The Castle of Cagliostro
directed by Hayao Miyazaki
(Manga, 1979; 2006)

Last night I had the chance to sit and watch the new Special Edition The Castle of Cagliostro with some friends from my gaming group.

This movie is a personal favorite of mine -- well, heck, who doesn't love The Castle of Cagliostro? I mean, what's not to love? For one thing, it's Hayao Miyazaki. 'Nuff said. For another, I'm a complete sucker for a good caper movie, and this is unquestionably one of the best -- a fabulous romp in the tradition of Charade or To Catch a Thief. It's based on a long-running manga series by Monkey Punch, but you don't need to know anything about it in order to appreciate the movie. They explain just about everything for you, and besides, once Miyazaki's put his distinctive stamp on things, the mood and style are rather different from the original anyway. (Not worse, just different!)

The story revolves around master thief Lupin and his gang. At the start of the movie, Lupin pulls off a major heist at a casino, only to discover that he's gotten nothing but expertly made counterfeit money. This sets him to investigating the source of the counterfeit bills and leads him to the tiny European country of Cagliostro, which seems to be somewhere around the Italian-Swiss border, to judge by the landscape and architecture. There, he gets mixed up in the impending royal marriage between a shifty count and the princess (technically, the grand duchess) of the country. (Being written by Miyazaki, the princess is thankfully not wimpy, annoying or brainless.) Toss in Lupin's nemesis from Interpol, a rival thief with her own agenda and a legendary lost treasure, and you've got the recipe for a confection of nonstop thrills and humor. There are spectacular chase sequences on land, in the air and underwater. The final showdown between Lupin and Count Cagliostro at the clock tower is justly famous.

The artwork is nothing short of amazing, especially considering that this movie was first released in 1979. And the new, digitally remastered version has done a fine job of cleaning up the picture. We popped in the earlier DVD release for comparison and were impressed by the difference in picture quality. This makes it even more of a shame that the original opening credit sequence couldn't be included in this version; I gather there were licensing issues. It's been replaced with a series of stills showing approximately the same scenes. The new version has also been tailored for 16x9 televisions, with the subtitles made slightly smaller to fit within the widescreen frame.

We watched the movie in Japanese with English subtitles. The DVD also offers an English dub in either 2.1 or 5.0 surround, plus mono dubs in French and Spanish.

I have a confession to make: I'm weirdly attached to the old Carl Macek Streamline dub. Sure, it had accuracy issues, but the acting was good in an era when dubs were usually dreadful -- they really caught the spirit of the movie and characters. So I had to struggle to keep an open mind about the new dub, but I did my best. I have to admit the acting in the new version is quite good. However, if you're looking for a faithful translation, this still isn't it. There are a lot of ad-libbed extra lines, particularly in the early scenes. The ad-libs are usually funny and in keeping with the tone of the script, though. A sample: as Jigen is tossing away the counterfeit bills, the subtitles have him saying "Darn it! Darn it! Darn it!" The dub says, "Well, what the hell? Who wants to sit around getting fat on fine wine and gourmet food with beautiful women in some lush, tropical setting anyway?"

However, this ties in with another issue that actually bothers me more than accuracy: swearing. The box says the movie contains "mild language." Within the first 10 minutes, there's both "Son of a bitch!" and a completely gratuitous inserted "Oh shit!" during the first car chase. (Lupin just makes a sort of frightened moan at that point on the original Japanese track.) This is a movie that all ages should be able to enjoy together, and it would have been so easy to keep the dub family-friendly. I'm really disappointed that the makers didn't bother to do so. That's one reason not to throw out my old Streamline VHS copy just yet.

In addition to the extra language tracks, the new edition also offers more extras than the original release, including a small photo gallery and original Japanese trailers, a complete storyboard matched to the feature soundtrack and an interview with animation director Yasuo Ohtsuka. He has less to say about the actual movie than about the state of the anime industry in 1979 compared to today, but if you're interested in that, here's a chance to hear an insider's perspective. The only downside to all these extras is that the disc had to be made double-sided to accommodate them all.

To sum up, the new Special Edition improves on the original DVD in every way except the loss of the opening credits. It has a better picture, better sound, more languages and more extras. And the movie itself is as fresh and entertaining as ever. It's good to see it getting the VIP treatment.

by Juliet Youngren
14 October 2006

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