Sunday, August 1, 2010

REVIEW: Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo

ルパン三世 ルパンVS複製人間 (Rupan Sansei: Rupan tai Kurōn)

Released: 1978

Yasuo Ôtsuka
Soji Yoshikawa

Starring (voice talent):
Yasuo Yamada
Kiyoshi KobayashiEiko Masuyama
Makio Inoue

Running time: 102 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the charming, popular Kazuhiko “Monkey Punch” Kato creation Arsène Lupin III through the Hayao Miyazaki-helmed anime “The Castle of Cagliostro.” After a brief break, I delved back into the world of the gentleman thief and his circle of familiar friends and foes with “Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo,” the very first anime feature in the franchise. I am taking quite a liking to the character and his adventures, and can certainly see the appeal that they offer to their devoted followers.

"Lupin III” starts off with a dark and interestingly stylized opening sequence consisting of black and white stripes moving down the screen. You eventually realize that they are in fact steps to a gallows on which a silhouetted man is hanged. He is apparently none other than Lupin III himself, a fact that his nemesis Inspector Zenigata refuses to believe. He visits a coffin in a gloomy underground crypt where he finds Lupin very much alive, clad in a red blazer and yellow tie. The thief flees from the confused Inspector, then proceeds to resume his usual habits, stealing rare artifacts from numerous locations. Zenigata tracks him to a pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt where Lupin steals, puzzlingly, a small stone before making yet another extravagant escape with his partners in crime, the fedora-wearing Jigen and the master swordsman Goemon. They relocate to Paris , where Lupin meets with his on-and-off lover Fujiko, who is on an assignment for a mysterious employer. Lupin and his gang are soon aggressively pursued by this agent, finding themselves in the midst of a sinister plan that threatens the Earth’s survival.

Much of “Lupin III” is extremely fast-paced and action-packed – particularly its first half, which features the cocky Lupin on the run from both Zenigata and the ambiguous entity known as Mamo. Ample chances to reel in crazy, over-the-top antics are delightfully seized, such as when Lupin and Jigen ride a motorcycle on a rope from the very top of a pyramid. The most impressive set piece occurs in Paris , where a helicopter appears and very nearly assassinates the two of them in a burst of machine gun fire. A high-speed chase ensues in which the gang is chased by the helicopter through the sewer system before moving on to a cliff-side road where they are beset by a ludicrously massive semi-trailer truck. Such sequences demonstrate the clear advantage of animation for this kind of film, as it allows for the most riotous and imaginative feats the creators dare dream up to be realized onscreen, much to the delight of viewers along for the ride. However, there are some moments in which the film relents its quick pace (if only temporarily), such as when the gang is forced to trek through the desert. There are also many memorable images, including a quiet, red-tinted garden; the Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe viewed at night amid red and white car lights and a slew of psychedelic sights courtesy of the seemingly all-powerful Mamo. Mamo himself is an unusual figure, being comically short, with a grey face, long white hair and a deep voice. On the other end of the spectrum for character design is the alluring Fujiko, who is depicted in a highly sexualized fashion. The sequences in which she appears either partially or fully naked and Lupin shamelessly tries to seduce her will very likely make you question the exact age range of the film’s intended audience. But then again, with a series featuring a dashing rogue who specializes in theft as a main character, it’s probably a given that Lupin’s exploits aren’t exactly going to be sought after by kids for their moral standards.

Well-constructed and putting the anime medium to good use, “Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo” is a solid, satisfying adventure that reminds you of the value of a good serial. As with similar pulpy characters like Tin Tin, Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, Lupin III is so purely entertaining that, though the basic formula of his stories may be in plain sight and frequently reused, they deliver so much enjoyment and charm that you’ll want to keep seeking them out, if only to get more of the same. I know I will.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog

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