Home Video Picks & Passes 07.26.15

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) — PICK
Spirited Away (2001) — PICK

New on Blu-ray are two films from Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, his directorial debut and perhaps his greatest masterpiece. Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro is Miyazaki’s first film, and it’s an outlier in his work. The second film in a series based on a manga (Japanese comic book) series about a dashing gentleman thief named Lupin, it’s Miyazaki’s only sequel or franchise film. A lighthearted romp that’s part Ocean’s 11 caper thriller, part 007 action spectacle, The Castle of Cagliostro involves a high-end counterfeiting operation in a tiny European country, an ancient castle with a mysterious secret, a forcible marriage between an evil count and an innocent young heroine — and a vast supporting cast.

Miyazaki puts his stamp on the material with themes that will recur throughout his work: characters flying through the air; water-flooded spaces; a blend of ancient architecture and high-tech gadgetry. He also made Lupin more gallant and honorable than usual — a take not all fans of the character appreciate — though he’s still a thief and a womanizer. It’s an entertaining lark with at least one notable caveat: Some minor cursing in the original Japanese was bizarrely punched up in the 2000 English dub. This Blu-ray includes multiple audio tracks, including a more family-friendly version of the 2000 dub, with the stronger curse words deleted.  

Spirited Away won the first Oscar for best animated feature film, and it’s almost as if the Academy created the award that year precisely to honor this magnificent film. A dark but dazzling tale about a young heroine named Chihiro, who turns a wrong corner and winds up in a bewildering spirit world, it’s a nightmare, though shot through with rays of light that slowly grow until the darkness dissipates. When I first saw Spirited Away — my first Miyazaki — I was overwhelmed by its imaginative force, but daunted by its pagan sensibilities, which seemed to me chilly and disturbing, untouched by any hint of grace or Christian humanism. Repeated viewings, however, have changed my mind on this point. The spirit world is not a safe or welcoming place for Chihiro, but I now better appreciate how many characters, even some who seem unfriendly at first, are really looking out for her. As bracing, alien and even pagan as it is, Spirited Away is now my favorite Miyazaki.


Caveat Spectator: The Castle of Cagliostro: Cartoon violence, menace and some slightly macabre images; some suggestive dialogue; varying levels of cursing and bad language, depending on the dub. Spirited Away: Frightening situations and scary images; recurring menace to a child; pagan-influenced fantasy milieu involving nature gods and spirits. Both fine for tweens and up.