Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lupin III The Mystery Of The Secret Of Mamo

(this review of Pioneer's LUPIN III: SECRET OF MAMO originally appeared at the ANIME JUMP website in 2004. The film has recently been released on DVD by Discotek Media.)

Funny how perspective changes things. When I first saw SECRET OF MAMO, back before you were born, I had already seen Miyazaki’s Lupin film CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO. Little did I know that the clean-cut, dapper, chivalrous Lupin of CAGLIOSTRO was not in fact the norm – was actually a total departure from Lupin’s true nature. When that faded-out thirteenth generation color bar faded from view and MAMO started, I was appalled. Not just at the incredibly lousy copy, but because MAMO’s Lupin wasn’t the charming rogue of CAGLIOSTRO. No, this Lupin was the perfect freewheeling bastard, a larcenous, horny, hairy-chested swaggering chainsmoking sonovabitch who fought dirty and attempted to molest Fujiko at every opportunity. In other words, what we’re seeing is the real Lupin III.

Of course this film's actual title is simply "LUPIN III". The original, unreleased English dub was designated “Mystery Of Mamo”, an appellation that stuck thanks to the thousands of home copies that were distributed through the American anime fan world of the ‘80s. An apt title; who dubbed this film? What was the purpose? Where was it shown? It’s a mystery, a mystery of Mamo, one might say. Theories range from the film being screened for the Armed Forces Network in America’s Japanese military bases, to a version produced for the inflight movies of JAL. This dub has surfaced attached to Lupin releases in Italian and Dutch. And maybe someday some intrepid reporter will track down who dubbed this film and why they changed Fujiko’s name to Margo. But I digress.

SECRET OF MAMO has been rendered into English four times – five if you count the scenes included in the CLIFF HANGER Laserdisc videogame. Curiously, even this latest Pioneer version – lovely DVD transfer, swell extras and all, does not measure up to the original “Mystery” dub. But that’s OK. You can’t beat perfection.

This film wastes no time; it opens with Lupin III being executed. Naturally, Lupin’s Interpol nemesis Inspector Zenigata is skeptical. His suspicion pays off in Transylvania, where a living, breathing Lupin escapes his clutches. Zenigata’s next ambush at the Great Pyramid in Egypt also fails to catch Lupin, who escapes along with fellow rogue Jigen with the Philosopher’s Stone in tow. Why is Lupin risking life and limb to swipe a mythical piece of rock? And why is he in Paris, handing it over to Fujiko, his double-crossing sometimes girlfriend?

The mystery is revealed along with Mamo, a blue-skinned dwarf resembling an underfed Paul Williams who is quite possibly the most powerful man in the world. To capture the Stone, his agents turn Paris into a battleground complete with attack helicopters and monster trucks. I don’t mean balloon-wheeled pickups, I mean monster 18-wheelers that roar like prehistoric beasts.

The rest of SECRET OF MAMO is a whirlwind of philosophical speculation and wild globe-trotting action. A crucified, brain-tapped Lupin betrays his overwhelming subconscious desires for women and Pop Rocks, a thinly disguised Henry Kissinger threatens Goemon and Jigen with America’s military might, and Zenigata wanders around Mamo’s secret Caribbean island, interrogating famous historical figures in an attempt to finally capture Lupin. The ten-thousand-year-old genius Mamo has cloned himself countless times; human history is a result of his constant interference. Is humanity powerless to stop this diminutive psuedo-deity? Will he succeed in destroying the world and replacing the teeming masses with his private collection of immortals? Will Fujiko choose eternal life - or Lupin?

Our heroes escape the Air Force bombardment of Mamo’s island and regroup in Colombia, where who should appear floating in the window? Mamo still lives, and with Fujiko mesmerized, departs to begin his campaign of world destruction. Alone, Lupin stakes his life on one gamble – that Mamo isn’t the god he appears to be, and that he himself is the one and only original Lupin III.

It’s at this point that MAMO really distinguishes itself. Lupin has been deserted by his most faithful companions, and even his hideouts, weapons, and wealth are gone – and yet he’s clawing his way up the Andes, facing down what may be an immortal super-genius with nothing more than a tacky blazer and a few homemade gadgets. Meanwhile, Inspector Zenigata defies direct Interpol orders and resigns – to continue chasing Lupin. Here’s where Zenigata and Lupin become brothers, both fighting for what makes life worth living.

SECRET OF MAMO seethes with this kind of philosophical subtext, but never forgets to entertain. The movie is a big, brawling, colorful set-piece adventure filmed in one hundred percent Tohoscope, full of nods to spaghetti westerns, James Bond, Hitchcock and even 2001. Lupin breezes through Paris, Egypt, Colombia, and the works of De Chirico and Dali without a backward glance. It’s the kind of film where Henry Kissinger lights his cigar with a lighter set in the torch of the Statue Of Liberty, where earthquakes are faked by detonating underground nuclear power plants, and Hitler and Napoleon brood on a Caribbean island – and when Our Heroes learn the Terrible Truth behind What Is Really Going On, they’re more interested in finding a place to neck. After all, they already know everything they know is wrong.

Yet where another, lesser film would get bogged down in boring What Does It All Mean mumbo-jumbo, MAMO never forgets its roots as an animated cartoon, heir to the tradition of Wacky Gags handed down from Tom & Jerry and the ouvre of the Warner Brothers. Throwaway jokes and visual puns abound; for instance, when a low-flying plane barely misses Lupin on a strafing run, its landing gear skids across Lupin’s head and leaves tire tracks, and what would be a fairly gory finish to one of Goemon’s sword fights has the shock value removed by what can only be described as a “sight” gag.

The Lupin franchise really put the animation studio TMS on the map, and it’s easy to see how MAMO turned them from a reasonably successful TV cartoon studio into one capable of holding its own in the cinema. MAMO’s widescreen is used to good advantage, with panoramic views of the film’s many locations giving the more fanciful aspects of the plot some solid ground to rest upon. The crew from the original 1972 Lupin TV series was reassembled for this film, and it’s evident from the painstakingly accurate vehicles, weapons, and gadgetry that the designers take great love in bringing realism to the cartoon world. I think the Lupin franchise –heck, culture as a whole - lost something when consumer electronics quit being hulking great boxes of leather and chrome with giant dials and knobs- it hearkens back to the golden age of home stereo when receivers and amplifiers were complicated, woodgrain combinations of function and form that looked impressive as hell on your bookshelf, instead of the insubstantial products of today. When you find out that history is worse than bunk, nothing more than the bored pastime of a crazed, ancient dwarf – what’s left but total, Playboy Philosophy, leather-interior, Hai-Karate soaked, quadrophonically amplified 70s style hedonism? This was a movie for grownups in 1978, and it’s even more so now; do kids today even know who Henry Kissinger is, let alone recognize the Clark Bar superhero contest ad when they see it?

It may just be the countless screenings of crappy bootleg copies talking, but this DVD looks FANTASTIC. There’s not a scene where my jaw wasn’t scraping the floor, agape in awe at how stupidly CLEAR everything is. I’ll come right out and say that Pioneer’s new dub isn’t bad. In fact, if I hadn’t had the soundtrack of the original “Mystery” dub burned permanently into my brain, gain hiss and all, I’d think it was fine. However, I have, and I don’t. Pioneer’s dub is not only not as funny as the original dub, it takes liberties with the original script that not only aren’t as funny or as dramatic, but in a few cases are just plain wrong, and once or twice they simply take this film places the film doesn’t want to go and in fact has made it pretty clear that it never wants to be anywhere near.

Henry Kissinger reads an issue of Lupin Comics featuring the famous Clark Bar Superhero Contest ad, now starring Lupin - edited from the American DVD release for obvious reasons.

The original “Mystery” dub is actually the closest yet to the original Japanese dialog. I don’t see why these outfits knock themselves out writing new lines when perfectly good dialog already exists. Sure, the Pioneer voice actors do a great job. Tony Oliver does a tremendous job with Lupin, and while Zenigata’s Jake Martin gets a bit too cowboy at times, he approaches the role with the right amount of bluster.

Luckily this new DVD comes with subtitles, so you can get the full effect of Jigen preparing to abandon Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart, albeit in Japanese. The disk also includes a digitized version of the original movie program book – the DVD booklet is a translation of same –and an art gallery full of conceptual sketches of all the characters in the film, and a few that aren’t. It ALSO comes with a Lupin keychain, which is kinda cool.

Not that I’ve seen all eleventy-hundred Lupin films, but of the ones I’ve seen, MAMO stands out as my favorite. There are plenty of Lupin adventures with gags, exotic locales, outrageous escapades, and other trademarks of the series, but MAMO combines the typical Lupin ingredients with a Cinemascope sense of spectacle and a good chunk of post-Watergate 70s cynicism (Can a Japanese film be “post-Watergate”?). Paradoxically, the outrageousness of Lupin works best when firmly rooted in the real world, and there’s not a Lupin film more outrageous yet more authentic than THE SECRET OF MAMO.

-Dave Merrill

Editor's note: the recent Discotek Media release of Lupin III: Mystery Of Mamo is an even better transfer than the Pioneer release, and contains all four English dubs, including the original "Margo" dub that has been scientifically proven to be the best. You need it in your life. 

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Chris Sobieniak said...

You do wonder why that original English dub can't be used otherwise if TMS does have it stashed away someplace in their vaults.

Apart from Pioneer's dub, you had two other dubs produced subsequently in the 90's from two separate companies, Streamline Pictures and Manga Video. Amazing how a film like this could boast that many English dubs.

Anonymous said...

Is the Italian DVD containing the original dub currently available? I guess what's needed is to match it to the Pioneer video.

Just by chance, I saw Mamo first and Cagliostro second , so it was Cagliostro's portrayal that seemed out of place ^_^ Although they're both anime classics, it's worth noting that Mamo was more successful than Cagliostro on its initial release. Even though, as you say, it is a film for adults, apparently a lot of Japanese kids of that generation have memories of being taken to it, and the vivid impression it made--"Ah, do I envy him! I never get a chance to see things like that!"


Chris Sobieniak said...

Is the Italian DVD containing the original dub currently available? I guess what's needed is to match it to the Pioneer video.

There was an MKV torrent out there for some years that had all the English dubs included, though I think the original dub was the typical hissy pirated copy as always, though I hadn't been able to get it to play at all when I downloaded it way back. Certainly wouldn't hurt if someone got the Italian DVD and did the same.

Nice to hear that some Japanese kids did see this back in the day.

Anonymous said...

A great essay on a fantastic film. MAMO is one of a handful that gives us a look at what real "anime for adults" was (or could have been) before SF became the dominant trend and OVA began narrowcasting to fan-only tastes. As such, I'd group it with Tezuka's CLEOPATRA and & A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, although MAMO is easily the greater work because it does this amazing trick of being both Looney Tunes dumb *and* sophisticated (like a vintage issue of Playboy found under Carl Horn's desk) at the same time. Sad that the LUPIN franchise has yet to deliver anything else on par with it.

Fun fact: Greg Starr, former editor of the Japanese version of Premiere magazine and now at Kodansha International was a voice actor on the LUPIN III dub of the film, which was an inside job by Toho. In-house English dubs were common then to help generate international sales, although some were also farmed out to the Hong Kong chop-sockey guys. As you might expect of someone who lived through the Showa-era madness of the time trapped in a dubbing booth being fed lines about "trying to live forever like Count Dracula", Greg doesn't remember much else about it.

- Patrick M.

Anonymous said...

I'm still blown away by the fact I lived all these years without knowing Futabasha made a mook for MAMO--until this last spring, when I saw it at Nakano Broadway (the Akihabara store had it for maybe 1000 yen cheaper, which just goes to show the "don't buy it at the first table" rule applies even at Mandarake). Both copies were in pristine condition, which made me wonder whether they'd laid somewhere forgotten all these years. The book was cool (it contains storyboards for the mysterious "cut scenes") but not as cool as it could have been, which I'll blame on Tomo not editing it as he did with the first series mooks. Those are the shit, as we say in America.

It's a shame Greg Starr doesn't remember more about it (he played Mr. Ed Scott, the same old dancing detective?), but then again, it was the Me Decade. You also have an excellent point about how, even if SF anime and OAVs are something we might look back on fondly as fans, that's nevertheless a different thing from trying to make anime for general adult audiences. Even the much-maligned third Lupin series had Nissan as its prime sponsor; they weren't selling to kids or otaku.


Anonymous said...

More dumb stuff:

Circa One Million Years B.C., a VHS dub of MAMO was the only anime available at a Japanese mom and pop video store in my hometown. I remembered the character from the Cliff Hanger video game, promptly made my parents get a membership card, and thus began a exciting new phase of my life involving watching cartoons in a language I couldn't understand.

Reading this essay made me bust out the only copy I currently have on hand: the Streamline / Image Entertainment DVD from 1998. Ugh. Dub-only, non-anamorphic, washed out looking transfer. I've never actually seen the Pioneer transfer reviewed here, but I'm guessing it was a major improvement. There's also a recent R2 Blu-ray release which is tempting...still, isn't the Clark bar ad missing from *all* the post-VHS era prints of this film? I seem to recall Carl saying something about that.

Lastly, the following lines constitute the best writing I've come across in recent memory:

"When you find out that history is worse than bunk, nothing more than the bored pastime of a crazed, ancient dwarf – what’s left but total, Playboy Philosophy, leather-interior, Hai-Karate soaked, quadrophonically amplified 70s style hedonism"

I bought an issue of the American GQ magazine from 1973 at the Book Off in Shibuya a few weeks back and have been obsessed with the ads for wide ties and articles about Club Med and how to operate tape recorders. I could not explain the peculiar magic that it held, but you just did, so thanks for that.

- Patrick M.

Anonymous said...

My high school journalism teacher, who tolerated us watching anime in her class at lunch--even after Shogo's invisible man trick in Megazone Two Three--piped up during Mamo that she liked the line "I must compliment you on your rational thinking. But it also limits your mind."

To be honest, I had never thought of Mamo as having a philosophical subtext--perhaps because I'm used to thinking philosophy in anime has to involve Kiichi Goto cruising past Shibaura Pier on a slow boat. But whereas Cagliostro ends with a Roman city being revealed as a "treasure for mankind," the surely far greater treasure of cloned historical figures living on Mamo's island gets unknowingly blown to shit by the U.S. Air Force, and, as for fine art, Mamo burns his collection in despair just before attempting to destroy the human race. Oshii, who was to have directed the third Lupin film, talked about the idea of reality being stolen, but it would have been hard to top the picture of absurdity and vanity that Mamo presents.

I believe Jigen's pack of Pall Malls was also retouched in later editions. The only thing that surprises me about that Clark ad in retrospect is that Lupin is portrayed with a comradely arm around Wonder Woman, instead of trying to feel her up.


Steve Harrison said...

Wait, Wait...Patrick, don't you DARE vanish now! You can't drop a bombshell like that and just casually walk!

So Mamo was a Toho in-house dub? And you know one of the actors? YEESH!

Altho how many voices were around then, because I swear by all that's holy the guy doing Goemon's voice did any number of chop-socky films. Or maybe not. Toho did distro for many of the Kadokawa films, right? arrggh, it's all getting tangled in my brain! MY BRAIN!


So we've been barking around the cage, it's not TMS we need to club over the head, we need to stage a raid on Toho, maybe?

What has bugged me for all this time, when did Futabasha stop cranking out Lupin III mooks and such like? I was keeping up on their 'Part III' anime comics and they just stopped. I always wondered if there were volumes out there I've completely missed.

And the two volume First Series mooks are amazing, wonderful things. The 3 volume Second Series ain't too shabby either, when you consider trying to cram 155 episodes in there. Part III needed at least another volume.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Patrick said...
There's also a recent R2 Blu-ray release which is tempting...still, isn't the Clark bar ad missing from *all* the post-VHS era prints of this film? I seem to recall Carl saying something about that.

I'm guessing TMS really likes to forget that scene ever existed.

Carl said...
The only thing that surprises me about that Clark ad in retrospect is that Lupin is portrayed with a comradely arm around Wonder Woman, instead of trying to feel her up.

It is interesting they didn't try to go that far, course now I kinda wonder where Wonder Woman's left fist might be now that it's obscured by Lupin in that shot!

Anonymous said...

Carl: I think I may have just seen the Pall Mall package out of the corner of my eye on the Streamline / Image disc. Will eventually double-check out of sheer obsession.

Steve: I never really understood why everyone was so baffled by the existence of an early English dub for MAMO. As lotsa Godzilla fans know, Toho produced many in-house English dubs during the 60s-70s, although the quality was usually pretty bad. This forced the overseas distributors to adapt the film into English yet again, usually at Titra in NY (i.e. Peter Fernandez territory).

You are correct: Toho did distribute some Kadokawa films beginning with Sonny Chiba's SENGOKU JIEITAI aka TIME SLIP from 1979 which is widely available in a typically crappy Hong King English dub as G.I. SAMURAI.

My only questions about the MAMO dub are: how did it turn out so well, and why hasn't it ever been commercially released in R1 or R2?

- Patrick M.

Anonymous said...

On the rare occasions that the U.C. Theatre in Berkeley would show the 35mm print of Mamo (which I believe was advertised in the program simply as "Lupin III"--understandable, since that's the only name in the film itself), the reels had been rented from Toho in L.A. For all I know, they still have it there...Has anyone else ever heard of Mamo showing in 35mm at their local art-house or second-run theater?


Anonymous said...

Hua. I literally saw a $4 used copy of this at my local record store just yesterday. I wondered if it was one of the "good Lupin films". I'll have to go back and grab it. It will still be there...

Dan Parmenter said...

Great piece Dave! I do like the phrase "post-Watergate Japanese cartoon" (to paraphrase your version slightly), though it may well be a genre consisting of just one film! I didn't know that the original TV team had been reassembled specifically for the movie.

Regarding the contrast between MAMO and CAGLIOSTRO CASTLE's depictions of Lupin II, Miyazaki's own thoughts are illuminating. Although he's talking about his work on the original TV series, it applies to CAGLIOSTRO as well I think:

"...the Lupin character who rode in a Benz SSK and the Lupin character who rode in a Fiat 500 (the car of poorer Italians) were like opposites in the series; they competed with each other, influenced each other, and as a result helped enliven the series." (from Starting Point 1979-1996)

Anonymous said...

Like so many fans, I saw CAGLIOSTRO before MAMO (not to mention FUUMA CONSPIRACY), so in some ways I was deeply disappointed with the film upon my first viewing; where was the dashing, only slightly seedy hero from the other two films? It would take years of repeat viewings for me to truly appreciate this movie, and what specifically stoked my interest was the unusually good original dub, which a friend of a friend had taped on VHS from a Japanese TV broadcast (no, I don't know why it was in English on JP TV, either).

I also own the Geneon release. You ought to pick it up, Patrick - it's a measly $8.99 at Amazon (or $3.24 if you go used) and the Phuuz dub, with Tony Oliver and Richard Epcar as Lupin and Jigen, is full of laughs and zaniness.

I wish Geneon's release of Lupin the 3rd had gone over a little better - but the DVDs were slightly subpar (a couple of rearranged episodes, and the dub was funny but sometimes really strangely written, with Britney Spears and eBay jokes) and single-disc releases of long TV series' were starting to crater. It certainly didn't help that Cartoon Network picked up the first 26 episodes and reran them endlessly, rather than picking up the 50 or so episodes that Geneon/Phuuz also did. But for whatever reason, outside of Cagliostro Lupin the 3rd has been a tough sell stateside. Hopefully he's cool again eventually.

-Mike Toole

Chris Sobieniak said...

We can only hope Mike.

Anonymous said...

If the Lupin Encyclopedia guy is correct, the R2 DVD Mamo does in fact contain the Clark ad. Not sure about the Blu-Ray one, though.

Reed said...

Having owned the Blu-ray of Mamo, I believe I can safely report that all the various logos like Pall Mall, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and even Superman and co. remained intact (going off of memory, though--I no longer have the disc in my possession).

The original article here counted the Cliff Hanger dub as a possible fifth dub. Actually, although there was some hilarious amateur voice work over the Cagliostro segments (spoken right on top of the Japanese audio, no less), the "Mamo" sequences in "Cliff Hanger" are taken directly from the "mysterious" Toho/TMS dub of the late 70s.

-Reed N.

Reed said...

Speaking of which, here are some memories from Fred Patten on that old English dub and how it came to America. There's only one or two sticking points (like the "early 1978" date), but he did have a stroke, after all, so I hold nothing against him.

"Monkey Punch himself brought the film prints (16 m.m., I think) to the C/FO when he visited Los Angeles in early 1978 and 1979. He recommended that TMS use the early anime fans to do free test marketing of anime in America. TMS' Hollywood representative at the time, Jun Hirabayashi, supplied us with video tape copies. Our biggest promotion was when we got the 1980 World Science Fiction Convention, in Boston that year, to put Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (subtitled) on its film program. I handed out audience participation forms ("What do you think of this kind of animation? Would you pay to see a movie like this in the theaters?"), and mailed the forms that were handed in back to TMS. Unfortunately, TMS decided that the project was a failure when anime did not become immediately popular in America, and stopped giving us videos. We had the same experience with Toei Animation's Hollywood representative, Pico Hozumi, who loaned the 1978 and 1979 San Diego Comic-Cons 16 m.m. prints of several Toei half-hour TV cartoons for its cartoon programs to see the reaction of American fans to Japanese TV cartoons."

-Reed N.

Unknown said...

For some reason I find myself really curious about which Toei series Pico Hozumi loaned the SDCC on 16mm. But that information is probably lost forever.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Nanto said...
For some reason I find myself really curious about which Toei series Pico Hozumi loaned the SDCC on 16mm. But that information is probably lost forever.

This is the era I'm interested in as well, and long for more about it despite having only been a few years old at that point in time! Shame the TMS thing was a bust though.

Chris Sobieniak said...

The name Pico Hozumi kinda came to my head just now, though searching that brings up stuff he did that are ridiculously low on my radar so that's that!

Ricardo Cantoral said...

I know I am a bit late but I never read a more respectful review of Mamo. Not even on Lupin fansites. Another thing I want to add is the intense relationship between the characters. The film exposed that the majority of the characters had an unbreakable bond.

Also I do agree about the original dub by streamline, it's so much better.

The Gambler said...

This is an excellent overview of the movie, nice and interesting reading, congrats!

Anonymous said...

I wish you would have been more specific about what made the original dub so much better than the Pioneer one since I have never heard the original, and don't know how I ever can.

BUT this was an excellent review that captured the reasons I personally enjoy this film, and also proper mindset for said enjoyment. I've read a lot of negative reviews for this movie, and its refreshing to read a review on the film that takes into account the various nuances and details that brought me to be actually quite fond of it.

Good job random person. You did good.

Sean said...

I hate to drop a comment off three and a half years later, but I had to add to the confusion / add a tiny touch of enlightenment, which is this: The Clark Bar ad, with all the characters intact, is in the version of the Pioneer dub that's currently streaming on Hulu.

Here's a screencap.

I didn't take any notice of the brand names that I can recall, but I'd be hard-pressed to imagine them not being there.

d.merrill said...

The Clark Bar ad is also present in the Discotek release of Mystery of Mamo, which is a fantastic product that includes the original English dub. I guess I need to either edit this piece or post an addendum. Darn this internet permanence!