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

“Lupin III: Pilot Film” (1969Moving picture, 13 minutes)

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 comic 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.

moving picture Japanese production animation fiction

Lupin III (1971Moving picture, 9 hours)

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 comic 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).

moving picture spin-off Japanese production animation fiction series

‣‣ The New Lupin III (1977Moving picture, 67 hours)

Ōtsuka Yasuo (key animator).

Review refers only to a couple of subtitled random episodes and the two dubbed episodes listed separately. 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. Red jacket. The American dub on the “Greatest Capers” release, by Carl Macek, is slick and apparently unfaithful.


References here: Lupin III (1971).

moving picture sequel Japanese production animation fiction series

‣‣ Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo (1978Moving picture, 102 minutes)

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.

moving picture spin-off Japanese production animation fiction

‣‣ Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979Moving picture, 102 minutes)

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. It’s intended to be set in the late era of Lupin’s career, yet he wears the green jacket of the first TV series.

This was 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. The pacing is excellent the epilogue surprisingly emotional, 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. That’s right. The film is more deeply influenced by Puss in Boots (1969) than by any form of crime.

References here: Ghibli movie titles, Urusei Yatsura (1981), “My Car” (1988), “What the Scenario Means to Me” (1989), Here Is Greenwood (1991), Blue Blazes (2014).

moving picture spin-off Japanese production animation fiction

‣‣ “Lupin Was Truly a Creature of His Era” (1980Text)

Miyazaki Hayao (writer).

Read in Starting Point.

A memoir from the various 1970s productions, as reactions to social changes going on at the time.

References here: Starting Point: 1979–1996 (1996/2009).

text document non-fiction Japanese production

‣‣ Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy (1987Moving picture, 73 minutes)

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.

moving picture spin-off Japanese production animation fiction