Friday, April 29, 2011

The Castle Of Cagliostro

(As a gesture of Transatlantic friendship, I’ve decided to review The Castle Of Cagliostro. After all it is my favorite movie to feature a Royal Wedding. That timeless tale of romance In which a simple girl is seduced, corrupted and brainwashed by an evil european aristocratic ruler. How can it not bring thoughts of the current celebration!... I mean it’s a a ooh I’ve just started an international incident haven’t I?)

It is a rare thing when a film so pleased with itself allows the audience to be so as well. The Castle Of Cagliostro is simply one of the most pleasurable movies that I know of. When Steven Spielberg named it one of the greatest adventure films of all time he wasn’t kidding. If anything I’d even take it a step further. The Castle Of Cagliostro is one of the most purely entertaining films of all time. It deserves to stand aside the likes of Charade, The Adventure’s Of Robin Hood, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, To Catch A Thief, Goldfinger, North By Northwest and those other rare perfect swashbuckling entertainments. Yet even though it certainly shares DNA with those films it still remains itself, if only because even in this his most genre based film Miyaziki still finds moments for delicacy, beauty, grace and humanism.

It’s a film that takes fierce joy in and of itself, boundlessly pleased by its boundless wit, style, and invention. Producing ingenious set pieces, dramatic flourishes, Euro Ninjas (The Best Kind Of Ninjas), feats of daring do. All produced with the same enthusiasm and flourish with which the word “Auto Gyro” Is pronounced.

Look I'm fully aware that this review has already rounded the bend at gushing some time ago, but if its success didn’t feel so alchemical I’d say it was a textbook example of narrative filmmaking. It’s a film that delivers a tremendous amount of narrative information and exposition with an uncanny grace. Though The Castle Of Cagliostro is an entry in an ongoing series, it delivers its mythology with such seamless precision that one never for a second feels out of the loop, even if the viewer has never heard of the series before (indeed perhaps that is the ideal way to see the movie, as my attempts to follow the series further have been met with distinct disappointment). While it’s true that the film is a standalone, simply saying that doesn’t give enough credit to the grace and clarity of the narrative. The moment the characters step on screen you know exactly who they are, not merely because they are archetypes but because Miyaziki makes them such individuals that it is impossible to mistake them for anyone but themselves.

The simplest and clearest description I’ve heard of the Miyaziki technique is that Miyaziki somehow manages to draw his characters how they look on the inside. This is a littler tougher to judge in Castle Of Cagliostro, as Miyaziki is conforming to the house style of another artist. Yet while the animation isn’t as lush as what Miyaziki would accomplish at Ghibli, it is as expressive as and atmospheric as anything the venerable studio has produced. Every setting and character feels like an animator’s playground. The Count’s Castle a fantastic haunted house, and the surroundings alternate between lush agrarianism and subtle sophistication. Indeed this blend show’s Miyaziki’s Europe of the mind to be fully crystallized. As is the style of the deceptive simplicity that Miyaziki would employ to such great effect in his work at Ghibli (look for example at Lupin’s car simple yet accurate).

There is not much more to say about The Castle Of Cagliostro, it is all surface, but it is a surface made up of evil Counts, moonlit duels, daring rescues, self sacrifice, neat gadgets, lost cities, ancient treasures, clever tricks and plots, pure hearted heroes and exotic lands. Is there a soul so dead that it does not respond just a little to such an embarrassment of riches?

The Castle Of Cagliostro is simply a delight.


StephenM said...

I love this movie, too.

Has Miyazaki ever made a bad movie? The only one I don't really like is Howl's Moving Castle, but it has several good scenes, incredible animation, and everyone else seems to like it, so I can't really call it bad.

Jasper Y. said...

I, too, think this movie is a blast.
Call me unsophisticated, but I really have a soft spot for Miyazaki's more genre-based work (i.e. Cagliostro, Porco Rosso, and to a lesser degree, Laputa). While they may not have the same amount of depth as his more personal works, they just are really, really entertaining. I get the sense that he totally understands the things people love in adventure movies. You, as a viewer, really want to get inside the worlds he creates onscreen and take part in all the fun.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Stephen: No I really don't think he has. Though I have to admit Ponyo did make me wish he gave slightly more of a fuck about narrative again. Then again the movie is so lovely it seems silly to complain.

@ Jasper Y." I'm right there with you. Castle In The Sky is truly one of the greatest adventure movies ever made.