Release Date(s)1979 (January 26, 2021)
Studio(s)Tokyo Movie Shinsha, Toho (Discotek Media)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
In May of 1979, television animation director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) began production his first feature-length animated film, based upon Lupin III, a popular Japanese manga by artist and illustrator Monkey Punch (aka Kazuhiko Kato). Miyazaki was a natural fit for the project, as he and fellow Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata had both co-directed episodes of the Lupin anime series. But while the series and manga were intended more for adults than children, and the central character in each was more ruthless, Miyazaki sought to make his film family-friendly, focusing instead on the character’s gentleman thief aspect (more akin to its origins in the original French novel series by Maurice Leblanc). The result was a film that’s part adventure-comedy and part fairy tale.
The Castle of Cagliostro opens with Arsene Lupin III and his partner Jigen having successfully robbed a casino. But when they discover that their newly-purloined bills are counterfeit, the pair traces them back to the tiny nation of Cagliostro. Upon their arrival, they inadvertently save a runaway bride named Clarisse from pursuing gangsters, only to watch as she’s captured once again and taken away against her will. This leads Lupin and Jigen to the titular castle, the home of Count Cagliostro, where honor demands that they try to save Clarisse and foil the Count’s counterfeit operation.
While The Castle of Cagliostro hints at much of what would later become Miyazaki’s signature style in animation, it wasn’t well received by fans of the manga. Monkey Punch himself has called the film childish and “not my work.” But there is a kind of slapstick charm to the narrative that’s hard to resist. The character animation has a stiff, Mach GoGoGo-like quality that Speed Racer fans will find charmingly familiar. And the background layouts are elaborate and gorgeous, strongly suggesting Miyazaki’s eye for detail in such later films as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, and Porco Rosso. The film also had a strong influence on international film and animation talent, including director Steven Spielberg and Pixar’s John Lasseter among others.
The Castle of Cagliostro was hand drawn and animated on 35 mm photochemical film using a traditional animation stand. It was finished on film for an intended 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The film has been released many times before on home video, most recently in 2015 by Discotek in a fine Blu-ray edition. In 2019, a new 4K scan of the original negative was completed. The image was given fresh digital remastering and the color was graded high dynamic range (HDR10 is included here). I certainly had high hopes for the result, but unfortunately Discotek’s new 4K Ultra HD release can only be called disappointing. Their Blu-ray featured a lovely 1080p image, with beautiful and delicate colors and a very light wash of grain (that may have been added digitally rather than being organic, but at least it gave the image a film-like texture). Unfortunately, it appears that someone has applied a generous application of DNR to this 4K image to strip away all trace of Cagliostro’s hand-painted, film-based origins. The result actually looks softer and less detailed than the previous Blu-ray. Making matters worse, the HDR grade—which should have been restrained to preserve the film’s delicate palette—has made some colors bolder, while causing the backgrounds to occasionally appear washed out. (Lupin and Jigen’s walk through the ruins of the original castle is a good example.) The black levels are at least pleasing, but little else about this color grade is. Compare this film in 4K HDR to the Japanese Trailer 1 (in the disc’s extras) in 4K SDR—the grain is still removed, but at least the colors aren’t so garish. There are other issues too, but I can’t tell if one of them is macroblocking as a result of a bad encode or blotchiness resulting from the botched DNR. There’s even slight haloing on high-contrast edges occasionally that doesn’t appear in the HD image. Bottom line: When you buy a 4K title you expect the image to be more refined looking than the previous Blu-ray, not less. If forced to choose between 4K HDR and the Blu-ray in this case, I’d pick the latter every time.
Audio-wise, the 4K disc delivers the goods. A multitude of listening options are available here, most of them carried over from the previous Blu-ray edition. They include:
- Japanese mono (DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0)
- Japanese stereo (LPCM 2.0)
- Japanese 7.1 Surround (DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1)
- 1992 English mono (DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0)
- 2000 English stereo (LPCM 2.0)
- 2002 English “family friendly” stereo (LPCM 2.0)
- Isolated Score (LPCM 2.0)
The Japanese mono most closely preserves the original experience of Cagliostro and is my personal preference, though I suspect none of these choices would disappoint average listeners. Subtitles are available in a new English translation, the 1980 English Theatrical Subtitles, English for the Hearing Impaired, and “Signs and Songs” (which translates song lyrics and in-film signage only).
Discotek’s package includes only the film in 4K UHD, but that disc comes loaded with special features, as follows:
- 2014 Audio Commentary with Lupin expert Reed Nelson
- Isolated Score
- Introduction with David Hayter (SD – :50)
- Full Film Original Storyboards (HD – 99:40)
- Unused Opening Storyboards (HD – 2:30)
- Creditless Opening (4K SDR – 1:57)
- International Opening (HD – 1:56)
- US Openings & Endings (SD – 14:05)
- Japanese Trailer 1 (with 2014 & 1980 Subs) (4K SDR – 2:18)
- Japanese Trailer 2 (with 2014 & 1980 Subs) (HD – 2:12)
- English Trailer (4K HDR – 2:00)
- Interview with David Hayter (SD – 32:18)
- Interview with Bob Bergen (SD – 16:22)
- Interview with Yasuo Ohtsuka (SD – 8:45)
- Interview with Kazuhide Tomonaga (SD – 8:46)
- Interview with Monkey Punch (SD – 5:21)
- Promotional Art (4K SDR – 13:46)
- Model Sheets (4K SDR – 11:27)
- Imageboards (4K SDR – 12:38)
- A Brief History of the Film (HD – 9:26 text)
- Cagliostro’s American Adventure (HD – 35:18 text)
- Translation Notes (HD – 5:56 text)
- Easter Egg (HD – :20)
I believe the Isolated Score is new for this release, and it’s an outstanding inclusion. Also new here are the Unused Opening Storyboards and the Cagliostro’s American Adventure text notes. Strangely missing from the Discotek Blu-ray are Closing Credits (unless they’re hidden somewhere; they’re not listed in the menus). A nice touch is that some of the trailers and the artwork galleries are in full 4K. I’m not familiar with every previous release of this film on disc, but I do know that the original Manga DVD included a longer interview with Yasuo Ohtsuka that isn’t here. Other than that, I can’t imagine what fans would want that isn’t offered in this package. Discotek clearly worked hard to curate/carry over a great batch of features and they’re all worthy of your time. Note that their 2015 Blu-ray edition is not included, nor is there a Digital code.
As an entrée into the world of Japanese anime in general, and the work of Hayao Miyazaki in particular, The Castle of Cagliostro is remains highly accessible and entertaining. It lacks the themes that would come to enrich and define Miyazaki’s films in later years, but its sly humor and playful spirit are hard to resist. Unfortunately, apart from the isolated score, there’s little reason to upgrade to Discotek’s new 4K release when their existing Blu-ray already delivers a better image experience. And that is a real shame.
- Bill Hunt