I wanted to include The Castle of Cagliostro as it showcases Miyazaki's distinctive style within the limits of a franchise centred on a thief (albeit one with a heart of gold).
I've often thought that the Lupin III franchise is the anime equivalent of the James Bond franchise. Certainly there are some similarities in the film's structure, particularly the opening sequence being an action scene in media res. In this case, Lupin and Jigen have pulled off a spectacular robbery of the casino of Monaco.
The sequence of synchronised hurdling with huge bags of money always raises a chuckle, as does the pursuit cars collapsing in pieces from remarkably neat cuts (Goemon was here).
But as they drive away Lupin recognises that the bills are counterfeits and decides that Something Must Be Done! This is one of the reasons that I see Lupin as a somewhat crooked James Bond: he doesn't let being a thief get in the way of doing the right thing.
The Goat bills are rumoured to come from the Principality of Cagliostro so Lupin drives there in is trusty Fiat 500 to find out what's going on.
One nice touch is the use of disguises (and presumably forged passports) to get past customs on the way in to Cagliostro. This reinforces the sense that Lupin has been doing this for long enough to be notorious, and has learnt enough to be inconspicuous when he needs to be.
The quiet moment is immediately shattered by a car chase. A young woman in a wedding gown is being chased by a bunch of thugs. Lupin and Jigen immediately give chase to save the girl.
The car chase is pure entertainment and you don't really care when the Fiat goes well beyond the laws of physics. There are grenades, armour piercing ammo, slapstick, and what has to be a Lupin III staple: driving through the bushes with all sorts of things ending up in the car.
The chase ends with Lupin and our heroine Clarisse dangling from a cliff. They manage to get down more or less safely but Lupin is knocked unconscious. Clarisse manages to revive him as more pursuers arrive by boat on the lake and flees to on foot to save him.
Let's be very clear here: whilst Clarisse may have fainted with the stress of the car chase she did manage to escape in the first place, and her fleeing at this point is a deliberate sacrifice ploy to draw attention away from Lupin.
Her character design is a classic Miyazaki heroine, and to the extent possible, her character is a classic Miyazaki heroine. I say "to the extent possible" because this is one of the restrictions that Miyazaki would have faced in this film: Clarisse is not, and could never be, more than a supporting character in a Lupin III film.
After she flees Lupin discovers that Clarisse has left him a gift in the form of a distinctive signet ring with a silver Goat crest.
The ring triggers a memory - Lupin has been here before when he was younger, more arrogant, and much flashier. He is determined to rescue Clarisse and solve the mystery of the counterfeiting, commenting that she's grown. During a discussion with Goemon the Count is observed retuning to the castle in an autogyro making it the official Miyazaki flying thing for this film. :)
After establishing that the Count has spies in town (and a nice line in ninjas for a European noble), Lupin calls in Goemon and they set up in the ruins of the Grand Duke's palace. Somewhere around here Lupin's nemesis "the old man" Zenigata arrives and inadvertently reveals some of the defences. Oh, and Fujiko sometimes lover and usually more successful rival, is also on the scene infiltrating the castle.
The subsequent infiltration of the castle is a highly entertaining sequence that ends with an unbelievable jump to reach the tower where Clarisse is imprisoned. The following encounter between Clarisse and Lupin is sweet, innocent, and funny.
At least it is until the Count arrives and Lupin is cast down into the dungeons to join Zenigata. It turns out that Clarisse's ring is important to the Count and Lupin has the ring with him.
The dungeons are filled with the dead who sought the secret of the Goat counterfeits over the centuries and this adds a darker tone to the film. The resulting escape when the Count sends ninjas down to recover the ring leads to the discovery of the counterfeiting plant. The escape is not entirely successful, Clarisse is recaptured, and Lupin is wounded.
As far as this escape, and the subsequent scenes go, Clarisse is often reduced to a passenger in terms of the physical elements as this is necessary for Lupin to be the expected hero. However, one thing that Miyazaki does succeed in is giving Clarisse plenty of moral courage to take hard decisions when needed.
Lupin recovers just in time to intervene in Clarisse's forced wedding to the Count and this, naturally, leads to another action scene in, and on, a clock tower. The clock tower scene is an iconic one that has been referenced in all sorts of odd places (including one episode of Here is Greenwood IIRC),
This sequence ends with the Count fatally discovering that he should be careful what he wishes for, and the revelation that the "treasure" was a sunken Roman city now revealed to the world.
The film ends in classic Lupin III style with Fujiko making off with the loot on her motorcycle whilst Zenigata is in hot pursuit of Lupin in the Fiat.
The ending is itself an example of the limitations that the franchise imposed on Miyazaki. In essence Clarisse is a Bond Girl, and like most such does not (to my knowledge) appear in any other instalment of the Lupin III franchise.
For the most part Miyazaki is seen as an auteur whose vision has complete control of the world presented. Certainly I think that this is a fair description of his films from Nausicaa onwards, so seeing an earlier film where he didn't have that freedom is a fascinating experience.
Nevertheless it is a Miyasaki film in all the ways that matter: a fun film with an engaging story and characters, including two strong female characters (Fujiko is always good value).
NB: I skated fairly lightly over the details of the synopsis as The Castle of Cagliostro is available locally and highly recommended.
Day 1 - New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer's Beginning (1996)
Day 2 - Naruto Shippuden The Movie (2002)
Day 3 - Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
Day 4 - Steamboy (2004)
Day 5 - Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
Day 6 - Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
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