Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo
The ne'er-do-well master thief fights a clone war of his own
Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo
Streamline Pictures
Directed by Soji Yoshikawa
Japan, 1978
Despite the best of intentions, Iíve never read any of Maurice LeBlancís books featuring the gentleman thief named Arsène Lupin. But then, itís not required to enjoy any of the anime that bear Lupinís name.

In the 1960s, a manga (Japanese comic) artist known as Monkey Punch (pen name for Kato Kazuhiko) read or read of LeBlancís gentleman thief, and was inspired. Inspired not only to create Lupin III (presumably the originalís grandson), superthief and master of disguises, but his companions: the sharpshooting Jigen; Goemon, the resolute samurai; Fujiko, the absurdly huge-breasted apple of Lupinís eye ("Fujiko" is apparently a pun on the term "twin peaks"); and Inspector Zenigata, the man obsessed with Lupinís capture.

Monkey Punch took these characters, mixed them up with sex, action, and zany humour, and came up with Lupin III, first serialized as a weekly manga in 1967. The series was popular enough to have spawned an animated TV series and several movies (less sex, though); in fact, Lupin III TV movies are still being made to this day.

Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo (Streamline, 1995; originally Lupin vs. the Clones, 1978) was the first Lupin III production Iíd ever seen, about ten years ago (in French, as Les folles aventures de Lupin III). Itís also the Lupin film I remembered the least. I wasnít concerned; Lupin hasnít let me down yet.

He didnít let me down this time, either. As can be expected, the movie starts with Lupin making one of his amazing escapes, possibly the most amazing of his career--he is caught and executed, only to reappear hale and hearty a few minutes later, hang-gliding away from a furious Zenigata. How does he beat the Reaper? We arenít given enough time to figure it out: soon we find him in Egypt, outsmarting Zenigata yet again as he steals a gem for Fujiko. (Lupin and Fujiko have an interesting relationship. Both are master thieves who often find themselves working together or against each other. The two care for each other, but Fujiko tends to be aloof while Lupin expresses his feelings by leering.)

As it happens, the gem is integral to a fiendish plot. A mysterious figure known as Mamo seems to have discovered the secret of immortality, and (what else?) wants to take over the world. Failing that, he intends to destroy the world and take over whatís left.

Fujiko and Lupin double-cross each other, which ends up involving Lupin, Goemon, and Jigen. Our heroes then discover the mad plot and try to do something about it.

Mystery of Mamo is one of those films that straddles the line between live-action and animated subject matter. Rooted less in Star Wars and more in James Bond (it seems as if Lupinís saved the world about as many times), the slightly fantastic--Lupinís daring escapes, for instance--comes across about as convincingly as Bond; the outrageously fantastic gain a little more credibility because of the unreal nature of animation. The pacing, structure, locales, and styles of dress are much like a 1970s Bond movie, but the stylization of the artwork and some of the gags are wacky enough to remind you that this is a cartoon.

I have only one minor gripe with this film. In the English translation, Streamline placed the film after the Cold War, and yet the visuals and music are obviously a product of the 1970ís. In fact, this is one of those films that manages to bear the imprint of the 1970ís without being garish, tacky or dated. However, this comes up so rarely that it shouldnít get in the way of enjoying this fun film.

Originally printed in Parsec vol. 1, no. 5 (June/July 1996)