The legacy that Hayao Miyazaki has left cannot be understated. Throughout his career, his animated films have left a major impact not just on animation, but on filmmaking entirely and he has crafted some of the most amazing stories filled with dazzling visuals and memorable characters mostly at the iconic animation studio from Japan, Studio Ghibli. However, years before he went on to form Ghibli, Miyazaki was working as an animator for television and made his directorial film debut in 1979 with "The Castle of Cagliostro", the second feature film featuring the famed master thief Lupin III. In just his first film alone, Miyazaki firmly established he was a force to be reckoned with in animation. This is such a fun animated film that I loved watching a whole lot.
After robbing the Monte Carlo Casino, Lupin III (Yasuo Yamada) and his sidekick Jigen (Kiyoshi Kobayashi) end up discovering that the money they had robbed is counterfeit and set off to find the answer to it and arrive in the small country of Cagliostro to try to piece together the mystery. Once they arrive, they get into a car chase after seeing a young woman named Clarisse (Sumi Shimamoto) being chased by thugs. Lupin manages to save her life but she is soon taken by the accomplices led by Count Cagliostro (Tarō Ishida) though not before giving Lupin her ring. Lupin discovers through the ring that Clarisse is the princess of the nation that is being forced to marry the count and become more powerful. Wanting to save Clarisse, Lupin sets off to figure out how to rescue her even if it means working with his old nemesis Inspector Zenigata (Gorō Naya) before the count gets back his ring.
I still find it amazing that this film is Hayao Miyazaki's directorial debut film. Despite having been an animator and directing for television most of his life, he absolutely nails it with his first feature film that set the course for the amazing career he would have. It's such a fun and amazing film and it's been very influential on both animated and live-action feature films to come. The story is my favorite part of the film. This is one of the most fun and exciting animated stories to come out of the 70s and it's filled with so many exciting moments. The film intrigues us from the start as we see Lupin and Jigen rob the casino and then enter Cagliostro, but as soon as the car chase with them rescuing Clarisse from the goons starts, that's when the real fun begins. Miyazaki directs this film at full speed that are all fun and exciting without ever feeling the slightest bit dull. There are a lot of amazing setpieces from the aforementioned car chase, breaking into the castle through the waters of the moat, Lupin trying to get to Clarisse's tower by climbing the roof of the castle, and a suspenseful climax in a clock tower that ended up being the major influence on the finale for "The Great Mouse Detective". It also helps that the film is incredibly funny as well and made me laugh quite a bit. One particular highlight is a silly moment where Lupin disguises himself as Inspector Zenigata and fools the guards into thinking that the real inspector is actually him in disguise and the guards are fooled and end up going after the real one. I laughed quite a bit while watching that. Even with all the excitement, the film does have some nice slow moments which include Lupin entrancing Clarisse and him exploring the old castle ground to find clues. Miyazaki even uses a backstory with Lupin and Clarisse quite cleverly that cleared up a bit of confusion I had with the film for a while. It's fantastic storytelling and just so much fun. Also, it was quite fun to see Miyazaki's love of aircraft and nature shine through even for a small bit in the film.
As far as the animation goes, it's pretty fantastic stuff. The film was animated by TMS who would later go on to animated films like "Akira" and this film is quite beautiful to look at. The character animation is especially amazing as they have so much life and personality put into them, particularly the goofy expressions. I also like how simple some of the backgrounds are. Compared to his later films which were very meticulously designed and filled with a lot of attention to detail, this film is a bit more scaled back and it did make for some interesting contrast and has some lovely shots. One shot is before the car chase where Jigen fixes the flat tire of their Fiat 500 and Lupin lies on the sunroof looking up towards the clouds. I do think that some of the background character animations were a bit stale as some of the characters in the film didn't seem to move at all which did surprise me considering Miyazaki's films put a lot of effort into even the background characters. Granted, I am forgiving to this since it was his debut feature film. As far as the characters go, they're quite fun as well. I found Lupin to be a really fun protagonist to watch. Unlike his other incarnations where he's a bit cruder and often ruthless, Miyazaki made him a much lighter character that was a bit goofy while still being very intelligent and a bit of a playboy charmer. He's a lot of fun to watch and you really root for him when watching the film. He also has great chemistry with the other characters he bounces off of like his sidekick Jigen and his former lover and fellow criminal Fujiko (Eiko Masuyama). I also liked his relationship with Clarisse as it really felt sweet and was a setup for Miyazaki's future romantic relationships to follow. He also has a great villain to work off with Count Cagliostro who's very cunning and malicious while also having just about enough smarts to beat Lupin. It's simply just a lot of fun.
And that's what I can best describe "The Castle of Cagliostro." Just a lot of fun. The story is filled with great setpieces and funny moments, the animation is dazzling and superbly simple, and the characters are all memorable with great chemistries to bounce off of. This is a fun animated film that I highly recommend checking out, especially if you love the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It's a film that truly lives up to being one of the best directorial debuts in film history.