The Castle of Cagliostro

Toho/Studiocanal/Hayao Miyazaki/1979

Running Time: 100 minutes

Region Code: Region B

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Video: 1080i High Definition

Audio: Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0/LPCM Mono 2.0/ English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0/LPCM Mono 2.0

Language: Japanese/English

Subtitles: Optional English

The debut feature animation by the great Hayao Miyazaki, released 6-years prior to the 1985 foundation of ‘Studio Ghibli’, ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’ marked the second film to feature the character of the master thief Arsène Lupin III, adapted from manga series, ‘Lupin III’, created by artist ‘Monkey Punch’.

The films opens with the aforementioned thief, and his cigar smoking side-kick, Daisuke Jigen, escaping from a thrilling casino robbery in Monte Carlo, only to discover that their stolen spoils are entirely counterfeit. Upon recognising the high-quality counterfeit notes from his early years, Lupin traces the source to the fictional European kingdom of Cagliostro, and, faced with the evil Count Cagliostro, sets his sights firmly on the famous ancestral, Cagliostro treasure. What then unfolds is a perfectly-paced, intriguing and highly entertaining crime-mystery, featuring an unforgettable car chase, and cleverly staged battles with Samurai’s and challenging, old enemies, as our hero attempts to rescue the beautiful Princess Clarisse from the clutches of the evil Count, and ultimately take down this grandiose, counterfeiting scheme once and for all.

As previously mentioned, this is the debut feature from Miyazaki, so viewers familiar with his later, Studio Ghibli works, for instance: ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (1988) (see review); ‘Spirited Away’ (2001) and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004), will immediately notice that the film has a much different feel, tone and style of animation than his later, more famous achievements. That is by no means a negative factor, in fact is wonderful to see how he has developed as both a director and an inventive and enthralling storyteller, and there are styles and techniques introduced here that are clearly seen in throughout his outstanding portfolio of films. Where his later films are primarily focused on magical or surreal elements, this feature is firmly grounded in the ‘real world’ as it were, and presents itself as a good old-fashioned, good vs evil, crime drama, featuring plenty of action and adventure sequences, guaranteed to appeal to all, some cleverly timed, gentler moments of subtlety and interweaving themes reminiscent of both 40’s/50’s film-noir and the chase-heavy police films of the 1960’s/70’s.

Whilst the 1080i blu-ray video presentation clearly delivers a stronger, brighter transfer than seen in previous standard definition releases, when compared with the ‘Studio Ghibli’ blu-ray upgrades, it just doesn’t feel like this film has been afforded the high quality restoration and upgrade that it ultimately deserves, and sadly, there isn’t a great enough improvement in overall quality that should be seen from DVD to blu-ray. If we now look at the positives, contrast levels are particularly impressive, offering deep, absorbing blacks and bright highlights and image clarity and definition are strong and crisp, offering an excellent level of detail and emphasising the quality of the animation, in both characters and the finely crafted backgrounds and landscapes. However, though the colour palette appears bright and well saturated, delivering nice, natural shades and tones, it just somehow lacks the overall vibrancy and vividness that would really make the film shine and pop. Thankfully, there are no clear signs that any manipulation or DNR has been used in the restoration, with a good deal of natural grain present throughout the film, adding to the authenticity, and original look of the piece, however, as the film is now over 30-years old, and as the film has not been given the big-budget restoration needed, there are significant indications of age and dirt on the print, which are, unfortunately, only accentuated in the high definition presentation.

The audio element of the presentation fairs slightly better, and viewers are presented with the choice between four audio tracks: the original Japanese LPCM 2.0 Mono; Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; a dubbed English LPCM 2.0 Mono track and finally the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. I cannot say I am a huge fan of the English dubbed audio tracks, so for me, I would always go for the original Japanese soundtrack. Though the DTS-HD 5.1 mix is well-rendered and offers pleasing levels of surround, it does tend to come across as slightly too quiet and bland,  the original Japanese 2.0 Mono track is the one to go for, delivering crisp, clear dialogue, excellent levels of fidelity and direction and a effective balance between the striking soundtrack and the clean, well-delivered dialogue. That is not to say that the presentation of the dubbed English tracks are weaker, in fact they arguably appear slightly stronger, however, the audio dub does diminish a lot of the authenticity and original feel of the piece, with a lot of the text sadly being lost in the translation, so the original Japanese 2.0 mono mix is the recommended choice.

Special Features:

Picture in Picture

Trailer

Overall:

‘Cagliostro’ has a very different feel to it than the works that would later be seen emanating from the great ‘Studio Ghibli’, but is, nevertheless, a wonderful and intelligently crafted mystery/crime-drama, and proves essential viewing both for anyone with an interest in Anime, and as an early insight into the works of the master ‘Miyazaki’.

Release date: 12 November, 2012

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