Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo

December 26, 2004 on 11:05 pm | In Secret of Mamo | Comments Off on Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo

Lupin III, the world’s greatest thief, is an obnoxious, lascivious, lovable rogue. The Secret of Mamo captures the true essence of Lupin. This, the first and possibly most accurate, Lupin III movie is excellent as a result.

One must admire a film that is totally cool despite not even revealing its true plot until past half way through. This is because Lupin always has something to occupy his time. In a vampiric country, Lupin is executed. And yet, the master thief lives! Zenigata, the INTERPOL detective assigned to Lupin’s Case, does not believe this for a second.
Meanwhile Fujiko, the object of Lupin’s lust and another thief, uses the master to retrieve a series of obscure artefacts which leads to Lupin’s partners, Jigen and Goemon, abandoning him in disgust.
Lupin is eventually kidnapped by the mysterious Mamo, an egocentric midget who claims to be immortal and to have had a hand in all of history’s major events.
Lupin therefore must survive his predicament, rescue Fujiko from the seduction of eternal life and stop Mamo from ending the Cold War the hard way. All of this is punctuated by helicopter chases (in sewers, no less), run-ins with monster trucks, and a whip-fast tour through art history.

The Secret of Mamo is a fun movie because of its grasp on the absurd, emphasised by its chunky, cool-as-all-get out animation design.
The flow is amazing, never letting up. This film is literally packed, with Lupin heiling Hitler, Jigen being interrogated by a man who may as well be Henry Kissinger, and Goemon performing an amazing triple cut. Beneath this, there’s a surprising amount of substance. The Secret of Mamo is actually quite literate, a philosophy film before philosophy in anime was fashionable. This ranges from the silly, such as an examination of Lupin’s mind that reveals that his only thoughts are of naked women, Zenigata and orange candy, to the serious, like the idea that gods are created through the manipulation of history.

The film implores us to consider also the implications of friendship; Jigen and Goemon abandon Lupin for his remorseless, relentless womanising. They are a trio that should not be broken! The consequences are grievous, forcing the characters to renounce their loves of Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart.
Yes, indeed, a great deal of this film is random – frequently to the point of confusion. Fujiko’s behaviour seems entirely inconsistent, but it is not if the viewer goes in knowing one thing about her character explicitly: she is permanently stringing Lupin along. Do not take any of her confessions of love seriously lest you want your head to explode!

The production is obviously not modern in the slightest. This sort of animation would not fly nowadays, yet it is some of the most ingenusly stylised animation there is. Lupin is thin and gangly, possibly for sneaking purposes. His insubstantial physique makes his seduction technique all the funnier. Also, for whatever reason, all of the men are incredibly hairy.
There’s something earthy and organic about the animation, as if every little action has been considered. In the car chase scenes the cars may be rough but there is no illusion that the whole thing is moving.

The animators cheat with techniques along the lines of Fujiko’s endless drive through the fields at sunset, and millions of other hard to describe shortcuts. The animation is smooth, no matter how rough the design, and one of the joys of the film is wondering what random event will be thrown in next: the sheer imagination utilised in conveying this film is epic in scale.

Back in the day, the Lupin III ensemble stayed static, but since then there have been many changes to the line-up. The Secret of Mamo boasts the original, traditional cast. Yamada Yasuo charms the pants off of his contemporaries as Lupin and sings the ending themesong – which has something to do with being a master thief and getting girls, but by this point I had switched to VHS and had no translation. It was quite jolly. The opening song is the excellent “Lupin III ’77” (also known as “Dance Mix for Lupin”) which, if you get really confused, sounds like “Eye of the Tiger”.

The Secret of Mamo somehow manages to be a challenging, intellectual film and a base festival of crudities simultaneously. This masterful example of the animated form is a true delight.

No images this time around because I have a defective copy of this DVD that cuts out for the last ten minutes; I had to watch the finale on my old Manga Entertainment UK 1996 dub VHS. That version is a bit suss – Mamo’s voice is ridiculous – but still fun.

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