Now this is something special. A YouTube filmmaker called the “Humble Professor” created this hour-long video analysis of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1979 action-caper, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Watching this evening, I was greatly impressed by the author’s depth of knowledge of both the movie, displaying a keen understanding of Japanese animation theory and story structure. These are the kind of documentaries you expect to find on Criterion Collection releases. I came away inspired and a little wiser.
Specifically, this video focuses on three key sequences in the movie: the car chase (animated by the great Kazuhide Tomonoga), the scene of Lupin and Clarisse in the tower, and the elaborate chase sequence involving Lupin and Chief Zenigata throughout the castle. Going beyond mere fan service, the Humble Professor demonstrates in great detail how these scenes are assembled, their significance to the overall story structure, and the considerable intelligence and planning involved in its execution. Miyazaki’s obsession with layout design and planning is demonstrated brilliantly, particularly in regards to the Cagliostro Castle itself, which is both enormously complex and logically precise. Here is where a decade’s worth of experience in layout and scene design pays dividends.
With this documentary, the Humble Professor argues that Castle of Cagliostro is not only a great animated movie, but a great movie, period. It demonstrates that unique way that Japanese anime is influenced by live-action cinema and comic books. There’s a gritty realism, balanced by cartoon-ish surrealism, but bound to its rules honestly. I can’t think of another movie that can behave like Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Pierre Melville, or Frederico Fellini one minute; Wile E.Coyote cartoon mayhem the next. The sheer audacity of it all! It’s smart, clever, witty, very funny, and very honest. Cagliostro is “adult animation” is the truest and best sense, and if Miyazaki’s career ended here, he would still deserve a place among the great film artists.
The Castle of Cagliostro remains, in my opinion, criminally underrated among most Hayao Miyazaki fans. Perhaps this documentary could help change that a little.