Tentacle-Free Anime: "Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo" (1978)
- by Kazekun, 29 February 2016
I don't really have much in the way of an intro for you this time. Things have been going well enough around here, my cat is currently trying to eat my laptop as I type up this review, and I have stuck in my head a certain theme song. A simple song that plays quite catchily to the tune of LUPIN THE THIRD! LUPIN THE THIIIRD!
Lupin III is a well-known name in the anime community. Rightly so, after having been around for more than 50 years now to, giving us adventure after adventure after ceaseless adventure. This Indiana Jones/007 hybrid master gentlemen thief has had many stories, most wacky and some profound, and his stories are meant for fun and/or titillation. Often jumping back and forth between the sexual fantasies that often come up when Fujiko Mine is around, and the whimsical quest adventuring that comes naturally with Lupin himself.
Most people are introduced to this character through Hayao Miyazaki's renowned directorial debut film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, which is actually Lupin's second film and it strays way more towards the whimsical and the heartfelt with very little in the way of sexual fantasy. But we're not here to discuss that film, that will most certainty be for another time.
Unfortunately, the film wastes no time in proving to us that Lupin is actually still alive through a strange and out-of-place scene that features Detective Zenigata finding Lupin's body in a coffin, in a castle, that explodes; a decoy to allow the real Lupin to escape Zenigata's clutches. The reason this is such an odd scene is because Zenigata just kind of shows up at this castle after having a hunch that Lupin is alive and there for some reason. And the fact that there is a coffin buried Lupin at all makes no sense to me. But from there however the movie really kicks into high gear. And two mysteries become the story: Who died in Lupin's place if he's still alive, and who is this mysterious Mamo we're introduced to through a series of nude scenes with Fujiko as she talks to some disembodied voice.
And there is quite a bit of nudity in this movie, just to get that out of the way. Fujiko who is one smokin' hot femme fatale is topless a lot here so be prepared for nipples. Later on in the film Lupin presses down on one of her nipples and it's played off as a joke when at the exact same time some buttons are pressed and a bunch of missiles are launched from afar. But we'll get to that.
The Mystery of Mamo instead of being content with one straight, clear-cut story arc as most movies are generally content with we actually get several here. Some of them feel a little to dug out but others give this film a lot of weight rather than being a shallow business of shambles tropes tossed onto a screen.
And Lupin is filled with tropes, though at the time they were fresh and not quite so overused by the entertainment business. Such as Lupin being a character who seems an idiot but plans for everything thus allowing for several deus ex machina devices to show up throughout the story. They're more fun than groan worthy though so no fears on that front.
We get to see Lupin, his partners Jigen and Goemon travel to Egypt to find the Philospher's Stone, get trapped in the desert, team-up with Fujiko and also come to odds with her several times, travel to TWO mysterious islands and a shambled and ruined factory where all the secrets of Mamo are eventually laid bare. All the while Zenigata travels on their heels. The movie does have a middle lull where is feels like its dragging on but right when you sort of reach that point of “why can't this just be over with?” the story picks right back up and thrusts head long into a fantastic final arc.
The Mystery of Mamo does feature some great fighting scenes, especially on the part of Goemon the honor-bound samurai, but where it really shines is on its subject matter. This film at its core is all about the price of immortality, is it really worth it? And is it worth it to tear down this wretched world and rebuild it in your own image? This is a subject many series try to deal with but without being too preachy this film seems to get it just right.
Mamo is a creature of long life and has found countless, although limited ways, of keeping himself alive for many centuries. But it's not until Lupin finds the Philosopher's Stone for him that immortality becomes a possible option and as reward he offers Lupin and Fujiko to become his Adam and Eve for the new world he plans to create with the powers at his disposal.
Yoshikawa also plays around with the idea of whether Lupin is just a perfect idiot or a God when we find out the man doesn't dream. And the fact that he is more or less being crucified as we discover this the Christian symbolism cannot be lost on anyone. However the truth is most likely just a perfect idiot. As for the Lupin that died at the beginning of the film, the film decides to spell it out near the end when Mamo reveals that it was Lupin's clone that he created the Government hanged.
I would have preferred if the film had left that revelation open-ended and unanswered so that all future Lupin stories after this could be seen from a very interesting new perspective. I'm sure the studio wouldn't allow that though so the writer's were forced to answer it.
The stylistic choices that are made in this film feel very unique and fresh even today. Especially knowing most of them were probably made for the sake of budgeting. The Mystery of Mamo feels very much like an art film before being anything else. From the stylistic opening to the Kubrick-esque space ending and everything in between. Even if you don't like this film, you can't deny how refreshing it is from a visual aesthetic.
The art, at times, can be very beautiful if you catch it at just the right frame. And this movie is definitely colorful in its palette if anything. But the year is 1978, everything is hand drawn, and it's not all exactly drawn in the most comely of styles. In just the art style alone the film doesn't really hold up all to well and you can plainly see the ugliness at times. However I do like the thin-noodle character designs of this world.
Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo is an exploratory film filled with all the adventure and fantasticism of an Indian Jones film combined with the sex and maturity of a 007 film while bolstering its own sense of comedy and action that befits what only a Lupin story could. I make these comparisons to Indy and 007 because they're the best pop culture characters to compare Lupin to. However, for those of you not aware, Lupin III – originally created by the manga-ka Monkey Punch - is actually about the adventures of Arsène Lupin grandson: Arsène Lupin III.
Wait, who is that? He's the main character in a long line of stories by French writer Maurice LeBlanc and first appeared back in 1905 with the shot story “The Arrest of Arsène Lupin.” He's a lot like Sherlock Holmes in that regard, though like his grandson the first Lupin was a seductive and cunning gentleman thief and adventurer. And his stories entertained the French for quite a long time as well. How cool is that? Our Lupin is the grandson of another Lupin from half a world away if you look on any world map.
It lends a lot more cultural impact to this anti-hero we all know and love. And the Mystery of Mamo, while not perfect, is another great way to introduce him to your friends if you want them to see Lupin for the perverted genius idiot he is and not just the gallant and golden hearted thief other well-known stories portray him as.
Final Score: 4.5 Godly Mysteries out of 5
Have you checked out "The Garden of Words"? Did the animation impress you, or did the story hold it back? Let us know below!