Two of Hayao Miyazaki’s best films are receiving gorgeous blu-ray releases: The Castle of Cagliostro and My Neighbour Totoro.

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

The Castle of Cagliostro marks the feature film debut of Hayao Miyazaki, the animation genius behind such notable films as Princess Mononoke (1998) and Spirited Away (2001). It was not his first (or last) connection with Monkey Punch’s incarnation of Maurice Leblanc’s lovable criminal as he had worked on the character’s debut TV incarnation in the Lupin III (1971) series (with Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata) as well as directing a couple of episodes for the later series in 1980. The dashing rogue is like a criminal James Bond with his adventures, gadgets, womanising and complete disregard for acceptable behaviour.

Jigen and Lupin have made such a successful robbery in Monaco that their trusty Fiat is crammed full of hard cash. Unfortunately the stolen currency is forged, Goat notes of an exceptionally high quality that Lupin remembers from years ago, counterfeited in the Duchy of Cagliostro. The pilfering pair decided to head out there but during the journey they encounter princess Clarisse, currently being pursued by the henchmen of the evil Count, who wishes to take her to his castle and marry her against her will. Lupin is determined that this shouldn’t happen. There is much to do in order to save Clarisse as the Count’s purposes are not entirely clear but are undoubtedly nefarious. Lupin will require not only his own unique skills but the assistance of his companions Jigen and Goemon, not to mention his dynamic ex-lover Fujiko, to save the princess, win the day and, of course, escape from Interpol.

The Castle of Cagliostro combines a number of key elements to produce an anime that is, quite simply, pure essence of entertainment. There is no need to have any prior knowledge of Lupin III in order to engage with the film for it goes to some lengths to establish the character and reveal elements of his past, some of which is enjoyably reprehensible. Rather like the Bond films, some of the more salacious elements of the source material are toned down so that they can be depicted in a PG film but they are not absent altogether. We see, in flashback, Lupin’s scandalous hankering after a bevy of girls, even as his former relationship with Fujiko has been revealed. Fujiko is one of Miyazaki’s strong female characters, and she demonstrates not only her emotional strength but also some notable fighting and weapons skills, taking on any adversary when needed.

The animated sequences are exciting and wonderfully realised. Jigen and Lupin’s escape from their Casino robbery is followed by their trip to Cagliostro which turns into a thrilling car chase involving the soon-to-be-captured princess in a 2CV and a bunch of gun-toting servants of the Count. Inside the castle itself there are a number of adversaries, sword wielding combat, dungeons, robbery and cultural puzzles coupled with a clocktower-based finale that ties everything together into a satisfactory conclusion leaving you wanting much more of Lupin and his occasionally dubious shenanigans.

A bento box filled with a variety of anime delights, The Castle of Cagliostro has something for everyone with action, comedy, drama, crime, fantasy and romance all mixed together to produce a film that is unadulterated fun. Blu-Ray extras include the ability to watch the film with the original storyboards in-picture which is a great way of seeing the artistic and compositional process.

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Quite simply one of the most delightful and magical films ever created (anime or not) My Neighbour Totoro was one half of the most emotionally perplexing double bills ever. Studio Ghibli, established by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, had only recently formed and the studio was looking for backers for their project. Financiers weren’t at all interested in Miyazaki’s ‘little children’s film’ and only agreed to fund the project if it was double billed with Takahata’s devastatingly haunting Grave of the Fireflies (1988). The latter film received much deserved critical acclaim and My Neighbour Totoro has remained a firm favourite amongst Ghibli fans the world over.

Satsuki and her younger sister Mei have just moved to an old house in the countryside because their mother is ill and the family need to be near her. Whilst playing in the garden, Mei comes across a strange creature and follows it through a corridor of bushes underneath an enormous camphor tree which dominates the forest skyline. In a shady grove, resting on his back, is a towering Totoro, snoring, slowly coming to wake when he realises a rather excited Mei is lying on his chest. Convincing her sister of her encounter, the pair form a friendship with the spirits of the forests and learn to live in harmony with their environment.

My Neighbour Totoro is gentle, charming and moving. Miyazaki introduces us to our main characters – Mei and Satsuki – who are delightful and exuberant girls – and then lets his imagination run wild as they meet the local creatures and develop a friendship with them. The most iconic moment of the film comes when the girls are standing at the bus-stop in the rain, waiting for their father to arrive home from work. They are joined by Totoro, whose large leaf is entirely unsatisfactory as means of keeping dry, so they give him one of their umbrellas. It’s not long before a multiple-limbed cat, with headlights for eyes and a broad toothy grin, bounds down the road, and opens up a door on his side, allowing Totoro to board, before scampering off.

So why is this gentle, innocuous film so affecting? It works because the human characters have a complete affinity with the natural world and they interact with nature in a respectful way. All the protagonists – Mei, Satsuki, father and even the boy next door, Kanta – are all believable characters; not perfect, but realistic and we engage with them immediately. Then we meet the fantasy characters – the susuwatari (dust bunnies) in the girls’ new home, the variety of giant, medium and small totoros and, of course, the enigmatic nekobasu (catbus) and we can’t help but be drawn into Miyazaki’s magical world.

The Blu-ray print is crisp and gorgeous, showing the detail of the animation to great effect. There are loads of extras, including Creating the Characters, The Totoro Experience, Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli, The Locations of Totoro and Scoring Miyazaki documentaries.