Starring: Yasuo Yamada, Sumi Shimamoto, Tarō Ishida
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Running Time: 99 mins
The Castle Of Cagliostro is a Japanese film about a thief who, after a robbery gone wrong, heads to a secluded kingdom in Europe, where he faces off against a powerful Count as he attempts to save a young woman from being forced into marriage.
Notable as the directorial debut of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, The Castle Of Cagliostro is certainly worth a watch for any film lover – and a fascinating insight into the birth of one of the 20th Century’s best filmmakers. Featuring gorgeous animation throughout, as well as moments of wondrous imagination, Miyazaki’s handywork is clear, while the film’s light-hearted and easy-going adventure story makes it an undeniably enjoyable watch at the same time.
So, there are two things to look at when you watch The Castle Of Cagliostro. On the one hand, it’s an interesting watch to see where Miyazaki and the legendary Studio Ghibli started from, and on the other, it’s a nice, easy-going film to sit back and relax to, with a simple, sweet and funny story that’ll remind you of one of those cartoons you used to watch on a Saturday morning on TV.
We’ll start with the latter there, because in and of itself, it’s arguable that The Castle Of Cagliostro isn’t a masterpiece, and is in fact something rather more lightweight than what Miyazaki later came to be known for. Of course, it’s not fair to use hindsight in criticism, but if you go into this film expecting a Miyazaki masterpiece, then you’ll likely come out disappointed.
Saying that, though, the film’s fun and light-hearted nature is a delight throughout, and with a story that effectively follows the same plot as the Super Mario games – an Italian hero has to save the princess from the castle – it’s a movie that’s really easy to sit back and smile to.
With a simplistic and fluffy adventure story, The Castle Of Cagliostro is harmless, cheery fun, told in similar style to twenty-minute cartoon serials on the television, something that you’ll find difficult not to be charmed by.
However, one of the main reasons that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli came to such acclaimed filmmakers is that their animated films were so much more than extended cartoon serials. Featuring stunning emotional depth and boundless imagination, so many of their films stand as timeless masterpieces of animation, whereas The Castle Of Cagliostro – as fun and nice as it is – isn’t quite on the same level.
Miyazaki’s touch is clear here, and although he doesn’t quite have the same control over the entire film (as this is part of a pre-existing franchise about the main character), his capacity for astonishing imagination shines through at moments, even if this movie does feel a lot more simplistic and down-to-earth compared with the movieis of Ghibli.
The constraints on Miyazaki are perhaps even more apparent when you compare this fairly mellow adventure movie with what is considered his first classic: Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind, a film covered in head to toe with crazy and awe-inspiring fantasy and imagination. So, while the visual beauty of a Miyazaki film is there to see with The Castle Of Cagliostro, those expecting to see something a little more like Nausicaä may find themselves a little short-changed.
Overall, though, it’s difficult not to like The Castle Of Cagliostro. It may not be an all-time masterpiece of animation, but with an easy-going, upbeat story that features good humour and fun adventure, it’s more than enough to make you smile. What’s more, with the hallmarks of the great Miyazaki’s talent in development, it’s a riveting watch as an important stepping stone for what came next, which is why I’m giving it a 7.3.