Reviews of “Lupin III: Pilot Film” (1969) and related work

“Lupin III: Pilot Film” (1969) IMDb

Ōtsuka Yasuo (animation director).

Renowned thief Lupin III is descended from a French star of various real-world early-20th-century novels but hangs around with a bunch of Japanese people, including a best-buddy gunman, a femme fatale, a swordsman, and a blustering representative of incompetent authorities, many of whom are descended from well-known Japanese fictional characters. Lupin’s little gang has many episodic adventures in pursuit of fortune, status and women, generally with a facile SF tinge. In this short, Lupin teases Zenigata, leading to swift introductions and some content for all major characters.

The large Lupin III franchise is about “crime capers” of variable depth and coherence, like a cartoon The Italian Job (1969).

This particular 12-and-a-half minute demo was released as part of a 1989 Secret Files package with a bunch of trailers. Originally intended as a pilot reel for a feature film, then recut as a pilot for television. It’s based on a manga that started in 1967.

Points of historical interest include a red jacket, naked breasts (both real and animated) and violent abuse of diligent policemen by the “heroes” of the show. Poor non-canonical voice acting and character design, but some very funny ironic narration, squeezing odd foreign phrases into long sentences that pretend to be catchy. Elements of the plot are recycled into episode 8 of the original TV series.

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Lupin III (1971) IMDb

Ōtsuka Yasuo (animation director), Takahata Isao (director), Miyazaki Hayao (director), Ōsumi Masaaki (director).

Lupin recruits Goemon and spends most of the series in Japan, whereof one year in jail.

The entire Lupin franchise is a mess. There is never any question that the principal characters will succeed, because it’s very much about wish fulfillment. There is also no question how they will succeed, because their methods are not credible. No strong internal logic is evident. Scattered moments of good animation are always constricted by the ridiculous formula and undermined by numerous low points.

This is the “green jacket” TV series, so named for Lupin’s clothing. It’s a microcosm of the entire franchise, because it was a greatly troubled production. Miyazaki and Takahata were brought in by Ōtsuka to make the changes the original director, Ōsumi, had refused to make.

Ōsumi went for family-unfriendly maturity. This was an important step forward for the industry, but he seems to have put his energy into gadgetry rather than intelligent plotting. Miyazaki and Takahata slammed the breaks and rewrote Ōsumi’s cynical characters as happy-go-lucky adventurers, toning down Fujiko’s eroticism. The drawn-out production process mangled between these two forces left most of it as illogical as a cheap children’s programme. Only 23 episodes got finished, out of a planned 26. Some details are quite bizarre, such as the background music, where Charlie Kosei half-sings English phrases for kitschy international flavour.

Despite the tonal clashes and the commercial flop, the author of the manga is supposed to have said this series was the most faithful adaption of his work. The majority of later adaptations, starting with The New Lupin III (1977), ended up somewhere in between the two styles. Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (2012) would eventually revitalize the franchise by rejecting Miyazaki and Takahata and going back to Ōsumi’s path. Personally I do not have enough interest in the crime caper genre to maintain an opinion on which style I prefer.

References here: Space Adventure Cobra (1982), Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018).

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‣‣ The New Lupin III (1977) IMDb

Ōtsuka Yasuo (key animator).

Review refers only to a couple of subtitled random episodes and the two dubbed episodes listed separately below. Consider this an indefinite placeholder.

Glitzier and more like James Bond than the original series, with more international adventures and supervillains.

TV series of 155 episodes. Number 145, and the last one, were directed by Miyazaki Hayao under the pseudonym of Teruki Tsutomu, to avoid association with television after his feature-film career had begun with Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979). Red jacket. The American dub on the “Greatest Capers” release, by Carl Macek, is slick and apparently unfaithful.

References here: Lupin III (1971).

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‣‣‣ “Albatross: Wings of Death” (1980) IMDb

Miyazaki Hayao (director).

A wealthy, rotund German reconstructs a massive Dornier Do X, a low-tech version of the Dokuga from Conan, the Boy in Future (1978) and a high-tech version of the giant plane from “Japoteurs” (1942), intending to use it as a mobile trading post for selling miniature nukes.

Episode 145. Unexpected features of this sweet piece of self-indulgence include: A shot of an urban nuclear blast appropriate to Murakami Takashi, Fujiko’s gratuitous tits, Fujiko holding several pantiless conversations and kicking ass in the same state—lending faint credence to the myth of Nausicaä (1984) not wearing pants—and an Itano circus. Fujiko huddling scared in one scene rounds out a lapse of feminism. The villain is somewhat Totoro-like.

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‣‣‣ “Aloha, Lupin” (1980) IMDb

Miyazaki Hayao (director).

Explicitly set in 1981. A fake Lupin gang, aided by a gentle brown-haired mecha pilot who is the daughter of a great, aloof inventor, terrorizes Tokyo with giant jewellery-stealing robots to make the government feel poorly equipped.

Episode 155. The humanoid robots are closer to their Fleischer original in “The Mechanical Monsters” (1941) than are the robots of Castle in the Sky (1986). They have propellers (not around their necks), biomimetic wingtips, space for a pilot and very Ohmu-like gentle tentacles, as well as double-headed quadruped cousins with Castle’s exploding energy weapons. The tank scene of Flying Phantom Ship (1969) is repeated and greatly enhanced. There’s an anachronistic allusion to The Terminator (1984) in the dubbed Albatross: Wings of Death, and in this episode, Zenigata actually prefigures the T-1000’s motorcycle ride up the steps of Cyberdyne headquarters in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The original title, Saraba itoshiki Rupan yo, means “Farewell, Beloved Lupin”.

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‣‣ Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo (1978) IMDb

Ōtsuka Yasuo (supervising director).

A man positively identified as Lupin III is executed, and an ancient intelligence sends its shadow out across the world.

Feature film. It had a very early, limited US release. Red jacket.

This is a good example of Lupin as he functioned according to his original creator. He is driven almost entirely by sex, with some risqué scenes, and the plot has dark moments surpassing the first TV series. Lupin, Goemon and Jigen argue and break up, Lupin salutes Adolf Hitler, the zantetsuken is broken, and so on. It’s still very silly. The darker elements helped prompt Miyazaki’s involvement for the follow-up, as in the original TV series.

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‣‣ Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979) IMDb

Ōtsuka Yasuo (animation director), Miyazaki Hayao (director).

Lupin wants the treasure of Cagliostro, a tiny European nation. He also wants a closer look at the girl in the castle’s prison tower. Add his specialist friends, an evil count and Interpol.

The second movie in the franchise. Miyazaki’s chance to realize his ambitions with Lupin III, outside the constraints of an ongoing series. The result is a successful shift from playboy egocentricity toward bright heroism. Excellent pacing and surprisingly emotional epilogue, but the director still said in 1989 that “We just can’t naïvely believe in these things anymore”, meaning the psychology of films like Cagliostro. Intended to be set in the late era of Lupin’s career, yet he wears the green jacket of the first TV series. Somewhat influenced by Puss in Boots (1969).

References here: Ghibli movie titles, The New Lupin III (1977), Urusei Yatsura (1981), Blue Blazes (2014).

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‣‣ Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy (1987) IMDb

Ōtsuka Yasuo (supervising director).

Zenigata has retired, thinking Lupin is dead, and Goemon is about to get married when ninjas steal an heirloom of the bride’s family.

OVA. Almost as bright and cozy as Miyazaki’s Lupin. Nothing special.

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