Things get really weird in Lupin III’s first animated theatrical film.
“Unforgivable. This is way too unreal.”
Master Thief Arsene Lupin III is no stranger to weird situations. Over forty years, countless movies, five series and a mess of other media (including his original manga iteration), it’s bound to happen that some of the stuff he steals and encounters is going to be closer to something you’d find in Indiana Jones than Mission: Impossible. However, none have been quite as bizarre as the events that unfold in his first animated theatrical film – and one identified by manga author Monkey Punch as his favourite – The Mystery of Mamo.
Known in various circles under a number of different titles, this film was simply originally known as Lupin III, before the name in Japan was changed to something considerably more spoilerific, The Mystery of Mamo sees Lupin and his friends steal the actual Philosopher’s Stone so he can impress Fujiko, who is working for a mysterious man named Mamo. When it’s revealed that the stone Lupin gave her is a fake, Mamo sets his sights on the thief, who learns how dangerous and powerful this Mamo really is.
The story is a little crazy, and not the highlight of the film so I’d like to focus on what I liked about this movie first. The biggest strength it has is in the way it handles the main cast, who all have a small arc in one form or another which meshes well with the other characters. The drama is neatly unfurled over time, with the split between Lupin and his friends (who can’t let the guy die) working really well. Jigen is especially well realised, and the frustration he feels at his best friend’s foolishness in the presence of Fujiko is very relatable. Goemon gets less here, as he always does, but his shattered confidence story works very nicely for a character who is famous for being unshakably proud and stoic. And Mamo is actually a pretty intimidating villain, all things considered.
The animation is a bit janky, especially if you’re coming into this from The Castle of Cagliostro, as I imagine so many people are. This feels more like the first two animated series, with character designs that are quite lanky and strange, so it might come as a bit of a shock to those who are expecting something a little bit more traditional. That said, it works really well for the characters and the story, which is really all that matters. Miyazaki made a heroic story, and the animation matched. Here, Lupin is a sneak with no morals, and the art style reflects it. Throw in a classic, jazzy score and the visuals, story and music all gel really well together.
But now we get to the bizarre stuff. The story and the structure is all over the place, and way too out there for a story about a goofy thief and his band of merry men. In the first forty minutes we go from an execution block, Dracula’s castle, Egypt, Paris, the desert and a weird Hitler island in the Caribbean. At no point is anything properly established (just where, geographically, is this desert? And where was Lupin’s hideout meant to be?), so we get this baffling world where we just have to assume everything is within a day’s travel or less. That Lupin and his friends immediately think to trawl the desert once their base is destroyed is a symptom of this weird, almost directionless storytelling.
The stuff on the island is even more baffling. Napoleon’s on there, and some of the areas are just based off famous paintings. Mamo himself is a strange little man, and then we get a giant brain even Samus Aran wouldn’t touch. Everything gets crazy, and though the film starts to Scooby-Doo us with logic, it throws that shit out the window once they get back to the island. As a whole, it’s very ambitious storytelling but it doesn’t quite land, and is quite tricky to get extremely invested in. It’s not bad, it just reminds me more of Unico in the Island of Magic than I’d have preferred.
A number of dubs exists of this movie, with many of them kind of doing their own thing with the script and all of which are available on DVD, if you wanna have fun with that. The original version is – obviously – the best, with everyone from the series and movies coming back, as well as a few fun little cameos here and there. The Mystery of Mamo is, overall, not bad but it’s not the first thing I’d give somebody to watch if I wanted to introduce them to Lupin III. With its strange directorial choices, odd pacing and hard-to-follow story, Mamo is a fun watch, but it’s very much still a mystery.
Verdict: A mix of good characterisations and questionable story choices makes for an entertaining but puzzling Lupin movie.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Sex: Like 3/10
End shots: Lupin looked like he was enjoying himself there
Goemon kills: One super brutal head-slice
Lupin’s subconsciousness: Not unlike mine
Names: At least three reused from the series
The Mystery of Mamo (1978)
Also known as: The Secret of Mamo, Lupin vs the Clone, Lupin III
Director: Soji Yoshikawa
Writer: Atsushi Yamatoya, Soji Yoshikawa
Yasuo Yamada – Arsène Lupin III
Eiko Masuyama – Fujiko Mine
Ko Nishimura – Mamo
Kiyoshi Kobayashi – Daisuke Jigen
Makio Inoue – Goemon Ishikawa XIII
Goro Naya – Inspector Heiji Zenigata VII
Tōru Ōhira – Stuckey
Hidekatsu Shibata – Gordon
Shozo Iizuka – Flinch