Previous Retro Reviews...
- MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO *** KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE *** PRINCESS MONONOKE
- HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE *** NAUSICAA *** CASTLE IN THE SKY *** PORCO ROSSO
- AKIRA Vol. 1 *** Vol. 2 *** Vol. 3 *** Vol. 4 *** Vol. 5 *** Vol. 6 *** TRIGUN Vol. 1
- LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT *** DRAGONBALL Vol. 1 *** GHOST IN THE SHELL
- MACROSS II
It goes without saying that THE SECRET OF MAMO’s been rather significantly overshadowed by its follow-up, THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO. A LUPIN III adventure just doesn’t seem as sexy today, more than 30 years on, without being Miyazaki’s first feature or having Spielberg’s (famously unverified) favorite car chase ever. Honestly, it’s a bit easy to dismiss, and that’s a shame since the flick’s as entertaining as CAGLIOSTRO on its own unique merits.
At the risk of getting too far ahead before watching the other three LUPIN III features, it’s handy to say this movie brings the ALIEN and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series to mind. That is, it plays like a very personalized take on a brand; a series entry that could be filed into a completely different genre from the next, despite all the common ingredients. Most serial adventures claim to put their heroes in as diverse a variety of scenarios as possible, but few pull that conceit off as validly as these two manage to do with the clownish master thief, Lupin III.
Viewed without any links to the TV show, MAMO’s unmistakably more surreal, and a lot funnier, than CAGLIOSTRO. That’s clear from the very expressionistic opener depicting Lupin’s highly unlikely execution at the gallows in bold, abstract strokes. There’s the same European sensibility and infectious sense of fun, but this title leans far closer to quirky surrealism than to the studied and practical naturalism of its follow-up.
Actually, it doesn’t lean toward that art movement so much as inhabit it. A stand-out sequence has Lupin literally fleeing from a bad guy through the foregrounds, midgrounds and backgrounds of various famous paintings by the likes of Dali and Escher. If Lupin seems like a thieving Charlie Chaplin in Movie #2, then he’s something like a pratfall-prone Georges Méliès in Movie #1.
And, you know what? I kind of prefer him that way, a little.
THE SECRET OF MAMO offers another extra-sized adventure wherein the gentleman rogue Lupin follows a gal into a tangled net of trouble (as is his wont.) After his dogged antagonistic, Inspector Zenigata, comically proves that the rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated, Lupin opts to go steal the Philosopher’s Stone (not, not that one) right out of the pyramids instead of maybe trying to figure out who faked his demise without his approval. He braves scary laser grids and evades local authorities at high speeds to nab this priceless artifact, and his spectacular antics wind up being basically a boyish effort to impress a girl - - the ever elusive femme fatale, Fujiko.
Enough double-crosses ensue to fill in a very lopsided Tic Tac Toe game board. Lupin keeps running into Fujiko despite the protests of how "that lady is a tramp" which are coming from his signature associates, the gunhand Jigen and the master swordsman Goemon. Soon enough, they all wind up in the orbit of Mamo, a chalky and diminutive mastermind who seems to be immortal and could very well have the incomprehensible powers of a god. In ways that prove fitting (if not totally sensible) Mamo’s titular secret holds the key to the execution of Lupin’s doppelganger, and the revelation of that connection proves to be a rather delightful near-non-sequitor.
Picking apart the particulars of why this bandit's globetrotting shenanigans are so effortlessly enjoyable feels akin to being the one fuddy-duddy who’s shown up to a jazz club with a notepad while everyone else is just enjoying the music. Lupin may have to sort through a mystery or two here, but the reason why he’s so fun to watch is no enigma. He’s a personality charismatic enough to follow to all ends of the world. Ipso facto. Plain as that.
Actually, it’s more worthwhile to bring up American otaku’s notorious short memories and make a case here for newer and younger viewers to not brush this off as something quaint and outdated. For one, this is fairly recent dub, and the ADR team clearly had some fun sliding a couple additional layers of anachronistic pop art surrealism on top of this parfait. Most amusingly, they made George W. Bush the off-screen president in this dreamtime of the 70's.
That’s just a cute detail, though. I brought up jazz just now, out of all possible music styles, because it was damn near impossible not to think about the debt COWBOY BEBOP owes to LUPIN III while listening to this movie's soundtrack. Spike, Jet, Vicious and Faye might not be exactly like Lupin, Jigen, Goemon and Fujiko, but they do bear more than passing resemblance. Anybody whose entry into anime fandom was comprised of a dive into Adult Swim's pool really owes it to themselves to check this timeless caper out and understand how it shaped so much of what followed it. It still feels fresh. Promise.
You've already heard enough recommendations for CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, so here's an enthusiastic one for the even older school Lupin adventure. And look! Why, checking it out for yourself is just as easy as clicking the play button below...