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Friday, November 17, 2006

The Castle of Cagliostro

Lupin and Jigen in The Castle of Cagliostro

Justin: I've pretty much given up on anime; the combination of no time to invest in long series combined with the loss of the initial luster at having seen all the really necessary stuff means it's hard for me to get excited by it anymore. Throw in the tendency for new series to be incredibly derivative and it's not surprising I haven't watched anything in months.

The solution? Go back in time...

Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro, his 1979 addition to the Lupin III franchise, is one of the best animated films I've ever seen. That's a kind of doublesided statement, in that the film is both a great movie, and a great example of animation. More recent animated films feel overproduced and seamless, but The Castle of Cagliostro was obviously conceived and drawn by human beings, and the loving attention to detail shows through.

Even at this stage Miyazaki's direction is superb. He knows when to do fast cutting, which angles to use, and when to just pull back and not do anything and let you take in the beauty of the landscapes and settings (a technique sadly neglected by most modern animation). I have to say I like this film more than Princess Mononoke (admittedly stunning animation and story but occasionally ponderous), Spirited Away (same), or the earlier ones (even Totoro). This film feels like a direction Miyazaki could have gone in but never really did, and it's a shame. The complete absence of shitty computer generated anything also makes it so much more awesome. (sorry, ALL 3D animated movies pretty much suck, shit is acceptable as FMV in a video game but can't touch hand-drawn animation for an actual movie)

The castle and countryside scenery in Cagliostro is astonishingly beautiful. If you've ever played a Castlevania game at any point in the series, you'll suddenly realize where they got all their design ideas from, what with all kinds of cupolas and buttresses and arches (I don't actually know what these terms mean, I just know they describe architectural shit of this sort), connecting corridors and moss-crusted castles sunken in moats. The characters are given the freedom to just explore their surroundings and the depth of the environment without an over-clocked plot-pace forcing them to move (this doesn't mean, though, that the plot isn't complex and insane; there's tons of action pretty much from the first frame).

DVD cover of Castle of CagliostroAn interesting thing to note is that much of the action in this film is physically impossible. There's an early car-chase scene where Lupin and his friend Jigen's car gets in the lead by scaling a near vertical wall, cutting through a forest, and then sliding down the same wall to overtake. Can't be done, but looks great. There's another amazing sequence where Lupin and Jigen are breaking into the castle through an aqueduct, which eventually empties into a long pit. Lupin gets caught in the current and sucked through, noticing only too late where the water winds up. But he swims against the current even as it moves out of the aqueduct and down the pit. You seem him suspended at the very bottom of the flow, swimming upwards with all his might and held in place. Again, physically impossible, but the animation's sheer confidence and energy makes you believe it. Later on while investigating the castle, Lupin climbs a sheer wall before running back down the other (near-90 degree) slope and making a fantastic, balletic leap across a chasm to the other side of the tower. There's a great kind of incidental wonder to these scenes that's almost superfluous but somehow magical; it's not the complete over-the-top unreality of a Warner Bros. cartoon, but neither is it wholly realistic. Difficult to explain, but incredibly distinctive.

As for the story, if you remade this as a live action movie now it would probably make like ten billion dollars at the box office, if you just literally re-filmed every scene in this movie live-action. It's similar to a film like Ocean's Eleven in terms of invention. Lupin is unbelievably badass, and the existence of the samurai character Goemon seems completely 'what the fuck?' inexplicable, which only makes it so much greater. Everyone else in the movie is obviously in the modern day, but this guy shows up at random points in full traditional getup and kicks ass with a katana. I don't think this guy even gets any lines of dialogue through the whole movie. He's proof that every movie, regardless of genre, is made better if you toss in random ass-kicking samurai. In fact this guy is like the exact same character as Motoko Aoyama from Love Hina except male. You can see how this movie influenced everyone down the line; similarly Lupin's friend Jigen essentially IS Jet from Cowboy Bebop. As for the princess Clarisse, well, I've always thought that Miyazaki had fairly inconsistent female character development; although his movies often feature ostensibly 'strong' female heroines, we're still talking 'strong in the eyes of a Japanese man born in the first half of the twentieth century'...feminists, take note. Let me put it this way: according to Wikipedia, the concept of moe was invented because of this character. That's all you really need to know. But her relationship with Lupin is relatively understated. An incredible and under-mentioned film, totally undated.

Swifty: A realization came to me suddenly that I have never really given Hayao Miyazaki the credit he deserves. I mean, yeah, I love the Studio Ghibli films, I grew up watching them (Laputa: Castle In The Sky being my first), every single new Ghibli film directed by Miyazaki excites me just as much as any Ghibli fan. I even truly believe that one is not an anime fan unless he or she has seen a single Miyazaki film.

But when I am asked about films that change my lives, or filmmakers who have influence me, I tend to forget about Miyazaki. I just viewed anime as an entity (or medium) completely separated from film, and I guess maybe it has more to do with my declining interest in anime during the past two years (my reasons are similar to Justin's, and also I was freaked out by hardcore anime otakus who appear at anime screenings in costumes, my normalness made me feel like a freak among them)

I tend to disregard Miyazaki's pre-Ghibli works (films he did that came before Nausicaa), because I wasn't entirely impressed with stuff like Panda! Go Panda!, Hols: Prince of the Sun and Future Boy Conan, although to be fair, he was just the animator for Panda and Hols, and I've watched only the first few episodes of Future Boy Conan before losing interest (my little sister was more into it then, I think I was turned off by the Mandarin dub).

And because of my prejudice, I was never exactly motivated to watch Lupin 3: The Castle of Cagliostro despite it being considered an anime film classic. Until Justin handed me the DVD he borrowed from the uni library yesterday. Justin has already mentioned everything that's great about the film, so I'll just add my few cents.

In terms of his Ghibli films, Laputa (my definite favourite) is the most similar to The Castle of Cagliostro for the tone, the manic energy, the infectious joy and the likable cast of characters who share an amazing chemistry, to the point which I feel as if they are real people who have known each other for a long time (something I didn't really feel with the somewhat disappointing but still good Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki's latest fare).

The film felt like a rebuke. To be an elitist and to merely discount the works of Miyazaki as mere 'anime' and not actual 'filmic masterpieces' is a stupid thing to do, even with a film as early as The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki already reminds me that for his films, there is no line between anime and films. He's not just a great animator, or a director of animated films, he's a great master filmmaker. That's it. Period. Every time someone asks who my major filmmaking influences are these days, I would normally go for the 'typical film student' answer by naming Wong Kar Wai, Darren Aronofsky, Shunji Iwai, Frederico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick and the likes, and even another more recent anime filmmaker Makoto Shinkai (because he's, to me, truly an auteur) but why, oh why, have I never mentioned Hayao Miyazaki? I am ashamed.

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