The Pitch: The movie chronicles the adventures of a gentlemen thief named Arsène Lupin III. As the headline indicates, that really should be all you need to know, but on the off chance that you need more convincing, it also features: car chases, ninjas, an evil count, a princess in distress, a secret ring, a clandestine counterfeit operation, a femme fatale, a dogged inspector, gorgeous locations, a strong dose of derring-do, and much more.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: I only watched 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, the feature directorial debut of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, for the first time last summer, but it instantly became one of my favorite animated films of all time. If I were to imagine a platonic ideal of the perfect action adventure movie, this would be pretty damn close to it. In addition to its terrific story and characters, which I’ll get to in a second, its locales are what made me think of this as a contender for this column. We’re still only a few weeks into self-isolation, but I’m sure many people who aren’t used to working from home are starting to go a little stir-crazy. So why not be whisked away to lovely Cagliostro, a fictional European destination featuring a mixture of classicism and retro-futurism? The painted backgrounds are gorgeous across the board, and the story’s setting – bouncing from ancient ruins to village rooftops, soaring towers to creepy dungeons – will make you feel like you’ve traveled the world in an hour and forty minutes.
The character of Lupin III had existed in several forms of media before appearing in this movie, but part of the reason this movie works so well is that you don’t have to know about any of that before diving in – it’s a perfectly self-contained story that requires no outside knowledge whatsoever. Doing a little research after I saw the film was interesting though, because it appears Miyazaki ered several characters’ personas from their previous versions to better fit his vision. Having no prior attachment to them probably helps this film stand on its own.
Long story short: Lupin is a gentleman thief the best kind who sends a calling card to every person he’s going to rob, and there’s a flustered detective always one step behind him. When Lupin rips off a casino in Monte Carlo and discovers the cash is counterfeit, he heads to Cagliostro, where he suspects the fake money originated. There, he gets tangled up in a story involving an innocent princess named Clarisse and an evil Count who wants to take control of the land, culminating in a jaw-dropping action scene on a clock tower that would inspire animators for years to come. I don’t want to give anything else away, but make no mistake: this movie rules.
If you love The Princess Bride and that should be every last one of you, you monsters, you’ll really dig The Castle of Cagliostro, since it has a similar blend of heart, humor, romance, adventure, and comedy. It’s exceedingly rare that I rewatch a “new to me” movie multiple times over the course of a year, but I look forward to making an exception with this one.