Lupin, La Dolce Vita, and the Title Sequence

When I write or talk about Manga cutting the title sequence from Castle of Cagliostro, I'm coming from two different areas. One, is disrespect, not only to the film itself, but also to the medium of animation. What it says is that this really isn't legitimate, or acceptable. It's an insult.

The other reason is artistic, and I'd like to discuss that a little more in this post. While many movies treat a title and credit sequence as an afterthought, or perhaps a necessary distraction from the film, a good filmmaker knows how to integrate it into the film, so that it has a dramatic power.

By placing a sequence of events on-screen while the credits roll, you are placing an emphasis on them. You are highlighting them, focusing attenion upon them. This can prove highly effective for the story you want to tell, and it's underlying themes.

Miyazaki does just this in Castle of Cagliostro. It's important to understand that with this film, he and Animation Director Yasuo Otsuka are portraying an older Lupin, one who is at the twilight of his career. He and his cohorts are older and wiser than their counterparts on the original 1971 Lupin television show, and the film shows this in their actions and motivations.

Observe how the film opens with an action sequence, a dramatic casino robbery and escape. It's a very dynamic sequence, fast movements, panning, and a it ends with a bit of slapstick. We don't see any buildup; we only witness the payoff.

Scene two is a little slower, but it's still very visually active, between the compositions, the movement of Lupin's car, and the great comic payoff of Lupin and Jigen dumping a carload of counterfeit money. This scene proposes the heist that will drive the picture, like many episodes of the old show. This sequence, and much of the plot, come from the TV episode "Target the Counterfeit Money Maker."

While Miyazaki often reuses or quotes from his earlier work, I think there's a deeper agenda at play here. Much like comparing Panda Kopanda in 1973 to My Neighbor Totoro in 1988, the framework of Cagliostro allows us to examine Lupin as an older character, with the weight of experience. There's something notably different about him this time.

This is where scene three - the title-and-credit sequence - comes into play. The tempo is completely changed; instead of delivering a fast-paced, quick-witted caper, Miyazaki shows us a peaceful, quiet sequence. In this scene, not much happens. Lupin is sometimes driving, mostly parked. He is planning, but is also waiting, watching. This is a scene of contemplation, of meditation.

While the audience may think this is simply a travelogue for the benefit of the credits, it's really establishing the underlying mood of the picture. This is Lupin the Third at a crossroads. He has seen and conquered; what more is left, beyond one more monstrous heist at a legendary castle. Where does he go after this?

Miyazaki is employing his slower, meditative side that he acquired from Takahata after working on Heidi and 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, and it will become a trademark quality with Nausicaa and then Studio Ghibli. He's a filmmaker who raises questions and gives you time to contemplate the answers.

One notable thing about Castle of Cagliostro, apart from the series (the original 1971 series remains the definitive Lupin, really), is that you see the machinations of everything. You see everyone assembling and planning and putting things together. Television only gives you enough time to cut straight to the action.

This mood continues like a silent undercurrent. It's notable that Clarisse (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto in her terrific debut) isn't seen by Lupin as the latest sexual conquest. And it's not merely Miyazaki's own romantisicm, or the appearance of his eponymous Heroine, that drives this. I think that Clarisse represents something for Lupin; she represents not only a possible way out, a final escape from the nomad life, but also a lost opportunity, a different path. She's the girl who stares at Marcello at the end of La Dolce Vita, the great possibility of what his life could have been.

To some degree, you have to wonder if Lupin has become trapped by his life and his identity, and if he is able to finally escape it. He's clearly torn at the end, when Clarisse openly declares her devotion to him. "You know, you could always go back," Jigen quietly offers. Lupin says nothing, but continues to silently think. He has to rouse up the energy to continue the game, with that big silly grin. He's looking for a way out. He's looking for a way to escape.

Am I putting too much thought into this? This comes back, I suppose, to that other pet peeve of mine, the notion that animation isn't really legitimate cinema. It's just "pretend movies" for children, and nothing more. Americans consume this message, and accept it without question; then we wonder aloud why we're drowning in so many terrible animation features. The dreadful deluge of Monster House, Over the Hedge, The Ant Bully, The Wild, Everybody's Hero, Hoodwinked and Barnyard is never going to end until we change our attitudes towards the medium. We get what we believe we deserve.

Miyazaki has demonstrated the alternative throughout his career, and he does so again in Castle of Cagliostro. This mood serves as an undercurrent to the entire picture, and it's first revealed in that title sequence. That credit sequence brings us into that mood; its presence is vital to the whole story.

And now, dear friends, you see just why I object so strongly to Manga making cuts on the new DVD.


Anonymous said...

That's a terrible terrible cut. I really can't believe they did it, actually.

As you note, opening credits sequences can perform essential framing functions in film: I can't imagine, for example, just jumping into North By Northwest without first being properly situated by the incredible opening credits sequence.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Smart example. Imagine Vertigo without that fantastic Saul Bass opening sequence. Heck, the Pink Panther movies. Duck Soup - what cruel bastard would cut out the ducks?!

Rule Number One: No Cuts.

The GagaMan(n) said...

Manga video have a habit for tampering with the anime they release. I still remember the soundtracks they replaced in Fist of the North Star and the Street Fighter II movie.

If you want a uncut edition of the film, grab a copy of the recent UK release. We also have Only Yesterday and The Norse Prince on DVD, which I don't think have been released over in the US from what I've seen. Correct me if I'm wrong, however.

Anthony Tardiff said...

I bought the Manga DVD, ripped it to my mac, and put the travelogue back in from a fansub. The result is pretty good, though the fansub quality is a lot worse than the the MP4 DVD rip.

I actually saw Castle of Cagliostro before I ever saw a TV episode of Lupin, and when I first watched a TV episode last night, I was rather shocked. It wasn't at all what I had expected based on the movie. Of course, I was watching the second Lupin series — is series one better? I'd rather not damage my conceptions of the characters any further by watching any more ridiculous TV episodes.

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