crime, the Japanese samurai Goemon, and also his nemesis, Inspector Zenigata of Tokyo Police / Interpol.

Lupin manages to infiltrate the new palace through the water system as Zenigata makes a ruckus trying to enlist the Count's aid in capturing Lupin.  Lupin then uses an unwitting Zenigata as a ruse to enter the palace.  Afterward, Lupin finds the princess (Clarissse), but is flushed down a rather long trapdoor, failing to die at the bottom but finding a captured Zenigata.  The count sends assassins in to kill off Lupin and Zenigata, but both manage to get the drop on the assassins and use them to escape their imprisonment.

Lupin and Zenigata conclude a truce and find the counterfeiting machinery in the basement of the castle, just past their spot of imprisonment.  All of the world's currencies are printed from this tiny country, counterfeit, which Zenigata considers a far greater issue than capturing Lupin.  As both men escape, they capture an autogyro to try to free Clarisse, but the Count's men manage to catch them just in the nick of time; Lupin, Zenigata, and Lupin's sometimes associate Fujiko Mine all escape, but Clarisse is left behind.

Lupin is rescued by Goemon and Jigen, and goes into the final backstory, telling about his history of trying to storm the castle when he had more enthusiam than sense.  The three of them manage to hatch a plan to get back inside the Count's castle.  In the meantime, Zenigata brings the counterfeiting to the attention of the United Nations, but all of the nations agree to sweep the issue under the rug because... huh, that was a weird reason, but because all of them are up to their eyeballs in counterfeiting and for some reason exposing what Cagliosto is up to would implicate them, and also because "Cagliosto did not request Interpol assistance".  Zenigata gets mad, but decides with Fujiko's help that he needs to get back into that castle.

On the day of the wedding, the road is full of people trying to get to the palace.  The old priest is held up by the traffic... Fujiko, in disguise as a news reporter, is also stuck, along with Zenigata's Interpol brigade.  The wedding starts, and gets to the cliched part asking for objections.  It goes by, but as the priest is saying the last words, the huge cross in the back bursts forth with voice saying that the wedding is an abomination.  The cross falls forward as the priest dodges out of the way, and Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon burst from the hole left in the floor.  A battle starts up, and the Count cuts off Lupin's head... but it's a fake Lupin, the real one was posing as the priest the whole time.  In the ensuing battle, Zenigata manages to get to the hole in the floor, and as Fujiko documents with a handheld camera, Zenigata "just happens to stumble" across the counterfeiting ring in the basement, on live television, forcing the world governments to have to act.

The last thirty minutes (!) is a long chase and fight sequence, featuring quite a bit of action including the workings of a clock.  Lupin gives the Count one last opportunity to redeem himself, by offering the rings and the ability to obtain the "treasure" in return for Clarisse, who the Count had cornered.  The Count responds by shooting Lupin halfway down the side of a clock tower and taking Clarisse anyway.  Clarisse manages to get away by jumping off the side as Lupin does the same to save her.  The Count comes to his untimely end by following the instructions to gain the treasure... and as the treasure is revealed, Lupin tells Clarisse that he loves her, wanted to come to her aid, but that she can't come with him (awww.)  Zenigata continues to chase Lupin but stops to speak with Clarisse one last time.  As Clarisse explains that Lupin didn't steal a single thing, Zenigata remarks that Lupin made off with Clarisse's heart (awww..)  In the final scene of the movie, the chase begins anew down the French Riviera.

Spoiler Space over.

This remains a popular movie even this long after it has been released, and it is easy to see why.  The character of Lupin III can be corny at times, but this is a character that loves what he's doing, loves being who he is and is comfortable doing what he does.  There's witty banter amongst the friends, retorts between the Count and Lupin, but the heart of the movie is clear here... there's quite a few characters that sacrifice for each other, even when they don't need to, and none of them really gain anything from their sacrifice other than knowing that what they're doing is right.

There's also pretty much zero fanservice in this movie.  If there's one major thing that differentiates this anime series from James Bond, it's that there's no Bond girl.  That's not to say that Fujiko gets decked out in the *series*, but this movie is as tame as it gets for fanservice.

Also, you can see the influence of the 80s throughout this movie.  It seems that every time the movie's dialogue goes quiet, the soundtrack pops up to remind you that it's still there.  The music is definitely stuck in its time, but there are moments on the soundtrack where the music is really genuinely good.  The animation is very decidedly two-dimensional, and there are times that you don't have to squint hard to see the imperfections shine through... Zenigata's eyes, for instance, don't always both point forward at the same time.

Overall, this is a good movie with a fun and fast-paced story, and the set pieces (each of Lupin's assaults on the castle) are terrific and paced well.  You would be hard-pressed to make a real-life movie from this... there's just a couple of just-this-side-of-implausible tricks in Lupin's bag, such as his belt-buckle fishing line rope or swimming against a falling curtain of water, but that's one of the things that I truly like about anime... you can push the boundaries just a little bit, and as long as the universe doesn't bend one way specifically, you're able to keep your disbelief firmly locked away.

So, this is a movie that I would gladly give a 3.4 to based on the first viewing.  I managed to snag a copy through Netflix though, and unless you want to pay the aforementioned $40-$60 price tag, you may have to do the same.  I do know though that if they manage to arrange for another release, I will very likely be there.

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