The Mystery of Mamo (1978)

It has been an extremely long time since I’d watched the first Lupin III feature film. It’s been such a long time that it’s been dubbed three more times since the one I remember. And I remembered the immortal lines “Only a laser beam can cut through my vest” and “Once again, I cut a worthless object,” but I completely forgot all the cartoon nudity. “Oh, yeah, so there’s some nude scenes in this,” I said, sheepishly, as our favorite nine year-old critic raised an eyebrow.

But there’s also the usual chaos and chase scenes. It’s a very weird movie in that regard. Some of the shenanigans look like they’re being played for high comedy but have a serious and deadly edge. It’s most evident in a scene where the villains send a helicopter to attack our heroes in a Parisian cafe. It’s the sort of overkill that’s funny because it’s so ridiculous, and indeed our son was roaring with laughter, while innocent bystanders are clearly not avoiding the bullets. It wouldn’t have been funny at all if they’d pulled up in a van. Bringing a helicopter is silly, which prompts laughing, and the subsequent murders are serious. Our heroes are up against one of the most cold-blooded villains they’ve ever faced.

The Mystery of Mamo was released in Japan as simply Lupin III, but American fans started calling it The Mystery of Mamo to match the alliteration of the second film, The Castle of Cagliostro, which we watched in the spring. The name stuck, even though it’s not accurate and “Mameaux” is misspelled. It is one of a small handful of movies directed by Sōji Yoshikawa and it’s a lot more faithful to the lecherous spirit and gangly style of the original comics by Monkey Punch than all the movies that followed.

As for the plot, it’s in a class by itself. The original dub – more on that in a second – isn’t very clear on this point, but Lupin gets word that he’s been executed and DNA testing has proved that the body was his. Zenigata, the Interpol inspector obsessed with Lupin’s capture, doesn’t believe it either. This puts the adversaries at odds again while Lupin starts targeting treasures believed to grant immortality. The trail of clones and eternal life leads them to a stunted, absurdly resourceful, and rich villain called Mamo, who claims to be 10,000 years old. Lupin III’s adventures are usually a little bit more down to earth than this.

Mamo has been released in North America several times by different companies, resulting in four separate English-language dubs. Discotek Media compiled all four, along with the original Japanese language track with subtitles, on a DVD released in 2013. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I remembered. I think I was wrong to choose the original dub that I was familiar with once upon a time. It is said, by people who know these things, to be a good and accurate translation, but it feels incredibly clunky and confusing, and the voice actress for Fujiko sounds too much like a helpless damsel in distress. But the kid still prefers dubs to subs, and I’d like him to be happy when we’re watching stuff together.

To be sure, there’s a lot for a kid to like here, even if his parents may have wished for a little less of Lupin dropping his pants. He absolutely loves Zenigata’s furious, single-minded obsession to arrest Lupin and just cackles at the sight of him. The slapstick violence and action is always amazing in these movies. At one point, they’re being chased up a twisty mountain road by the biggest eighteen-wheeler ever built, and at another, Goemon gives a henchman the sort of wound that even Daffy Duck would have trouble recovering from, so he was in heaven.

So you wouldn’t expect Dr. Anti-Fun, who we met last month complaining about the physics in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, would start grumbling, but at the end, the villain reveals a rocket with a dome instead of a cone top and he just had to interject “that wouldn’t fly!” Well, it wouldn’t hold a brain the size of a ranch house, either, Dr. Anti-Fun, so just hush and go with it. Kids!

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