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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/18/00

The Castle of Cagliostro
1979 (2000) - Manga

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

The Castle of Cagliostro Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B/C

Specs and Features

109 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, Manga 2000 previews, Manga video fan club info, Manga web link, DVD catalog, film-themed menu screens, scene access (11 chapters), languages: English & Japanese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English

"Why, it's the way of thieves to risk their lives. If the job is finished, I'll leave."

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki have been in something of an uproar lately, based on rumors of the DVD release of Princess Mononoke being released without the Japanese language track on it (or a whole bunch of extras that are available on laserdisc). Lost in all the hubbub are a few things. First, and as our very own Todd Doogan has pointed out recently, it's a good thing either way that we're getting exposed to Miyazaki's work just by getting a DVD release. Second, Buena Vista is not the only place to find a good Miyazaki film.

Enter The Castle of Cagliostro on DVD. Manga is releasing this one, and you may want to take a heads up. This film is arguably better than Mononoke, and all of you purists can take a sigh of relief - the Japanese language track is present here, but there is a problem I'll get to later.

Cagliostro follows the exploits of Lupin III, a gentleman thief that could probably give James Bond a run for his money. After ripping off a casino with his partner Jigen, Lupin realizes his loot is "goat money" (i.e. high-quality counterfeit), so it's off to the tiny country of Cagliostro. This little principality is apparently the source of a sort of Holy Grail of counterfeiting, and Lupin would like to get the low-down on the operation.

When he is nearly run off the road by a passing car chase, involving a band of thugs and a beautiful girl, Lupin can't help but join in. Rumor has it that Spielberg called this one of the greatest car chases of all time. I wouldn't go quite that far, but it's a great little scene and it sets up the saga that will keep you captivated for the well over an hour-and-a-half running time. From daring rescues to fun action chases, a twisted but easy-to-follow conspiracy is unveiled leading up to an exhilarating finale.

Put simply, this story is absolutely splendid. Mononoke is an exceptional film, but I'll choose Cagliostro over it any day. Most animated films never run this long, but you'll have no problem keeping engrossed as the story takes its turns and twists. The action is top-notch as our gentleman thief uses gadgets that mix between Bond and Batman. The characters are enticing, and Lupin may be the best executed anime character I've ever seen.

On the animation side of things, I'm equally impressed, but only because I'm putting things in context. Mononoke is an better-animated film, but it was also made some 18 years after Cagliostro (which was released in 1979). In keeping with the time, Lupin and his fellow characters are rigid, but surprisingly fluid when compared to their late-70s counterparts. Overall, the animation is quite good, but you must remember how old this movie is.

On the technical side of things, less positive things can be said about this disc. The video could have been much better, but this is likely due to unavoidable source defects. There's a lot of grain, and the print is downright dirty at times with discolored blotches. The worst sin are the holes that keep popping up in the print. It can be very distracting when sizable black circles rush onto the screen over and over. I'm not aware of what prints do and don't exist of this film, so I don't know if a better print could've been obtained. That said, I'm sure this film looks better than it has in the past. While non-anamorphic, this is digitally remastered. Source defects aside, the print is completely watchable to the average person. Videophiles, on the other hand, are going to be disappointed.

The audio, on the other hand, is good with a decent balance of effects and dialogue. It is by no means spatial, and pretty much resides in the front speakers. Explosions and other effects lack some oomph, but overall you have a good if average soundtrack. That's the English track. The Japanese track, while present, is of low quality. It's mono and it shows, playing off as incredibly flat.

Extras represent another black mark against this disc. Manga has included the obligatory previews for its other titles, along with its own DVD catalog and Manga web links, but nothing is available in the way of extras for the actual movie. There is no trailer for The Castle of Cagliostro. There is nothing related to the movie, and that means that there really aren't any extras. I'm sorry Manga, but I don't count promotional previews as a legitimate extra (especially when it's the only extra).

Despite the lack of extras and the sub-par video, I really have to recommend this film for purchase. Spielberg is rumored to have been blown away by the film, and it was hailed as one of the best anime's of all time during the early 80s. I can see why it got the accolades it did. The plot is very intelligent and has a depth that much of anime lacks. The characters are classic and you really get into them, while the action is top-notch. The animation won't rival newer creations, but it remains quite good for its time. In other words, people who had their interest piqued in Miyazaki with Princess Mononoke should grab The Castle of Cagliostro ASAP. It's easily one of his best films.

Brad Pilcher
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