On paper at least The Castle of Cagliostro is another of Hayao Miyazaki’s fairytales: an innocent princess is locked in a tower by an evil count and must be rescued by our youthful hero. Yet Miyazaki doesn’t make simple fairytales and this, his cinematic debut as director, is no different. Certainly all the right elements are there, but Cagliostro is predicated on more immediate ideas. It’s a caper movie riddled with intrigue: the titular castle is laden with booby traps and secret passageways; the princess is being drugged; Interpol are investigating a counterfeiting scam; and in a distinctly James Bond-ian touch, an autogyro provides a particularly memorable set piece.
For Cagliostro is a jaunty effort with a terrific sense of energy. You never doubt that Miyazaki is taking this all completely seriously, yet his is a film with a smile on its face and a skip in its step. It’s heavy on the slapstick and sight gags, though with the director’s astute visual imagination it never feels overburdened. Moreover, these light touches bring to mind Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther series of films, specifically …Strikes Again which shared its castle setting. Indeed, there’s a definite European flavour to be detected in both narrative and visual terms.
Of course, such an element has always been present throughout Miyazaki’s career, from the days of working as an animator on Isao Takahata’s adaptations of Heidi and The Little Norse Prince to Howl’s Moving Castle, which was taken from a children’s novel by Diana Wynn Jones. And even though Cagliostro is sourced from a Japanese manga, it comes with European setting (the eponymous country is “the smallest member state of the EU”, or so we are told) and a protagonist supposedly descended from Arsène Lupin, the master cracksman. (Plus he drives a Volkswagen, cinematic shorthand for Europe: see everything from Octopussy to Les Yeux sans visage.)
This French connection continues stylistically. Rather than the post-Astro Boy anime norm, Cagliostro’s approach more greatly recalls that of the various screen adaptations of Tintin or the work of René Goscinny. The characters and backgrounds blend in more easily; our lead and his cohorts are drawn in an exaggerated style, making them appear gangly and near elastic. Certainly, the big-eyed designs sneak in on occasion, but Miyazaki is clearly drawing inspiration from further afield than your standard piece of Japanimation – and this is, in part, what makes it so attractive.
The other part comes from the clear command of the storytelling itself. From its opening seconds – a post-casino heist car chase – to its dying moments, Cagliostro never lets up. Moreover, you can enjoy it in so many ways: as a comedy, as a thriller or, indeed, as a fairytale.
This Optimum re-release marks a general improvement over the previous Manga edition. Whereas that version came without anamorphic enhancement and was essentially lacklustre in the visual department, here we find a fine clarity, superb colours and anamorphic transfer. That said, we also arrive at an NTSC-PAL conversation which results in some noticeable – if never overt – ghosting. The film remains watchable, but then this was never a problem with the Manga disc for all its other flaws. As for the soundtrack we arrive at both Japanese and English options in DD2.0 form. Both remain clean enough and technically sound though no doubt the purists will go for the Japanese original (which comes with optional English subtitles of the white variety, unlike some of Optimum’s other Ghibli offerings). The English dub is the old Streamline edition and not the newer re-recording which appeared on the Manga disc. For a discussion of this particular version, please refer to Dave Foster’s review of the Japanese Region 2 release.
The extras are worthwhile even if there’s nothing of great note here. Jonathan Clements introduction takes us around the various points (though he’s clearly confused as to the difference between Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin); the film can be viewed in its entirety as storyboards courtesy of a multi-angle function; and the disc also houses a gallery which allows us to see various initial designs by Miyazaki himself. Rounding off the package we also have the films original theatrical trailer, plus one for Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies.
Anthony Nield reviews Optimum's recent Region 2 release of The Castle of Cagliostro. An improvement on the previous UK Manga edition, this is nonetheless an NTSC-PAL transfer which will no doubt infuriate the collectors.