I only watched Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro because I needed a touchstone experience since I know Cowboy Bebop references its characters, even if only in terms of design. It’s a Miyazaki film so I trusted that I’ll be amazed at some level – and I was. I also left with the impression that Spike and Jet remembers love for a little more than just the character designs of Lupin and Jigen.
When I watched the show, I distinctly felt its age. It was old and it wanted to be old. There was a such a romance from an old world. The concerns of the characters may have been contemporary – heists, crime, politics and police may be timeless things after all, but the setting and arguably the values that permeate the work, are Old-World. I think the very idea of “Gentleman Thief” is Old-World. This is only the surface of the kind of romance this film has with elapsed time.
The Castle of Cagliostro sinks when the aqueduct falls with the Clock Tower. The Golden Cross shatters during the wedding. The Archbishop is a doddering tool, a rubber stamp in the corrupt proceedings. The Knighthood, dressed like black Templars, are actually a corps of assassins. The liberation of the Principality of Cagliostro isn’t forward facing – it’s gaze is fixed on the past. It’s real treasure isn’t the Post-Reformation styled Post-feudalism, or even a complete modernization (the only technological vestiges: the Autogyro, the printing press – all destroyed). The real treasure is a revealed antiquity: a sunken Roman city.
This makes me think of the all the other films I’ve seen by him. I realize that Cagliostro was the only film of his that I haven’t seen! A quick look at Wikipedia gives me this summation of his style and themes:
Miyazaki’s films often emphasize environmentalism and the Earth’s fragility. In an interview with The New Yorker, Miyazaki claimed that much of modern culture is “thin and shallow and fake”, and “not entirely jokingly” looked forward to an apocalyptic age in which “wild green grasses” take over. Growing up in the Shōwa period was an unhappy time for him because “nature — the mountains and rivers — was being destroyed in the name of economic progress.” Miyazaki is critical of capitalism, globalization and their impacts on modern life. Nonetheless, he suggests that adults should not “impose their vision of the world on children.”
You won’t find an overt environmentalist theme in Cagliostro, nor an anti-war one. What I do find interesting is how it resolves:
- The castle, clock tower and aqueduct = technology
- The rings bearing the Cagliostro family crest = wisdom of the past (even inscribed in a dead language)
- The Count Cagliostro (the villain) is crushed by the hands of time (history’s cruel joke against greed and Modernity)
- The “true” treasure of Cagliostro = Roman Ruins
- How the treasure is revealed = the clock tower, the aqueduct, and the castle are destroyed/ruined by a deluge.
The economic future (treasure) of the Principality is neither industry nor technology. It is tourism! The liberation from the Dark Age isn’t the Modernism of the Enlightenment. It’s an appeal to an earlier time. A ruined antiquity! What does one do with a ruined antiquity? One passively experiences it. You look at the ruins and say “oooh,” and/or “the old ways are better” and or “the old world is so beautiful.”
When the technology of the world is ruined in the apocalypse and the resolution of the Nausicaa manga, the future of the world isn’t so much an unknown newness, it’s an appeal to a pristine past. The world is cleansing itself and perhaps human beings are part of its cancer. In Mononoke, Lady Eboshi and her charges are left bereft of Iron Town to start over – their technological achievements destroyed and their subsistence reset to that of a more innocent past. There’s less to do with the natural treasure they’re left with, but a lot of time to appreciate its beauty.
This is the heavy hand by which Miyazaki writes his stories. What seems obvious in works like Nausicaa, Mononoke and Ponyo, are already present prior to Studio Ghibli. I am tempted to say it’s subtle, but I don’t think it is. It’s hard to be subtle when you’re using a deluge to sink modern work and un-sink antiquity (and call it the true treasure of Cagliostro).
I’m not one for didactic, preachy works (even in essays), nor do I appreciate works for their message. But I appreciate the epic consistency of Miyazaki Hayao for over thirty years. The themes by themselves don’t bother me given that the other elements in his works are so powerful. The craftsmanship particularly in animation is superlative. But that’s me, do you think these themes are a credit to these works? Or are the films but things you enjoy despite the themes, and overt messages?
This screen captured image is from episode 24 of Super Dimension Fortress Macross as part of a video game in the arcade where Max and Millya would duel. I feel ridiculously good to have gotten this reference from Miyazaki’s film just now.