Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo Anime Review
Rupan Sansei: Rupan tai Kuroon
Lupin III: Lupin vs. The Clone
US Release By
After a lifetime on the lam, the notorious international thief Lupin has finally met his fate. Captured by the authorities and executed for his many crimes, both fingerprint analysis and DNA tests have confirmed that the legendary outlaw will pilfer the world's greatest treasures no more. Or will he? As it turns out, Lupin the 3rd is alive and well, and more determined then ever to discover the identity and purpose of the condemned man who falsely carried his name to the grave. But in order to do so, he'll have match wits with Mamo, a fanatical scientist with a scheme to use vast wealth and a collection of technological marvels to literally remake the world in his own image, and his old companion Fujiko Mine, who has been enlisted into Mamo's services.
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
This is the one that started it--Secret of Mamo is the first film in the long running Lupin franchise that has cranked out 28 movies and counting. Of course, Lupin films have always been kind of a hit-or-miss deal, and sadly this blast from the past is a miss--thoroughly below-average in almost every aspect. A frustrating mix of boring Lupin-quota-filling events and over-the-top story twists that leave a string of gaping plot holes in their wake, many of the scenes have little connection to the plot, and it manages to require too much suspension of disbelief even for a Lupin film--which is really saying something. It's particularly disrespectful to the characters--Lupin is more of an idiot than usual, and it's downright insulting to Fujiko, who does nothing but supply an unusually large amount of nudity and use her sexuality to manipulate Lupin. The expected big boss and subordinate warrior antagonist pair don't fair much better; they're poorly developed and bland. At least the movie has a lot of retro appeal--it's a proud '70s flick with visuals that actually hold up pretty well to later Lupin films, even if the sci-fi plot is a bit pedestrian by modern standards.
I got this movie hoping to earn some new respect for the Lupin franchise's classic roots, but the only thing I ended up appreciating is how far the series has come since then. This movie is in the same category with "Missed by a Dollar" as one of the most boring Lupin films ever made--it has nothing to offer but classic retro atmosphere, hardly worthwhile when you consider all the other Lupin movies that have that and actual quality to go along with it.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Well this is it, the one that started it all. Released in 1978, Secret of Mamo is the first film in the long running Lupin franchise that has cranked out 28 movies to this day and is still going strong. As a dedicated Lupin fan, I was pretty eager to check out this blast from the past, but I did have some reservations. Lupin films have always been kind of a hit-or-miss deal, and quality has often proven impossible to predict. So I hit the play button knowing full well that even being the first movie in the series and one of only five ever to be released in theaters didn't mean it would rise above the rest. As it turns out, that was a good thing because this film really belongs at the bottom of the barrel. Thoroughly below-average in almost every aspect, Secret of Mamo only manages distinguish itself for the manner in which it fails to keep itself together.
Basically, the whole film is a frustrating mix of boring Lupin-quota-filling events and over-the-top story twists that leave a string of gaping plot holes in their wake. It really feels like everything is either way too simple or way too complex. It's got a high tech caper heist, but it's over in a matter of minutes and hardly relevant to the plot. It's a got a car chase scene, but again it's a quickie and seems to do nothing but fill some obligatory Lupin need. Goemon gets a sword fight, Jigen gets to snap off a few revolver shots, Fujiko seduces Lupin time and time again, Zenigata gets some fruitless arrest attempts. It's everything you'd expect to see in a Lupin film, and all depicted in a generic manner with minimal substance, as though the director thought having these familiar aspects present is the only thing needed to satisfy the audience. But even in this regard the film is missing a few key points. For example. Lupin goes the entire length of the movie without touching a single firearm! We don't get so much as a look at his famous Walther P38. Really, if they were only interested in checking off all the key aspects of the Lupin series, that's something that should not be overlooked.
Beyond that there are moments that require too much suspension of disbelief. Mamo is a master scientist who owns a private island, can threaten world superpowers, and has the means to launch a world-altering scheme, but his entire security force consists of a handful of goons armed with hammers and axes. Lupin keeps putting faith in Fujiko after she does nothing but betray him endlessly and never seems to get upset by it. These are the type of things that simply don't get a free pass even though this takes place in the Lupin universe... and when you go beyond the bounds of plausibility in a series as outrageous as this one, you know you've done something terribly wrong.
If there is one part of this movie that really strikes out, I'd say it's the characters. As I said before, Lupin never gets to use his trademark pistol and his willingness to forgive Fujiko's ceaseless transgressions makes him look like a complete idiot. Goemon and Jigen serve no purpose beyond some token use of their respective weapons. Zenigata is completely left out of the main plot. But the one who really gets the worst treatment here is Fujiko. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the worst depiction of Fujiko I've ever seen. In this movie, she's nothing but an endless honey trap. All she ever does is use her sexuality to manipulate Lupin. To be fair, this is a key component of her character in just about all the movies, but that's not supposed to be the only thing she's good for, and normally she's only able to do so because of all the other qualities that make her desirable, such as her skill as an operative and overall dedication to Lupin in the larger scope of things. None of that is on display here. The only reason she's able to manipulate Lupin in this movie is because of her attractiveness. Now, I haven't seen many episodes of the original series, so maybe this is how she was at the start, but either way it still sucks, and it's extremely degrading to both characters. It's outrageous that Fujiko's only ability in this movie is showing off skin, and that Lupin would be so dedicated to her and willing to forgive her sins if this was all she was capable of.
Meanwhile, the movie-specific characters don't fare much better. As usual, it relies on the standard big boss and subordinate warrior system, and in this case they might just be the worst tandem the series has ever had. Mamo is this pathetic little imp creature who looks so scrawny and harmless that there is no way he could be considered a legitimate threat to the world. He does have some unique powers, but they just seem to show up out of nowhere and have no explanation. When you give someone the ability to walk on thin air, levitate, hypnotize, and make damsels pass out through simple touch, I expect an explanation to accompany them, but none are forthcoming. It felt like the writers realized halfway through the movie that they forgot to make their main villain effective or threatening, so they just started giving him superhuman powers completely at random. His warrior subordinate is nothing but this large thug named Flinch, who is... a large thug. Seriously, that's all there is to say about him. He's a big guy who occasionally uses maces and swords. He doesn't participate in the story, there is no background information on him, and he only gets one significant fight scene in the entire thing. Why on earth this guy was picked to be the main warrior for the villain is something I'll never know. In any other movie, he'd be relegated to the ranks of faceless minions where he belongs, but here he's promoted to the #2 man for no reason at all.
However, despite all of these issues, the film does have a fair amount of retro appeal. You can tell this movie is a '70s flick and proud of it. The cars, the planes, the clothing styles, the buildings, everything feels right for a setting that takes place during the Carter administration. The animation is excellent, and not just by the standards of its day. It actually holds up quite well in comparison to Lupin films made over a decade later. It's got a nice variety of unique settings and locations, from a car chase through the sewers to a meeting onboard an aircraft carrier (complete with authentic period plane types). It also deals with some themes that at the time were still somewhat rare, such as genetic engineering and human cloning.
I also really liked the main villain's lair. It was sort of a labyrinth designed from historical paintings and architecture, and made for a fun game of trying to identify all the historic landmarks and locations. Too bad nothing really happened there beyond a typical foot chase and a minor confrontation. In the end, it symbolizes the main problem of the film better than anything else: The unwillingness to do anything beyond the bare minimum required of the Lupin title. No matter how much potential any setting in this film has, they all end up badly underused with predictable and generic events.
I got this movie hoping to earn some new respect for the Lupin franchise's classic roots, but the only thing I ended up appreciating is how far the series has come since then. This movie is in the same category with "Missed by a Dollar" as one of the most boring Lupin films ever made. And here, I'd say it's even more disappointing because Missed by a Dollar was just a 90-minute TV special. This was a 102-minute theatrical film that started the franchise, so I expected the quality level to be at least slightly above average. It hasn't even aged well; things like DNA research and genetic engineering may have been dynamic new fields back in the '70s, but nowadays they just aren't anything special on their own. Not without a great plot and special unique story aspects to back them up, both of which are sorely lacking here. Overall this movie really has nothing to offer but classic retro atmosphere, hardly worthwhile when you consider all the other Lupin movies that have that and actual quality to go along with it.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
"Castle of Cagliostro" and "The Fuma Conspiracy" are also classics in the Lupin series, and much better movies overall.
Notes and Trivia
The first movie released in the long-running Lupin franchise, which was started by a manga series written by Kazuhiko Kato (aka Monkey Punch), first published in 1967. Out of 28 films as of this writing, this was one of only five that got a theatrical release.
US DVD Review
The older Pioneer DVD (titled "Lupin The 3rd The Movie: The Secret of Mamo") contains dubbed and subbed versions, cast bios, and original promotional artwork from when the film was released, as well as a booklet with some background notes and brief commentary from the staff and original Japanese cast.
The new 2013 Eastern Star DVD (titled "Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo") has significantly uglier box art but a very interesting array of audio options; in addition to the original Japanese, it has four different English dubs: The one from the Pioneer release, one from an older 1996 Manga Video release, one from an even older 1995 Streamline Pictures release, and one from way back in 1978 when the film was first released that was produced for use on Japan Airlines flights. It doesn't list any other special features.
Has more nudity then any Lupin film I've seen so far. Well, I guess there is one thing it does better than the rest.
Violence: 2 - Several innocent bystanders are gunned down during a chase scene, but most of the violence is mild.
Nudity: 4 - Very large amount of nudity for Fujiko and a bit of male nudity as well
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - One surprisingly vile scene between Lupin and Fujiko that can be considered borderline attempted rape.
Language: 1 - Nothing major.