The Curator of Schlock #55 by Jeff Shuster
Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo
Okay, you Japanese animation fans, never let it be said that The Curator of Schlock doesn’t provide his readers with what they want. First I want to point out that you younglings probably can’t appreciate just how good you have it when it comes to the sheer accessibility of Japanese animation. There were no video-streaming services back in the mid-1990s. If you were lucky, the Sci-Fi Channel would show a feature every once in awhile, but most of the time you would have to fork over twenty bucks at your local mall video store, the only place that carried these exotic cartoons from the east.
The covers would typically be branded with a “Not for Kids” label complete with a frowny faced child. I always found that sicker disturbing like I wasn’t supposed to purchasing said VHS tape unless I could guarantee it wouldn’t fall into the hands of a young tyke who didn’t know any better. But that was the allure of Japanese animation, the tug of forbidden cinema. When someone tells you that you’re not allowed to watch something, you may obey at first, but that curiosity festers inside until you can’t stand it anymore. And that’s the day you buy the Japanese cartoon with the frowny face sticker attached.
I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I bought Lupin the 3rd The Mystery of Mamo, the 1978 feature from director Sōji Yoshikawa. I was looking for an animated James Bond movie and, in a way, Lupin the 3rd fit that bill.
Lupin is definitely an international man of mystery who tangles with super villians, but the comparisons end there. Lupin is no spy, but a master thief, always after that one big score. He’s joined by Daisuke Jigan, and ex Chicago mobster, and Goemon Ishikawa, a wandering samurai. Lupin has a rival in the form of Fujiko Mine, a fellow master thief and femme fatal. Always in hot pursuit of Lupin the 3rdis Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol. These five characters have been the subjects of several comics, television series, and, of course, feature films.
The first of the animated Lupin features was The Mystery of Mamo. What is it about? The movie starts off with Inspector Zenigata exploring Dracula’s castle only to find a dead Lupin the 3rd in coffin (which he promptly drives a stake into.) The movie ends with a giant brain floating into the sun.
In between, there’s a Duel style car chase, an Adolf Hitler clone, a henchman’s head that gets sliced into three pieces, Fujiko in the buff, Lupin in the buff, Henry Kissinger, and tons of atomic bombs. It is not a movie for the easily offended, but it is a movie for those with a good sense of humor. It comes from an era when movies could still shock and surprise, an era where your curiosity could be rewarded.
Want to know more about Lupin the 3rd? Check in next week when I review a movie that changed the course of film animation forever. By the way, a recent DVD release of Lupin the 3rd The Mystery of Mamo from Eastern Star contains no less than four English dubs. Looks like I’ll be purchasing this movie yet again.