The original theatrical release in Japan occurred on 15 December 1979. The American theatrical debut was on 3 April 1991, with the home release following in October 1992. This first dub was produced by Streamline Pictures and released on home video the following year. A new dubbed version was produced by Manga Entertainment in 2000 and has had several releases. Despite initially underperforming at the box office, The Castle of Cagliostro has garnered high praise, with critics and historians noting the film's influence on Miyazaki's later works, and has since become the most popular and well-regarded entry in the entire Lupin III franchise. The film has also served as a major influence on animators and directors worldwide, most notably Pixar director John Lasseter.
Master thief Arsène Lupin III and his colleague, Daisuke Jigen, flee the Monte Carlo Casino with huge quantities of stolen money. They escape in Lupin's Fiat 500, but Lupin recognizes the bills as distinctively high-quality counterfeits. Deciding to seek out the source, they head to the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro, the alleged wellspring of the counterfeits.
Shortly after arriving, they rescue a young woman being pursued by a gang of thugs, with her and Lupin falling off a cliff while escaping. Lupin is knocked unconscious, and the woman captured, but she leaves him a signet ring. Lupin recognizes the woman as Clarisse, the princess of Cagliostro, who will soon be married to Count Cagliostro, the country's regent. The Count's arranged marriage will cement his power and recover the fabled ancient treasure of Cagliostro, for which he needs both his and Clarisse's ancestral rings.
A squad of assassins attack Lupin and Jigen at their inn but fail to kill them or recover the ring. Lupin leaves his calling card on the back of Jodot, the Count's butler and chief assassin, announcing he is going to steal Clarisse. Lupin summons Goemon Ishikawa XIII to aid their quest to rescue the princess and tips off his longtime pursuer, Inspector Koichi Zenigata, to his whereabouts to provide a distraction. Zenigata's presence and a party give Lupin enough time to sneak into the castle. There he finds his on-off lover, Fujiko Mine, posing as Clarisse's lady-in-waiting, who tells him where the princess is being held. Lupin makes his way to Clarisse and returns her ring, vowing to help her to escape. Before he can act, the Count drops Lupin down a trapdoor into the castle's catacombs, as Lupin had planned. Lupin mocks the Count through the ring he gave to Clarisse – a fake containing a transmitter – and the Count sends three assassins to retrieve the real ring.
Lupin encounters Zenigata, who was accidentally dropped down earlier, and they form a pact to help each other escape. After overpowering the assassins, they escape into a room full of printing presses — the source of the counterfeits. Zenigata wants to collect evidence, but Lupin points out they must escape the castle first. They start a fire as a distraction and steal the Count's autogyro. However, as they attempt to rescue Clarisse, Lupin is shot. Clarisse offers the ring to the Count in exchange for Lupin's life. After securing the ring, the Count's attempt at betrayal is foiled when Fujiko's actions allow her, Lupin, and Zenigata to flee. As Lupin recovers from his injuries, Zenigata attempts to convince his superiors at Interpol to prosecute the Count for counterfeiting, but fearing political repercussions, they halt the investigation and remove him from the case. Meanwhile, Lupin intends to stop the wedding and rescue the princess. He also reveals his reasons for rescuing Clarisse to Jigen, Goemon and her family's former gardener — as a young girl, she had saved his life during his unsuccessful first attempt to find the source of the counterfeit bills ten years earlier. Fujiko tips off Lupin on a way to sneak into the castle, and forms a plan with Zenigata to publicly reveal the counterfeiting operation under the cover of pursuing Lupin.
The wedding appears to go as planned with a drugged Clarisse until Lupin's "ghost" disrupts the ceremony, and despite the Count's precautions Lupin makes off with both Clarisse and the Count's rings. Meanwhile, Zenigata and his squadron arrive in the chaos and the inspector leads Fujiko, posing as a television reporter, to the Count's counterfeiting facility to expose the operation to the world. The Count pursues Lupin and Clarisse to the face of the castle's clock tower. Lupin is forced to surrender the rings to save Clarisse, and they are both knocked into the lake surrounding the tower. After using the rings to reveal the secret of Cagliostro, the Count is killed by the mechanism unveiling the treasure. Lupin and Clarisse watch as the lake around the castle drains to reveal exquisite ancient Roman ruins — the true treasure of Cagliostro. Lupin and his friends bid farewell to Clarisse, now the rightful ruler of Cagliostro. With Zenigata pursuing them again (for the crime of "stealing Clarisse's heart") and Fujiko fleeing with the plates from counterfeit printing presses, Lupin and the gang drive out of Cagliostro, with the police close behind them.
Lupin III began as a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Monkey Punch. The title character, Arsène Lupin III, was inspired by (and is claimed in the series to be the grandson of) Maurice Leblanc's fictional character Arsène Lupin, a gallant and famous outlaw able to outsmart even Sherlock Holmes. Lupin III is a gentleman thief and announces his intentions to steal valuable objects by sending a calling card to the owners of the desired items. The manga's popularity led to two anime series, titled Lupin III and Lupin III Part II. The first film, The Mystery of Mamo, was released on 16 December 1978. Cagliostro followed the year later following the financial success of that film. This is marked as the first feature length film to be directed by Miyazaki, who had previously co-directed episodes of the first Lupin anime series with Isao Takahata and the two directors along with Toshio Suzuki will gave birth to Studio Ghibli in 1985. He was also a writer and director of two episodes in the second series under the pseudonym "Telecom", both produced a year after Cagliostro. In works other than Castle of Cagliostro and the series episodes directed by Miyazaki and Takahata, Lupin III is portrayed as a scheming and lecherous thief, sometimes supported by his former enemies Jigen and Goemon. Miyazaki's film conflicts with the typical behavior and personality of the characters, a change that has been described as Lupin "growing up".
Castle of Cagliostro marked Miyazaki's debut as a theatrical movie director, but he also was a writer, a designer, and a storyboardist on the movie. The production for the film began in May 1979 with the writing of the story and storyboarding for the film. Miyazaki began by drawing a bird's eye view of the setting before creating the story to completion. After the first draft scenario was returned to Miyazaki without change, he began the storyboards. The story was divided into four parts, but after reaching the third part changes had to be made at the storyboard phase in order to not exceed the decided running time. Animation work began in July while the storyboards were only a quarter complete; Miyazaki had to complete them during the animation production. Production wrapped up at the end of November and the film's premier on December 15, 1979 was a short seven and a half months from the project's undertaking, with only five months of production time.
The film draws upon many sources of inspiration that were important in the production of the film. McCarthy writes that a research trip was not specifically undertaken for the film, but says Miyazaki's Heidi sketchbooks were useful for the scenery. Miyazaki would cite Italian Mountain Cities and the Tiber Estuary from Kagoshima Publishing as influencing the production of the film. The film included elements that were seen in other Arsène Lupin works, including La Justice d'Arsène Lupin by Boileau-Narcejac, involving the discovery of a tremendous stash of forged franc notes with which World War I–era Germany had planned to destabilize the French economy. Maurice Leblanc's The Green-eyed Lady also featured a secret treasure hidden at the bottom of a lake. The castle is visually influenced by that of the original 1952 unfinished release of The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. Greenberg writes, "Cagliostro also borrowed many narrative and visual elements from Grimault's film: the basic plotline of disrupting the wedding of an evil tyrant and a beautiful innocent girl, the tyrant's luxuriously-decorated palace that is also full of traps, and a gang of henchmen serving the tyrant – both oversized goons and ninja-like assassins..." The staff added personal touches to the film, the most iconic being Lupin's car, the Fiat 500, was the car of head animator Yasuo Ōtsuka. Clarisse's car in the chase scene is a Citroen 2CV, which is Miyazaki's first car.
McCarthy describes the summery color palette of the film as matching the scenery and the characters, but notes the use of dark and light colors are used to emphasize the subplot of the dark and light sides of the Cagliostros. The film's score was composed by series regular Yuji Ohno, and varies between jazz, romance and orchestral music. Notably, it includes a variation of Lupin III's iconic TV theme. The music was performed by You & The Explosion Band, who had previously worked on the second television series. The main vocal song "Fire Treasure" was performed by Bobby (aka Toshie Kihara) and saw release as an LP single. The first release of the soundtrack was Lupin the 3rd The Castle of Cagliostro Original Soundtrack BGM Collection, an album containing extended versions of select cues from the film. It was originally sold on vinyl and cassette tape in 1983, but later saw release on CD in 1985 with several additional prints runs. In 2003, the entire score was finally released on a newly commissioned album entitled Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro – Music File and also contained 13 unused cues.
Castle of Cagliostro's portrayal of the characters was changed to better identify with Miyazaki's concept of a "hero" and to remove a sense of apathy in the story. This resulted in Lupin being a happy-go-lucky and upbeat thief who drives and lives out of a Fiat 500; a sharp contrast to the scheming and lecherous Lupin who drives expensive cars like the Mercedes-Benz SSK because it was "Hitler's favorite". The changes would also impact secondary characters like Jigen and Goemon, changing their serious and cold personalities into friendly and humorous; even the erotic elements involving the femme-fatale Fujiko were dropped.
Fred Patten, who worked at Streamline Pictures was involved in the English adaptation of the film and was involved in the choice of title for the English release,
The Japanese title is Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro, which is literally Lupin III: Cagliostro of Castle [sic]. So which would be better in English; Cagliostro Castle, Cagliostro's Castle, or The Castle of Cagliostro? It was my argument that The Castle of Cagliostro sounded the most sinister. Cagliostro Castle is just a castle's name, like Windsor Castle, but the Castle of Cagliostro emphasizes that it is the evil Count's lair!
In his first director role, Miyazaki deploys numerous examples of his style to great effect. Dani Cavallaro highlights the signature details of Miyazaki's style and form being displayed in this work and how it impacts the portrayal of the story. Cagliostro, the country and setting, is depicted in meticulous detail and unconstrained by limitations of architecture, geography and culture, which can be described as "akogare no Paris" (Paris of our dreams), which is a fantastical view of Europe through Eastern eyes. The use of unexpected and unique camera angles and attention to individual movement of the characters are distinctive signatures of Miyazaki's style, including the opening heist scene which provides characterization and spirit to understanding the character of Lupin. The changes made to the portrayal of the cast, depicting a heroic and selfless Lupin, a friendly Jigen, funny Goemon, and un-sexualized Fujiko, were initially not well received by fans. Otaku USA's Surat described compared this shift to "a James Bond movie where [James Bond] stayed at Motel 6 and his "Bond mobile" was a Toyota Camry!"
The film's Japanese theatrical release was on 15 December 1979. A year later, Tokyo Movie Shinsha began screen testing the film in North America and it was notably shown at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston for a marketing survey. It was later screened at other festivals during the 1980s, including FILMEX 82 in Los Angeles. Despite resounding acclaim from the screenings, many of them were unsuccessful. According to Fred Patten, the primary reason was that, "most people did not bother to come to it since it was "only" an animated-cartoon feature, not a "serious" live-action movie."
The American theatrical debut was on 3 April 1991 in New York City by Carl Macek's Streamline Pictures, with the home release following in October 1992. Streamline's dub contains several deviations from the original Japanese script. Due to copyright issues with Maurice LeBlanc's estate, Lupin is referred to as "the Wolf." Inspector Koichi Zenigata is erroneously named "Keibu Zenigata," likely due to a translation error (keibu being the Japanese title for a police inspector). The UK release followed on 10 June 1996 by Manga Video. Optimum Releasing re-released Cagliostro in the UK after Manga Entertainment lost its license in the UK. The new DVD features an anamorphic widescreen print with the original Japanese audio track as well as the Streamline dub, both in stereo.
In 2000, Manga released the film on home video in the United States with a newly commissioned dub that adhered closer to the original script with the correct names restored. The DVD preserves the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen and is non-anamorphic. It additionally features remastered audio and picture, but contains no extras. The same company later released a new special edition DVD of Cagliostro in 2006. The disc is double-sided with the film on side A and the extras on side B. It includes a new digital transfer; Manga's English dub in 2.0 and 5.1 surround plus Japanese, Spanish, and French language tracks in mono; the complete film in storyboard format, accompanied by Japanese audio with English subtitles; an original Japanese trailer; a sketch and still gallery; a 26-minute interview with animation director Yasuo Ōtsuka, and animated menus. The film is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen; however, the opening credits have been heavily re-edited to remove the Japanese credits, instead using selected still-frames of scenes that appear without Japanese writing. The English-translated names are superimposed over these stills. This change was negatively received by fans of the film. Both DVD releases are out-of-print, with Manga no longer owning the U.S. film rights.
In December 2008, the film was released on Blu-ray in Japan. Its video format is MPEG-4 AVC and its digitally-remastered audio is improved over that of the DVD, but contains no English audio or subtitle options despite being in Region A format. Years later, a new HD digital remaster was produced and Cagliostro was given a limited theatrical re-release in Japan on 9 May 2014. The remaster was released both individually and as part of The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki, a box set containing all of Miyazaki's movies. Both these newer releases were released by Studio Ghibli in conjunction with Disney. StudioCanal released a Blu-ray and DVD bundle of the film on 12 November 2012 in the UK. The StudioCanal release is of superior quality with its new high definition transfer, but the credits for the film are absent.
North American anime distributor Discotek Media announced on 26 March 2014 that they had licensed the film and planned to release it on DVD in 2014, with a Blu-ray release to follow at a then-unspecified future date. The DVD version was eventually delayed to 6 January 2015 and included the Streamline and Animaze/Manga dubs, a "Family Friendly" alternate version of the Animaze/Manga dub with reduced profanity, the original Japanese audio with newly translated English subtitles, an alternate subtitle option based on the subtitles used by TMS in their 1980 screenings of the film, a collection of alternate opening and closing sequences to the film from previous releases, translation notes, two trailers and a fan-made audio commentary by Reed Nelson. The Blu-ray was released on 25 June 2015 and featured the same extras in addition to another alternate subtitle option using a literal translation of the film's screenplay, new interviews with David Hayter and Bob Bergen, an introduction to the film by Hayter, translated past interviews from the French Blu-ray (featuring Yasuo Ōtsuka, Kazuhide Tomonaga and Monkey Punch), an optional storyboard viewing mode, a slideshow gallery of production and promotional art, and a text-based overview of the film's production history. Plans to include an emulated port of Cliff Hanger as an extra feature for the Blu-ray were dropped when the original contracts for the game could not be found. The Castle of Cagliostro was included in Disney's The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki Blu-ray set released on 17 November 2015. This release features only the Streamline dub and the Japanese audio with English subtitles; none of the extras from Discotek's releases are included.
While the film was not initially a box-office success, it gained popularity through numerous re-releases and was even voted as "the best anime in history" by the readers of Animage. Following a July 1992 release by Streamline Pictures, Janet Maslin said she thought the film "should fare nearly as well [as Akira] with animation fans of any age, provided they are unwavering in their devotion to the form and do not think 100 minutes is an awfully long time." According to Maslin, the film is an "interestingly wild hybrid of visual styles and cultural references" whose "animation is weak when it comes to fluid body movements, but outstanding in its attention to detail." According to Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle, "C of C refrains from the Technicolor ultra-violence that helped make films like Golgo 13, Akira, and Vampire Hunter D such audience favorites, and instead focuses on broad, almost slapstick humor and chaos to keep viewers riveted. Sometimes it works, and unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't." review aggregator RottenTomatoes gies the film a 90% approval rating based on reviews from 10 critics. Some fans maintain that it is not a "true" Lupin title, due to Miyazaki's altering of the titular character into a bumbling hero, rather than his original ruthless criminal self. Monkey Punch, creator of Lupin III, called Castle of Cagliostro an "excellent" movie, but agreed Miyazaki's vision of Lupin differs from his own. He said, "I wouldn't have had him rescue the girl, I would have had him rape her!"
In Dani Cavallaro's The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki, the film was said to have received the "Award for Best Animated Feature". The actual award was from the 1979 Mainichi Film Concours, where the film received the Ōfuji Noburō Award. No concrete evidence for this claim has even been put forward and the misinformation in the releases serves to cement its decades-long persistence.
The film was the best selling anime DVD in May 2001, and the third best selling in June. Both of Manga Entertainment's releases of The Castle of Cagliostro received DVD Talk Collector Series recommendation status, the highest status given by the review website DVDtalk.com. Chris Beveridge of AnimeOnDVD.com gave the film a grade of "A+", although he disliked Manga Entertainment's use of PG-13 level language in the English dub. The Castle of Cagliostro placed in 5th place on Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs's list of best anime.
The film has itself been an influence in a range of other productions. There is an unconfirmed rumor that film director Steven Spielberg saw a screening of The Castle of Cagliostro in the early 80's. From that rumor, one would assume that Spielberg was so impressed with the film that it later influenced the action sequences in his Indiana Jones films and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. There is no evidence of Spielberg quoting the film, but Manga Entertainment's DVD releases do quote him saying "one of the greatest adventure movies of all time." Another unverified statement has Spielberg calling the film's car chase "one of the greatest chase sequences ever filmed". Some sources claim that Spielberg had seen the film at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, but, according to official Cannes sources, Castle of Cagliostro was not shown that year.
The character of Clarisse has also been cited as a potential ancestral example of moe character design, a trend Miyazaki would later criticize as leading to the promotion of unhealthy lolicon fetishism. In 1983, TMS with Stern Electronics wanted to capitalize on the success of animated Laserdisc video games at the time. They released the arcade game, Cliff Hanger, which used footage from this film, along with the previous Lupin film The Mystery of Mamo. Even though the films themselves weren't available in North America at the time, the Cliff Hanger game was featured in an episode of the game show Starcade.
Cagliostro deeply influenced Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, along with Miyazaki's later films; in October 2014, Lasseter delivered a keynote address to the Tokyo International Film Festival describing how Miyazaki's influence upon his own life and work began when he first saw a clip from Cagliostro. Walt Disney Animation Studios' 1986 film The Great Mouse Detective, co-directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, paid homage to Cagliostro with the film's climactic Big Ben sequence. Another reference to the clock-tower fight is in "The Clock King" episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Gary Trousdale, co-director of Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, admitted that a scene at the end of Atlantis, where the waters recede from the sunken city, was directly inspired from the ending in Cagliostro. One of the sequence directors of The Simpsons Movie also mentioned Cagliostro as an influence; a brief shot where Bart Simpson rolls down the roof of the family house was inspired by Lupin running down the castle roof during his rescue attempt.