November 14, 2011

Yuzo Aoki's Crazy Lupin Movie

I've finally found another animator I like as much as Rod Scribner and Jim Tyer, thanks to Ben Ettinger's Anipages blog (which has really been on fire lately with some amazing posts).

A while ago I did some posts about a weird Lupin III episode. Ben not only told me who was responsible for the wacky drawings in it, he also told me what else they worked on in the franchise. If you're interested, just read his recent posts on Lupin III, specifically this one and this one.

I don't want to re-iterate too much of what he's written, but to make a long story short, it turns out there were two artists whose work I was noticing in that episode: Yoshio Kabashima and Yuzo Aoki. As I suspected, they co-directed the animation for the 1978 Lupin movie Lupin vs Clone, or The Secret of Mamo as it was called in the US. That movie has tons of really funny drawings too, but like the episode I posted the images from, the animation is often pretty limited, so the drawings don't really shine like they should.

After reading Ben's posts, I decided to look into the "pink jacket" Lupin III cartoons from the 1980s, since Yuzo Aoki had a much bigger part in them. This third era of Lupin was generally disliked by the Lupin fan base, for a few reasons. The music, colour and overall style are pure 80s cheese. (On a side note, Yuji Ohno, the long-time music composer for the series, renamed his band "the Super Sexual Transport" during this period. I just thought that was funny.) Anyway, another reason people didn't like the 80s Lupin was because anime fans often have a very narrow definition of what constitutes good animation. Sometimes they're right -- the art was inconsistent, and occasionally just plain bad. But Yuzo Aoki's work on the pink jacket series and the accompanying 1985 movie was fantastic. Not much of his work on the TV series is available for immediate viewing online, but here's an opening sequence he did.

The Lupin III anime has never looked this much like the original manga by Monkey Punch. Apart from Aoki's weird design of Fujiko, you'd swear Monkey Punch just learned to animate and did this himself. The posing is so inspired and demented. And the stylization of details like the wrinkles on the clothing is really well-done. This is what I love about the Lupin comics, and Aoki's animation of the characters is just like watching the comic in motion. Even the well-animated 1969 Lupin pilot film looks watered-down to me now, compared to this animated distillation of the Monkey Punch style.

I have the 1985 movie on VHS, but I hadn't watched it recently until Ben's posts on Aoki, who was the character designer, animation director and layout supervisor for this movie. So he was almost completely responsible for its visual style.

The film is pretty much 100 minutes of the kind of hilariously drawn slapstick comedy in the original Monkey Punch comics, and sadly that's probably why it turns off fans of the other Lupin anime. This is Lupin III at its absolute craziest. It's a far cry from the stiff, formulaic tedium of the franchise today. It actually feels like this movie was written with the intention of giving the animators interesting things to animate, sometimes to the detriment of the plot or any kind of structure. I'm not surprised that this movie is so rarely talked about. It's kind of an anomaly -- too wacky (and in some sections, simply incoherent) for anime fans, and it's an obscure part of an overwhelmingly long-running franchise, so there's almost no way a Western viewer would see it unless they're specifically looking for it. Of course, it doesn't help that it's been out of print in North America for years.

This is a movie where Lupin and Zenigata ride motorcycles in and out of the various orifices on a giant face for no reason. The face changes its expression several times, and sneezes. Not necessarily a great sequence but indicative of the movie's tone, for better or worse.

It's the kind of movie where Zenigata sends dynamite on a zipline attached to handcuffs he throws around Lupin's neck... And Lupin can make the dynamite turn around by holding up the appropriate sign. And of course when it does explode, the characters are just charred for a second before healing completely.

There's also a robot with a hat. It eats money.

This is not a botched translation.

The story is confusing at times, but certain scenes in this movie are among my favourites in the entire Lupin III canon. Screenshots will not do them justice, so here are some videos. (In case you're wondering, Lupin's name is written as Rupan in the subtitles because for a while, no US anime distributors were allowed to use the name Lupin. It's a long story.)

Watch Lpn Bbln Train in Anime | View More Free Videos Online at

This is part of a scene in which Lupin and his pals are on a train being chased by Inspector Zenigata, and a bunch of gangsters. There are so many insane poses in this sequence, and it's great to see them fully-animated instead of just one or two per shot. It's still not quite "full animation" in the traditional Western sense, but that seems to be mainly on purpose; Aoki has a idiosyncratic sense of timing that involves a lot of short holds. I wish I could upload these clips in a format that allowed frame-by-frame viewing. (Don't you love all the weird little noises Yasuo Yamada does as the voice of Lupin? They really add a lot of energy and humour to the character.)

Watch Lpn Bbln Rucksack in Anime | View More Free Videos Online at

Watch Lpn Bbln Crt in Anime | View More Free Videos Online at

More funny animation and funny Yasuo Yamada noises.

Watch Lpn Bbln River in Anime | View More Free Videos Online at

If you can find this movie, I'd recommend taking a look. It's very uneven, but you won't see animation quite like this anywhere else.


ADC said...

Haha wow, that is some funny stuff. I personally haven't watched any of the Lupin series. Never got around to it. Although from the still I saw (as well as that opening) it looks like a nice change of pace from the stiffs I used to watch.

Bruce Walker said...

I *must* use Flyswatter of Death in some way, ASAP. Thanks for this, Aaron.

Ben said...

Great post, Aaron! Really captures what makes Aoki's work on this movie great. The limbs are so rubbery and the posing is so fun. It's really Aoki at his peak. I don't think I appreciated the film's animation many years ago when I watch it. Now I look at it and can't get enough of it and wish there were more that looked like this. One correction, turns out I was wrong about him storyboarding the film. He was only the character designer, animation director and layout supervisor. Someone else did the storyboarding.

Aaron Long said...

Hey Ben. Thanks for the correction, I'll fix that right now. Even if he didn't do the storyboarding, I'd say it's still pretty much his movie, in terms of look. I didn't realize he was also the layout supervisor.

km said...

I was already curious about this film because it was somehow co-directed by Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill etc) which can probably explain some of the strangeness. I never actually expected it to be interesting for its animation but it looks great! Thank you for drawing my attention to this.

Brubaker said...

I have to say there are some good stuff on anime from the '70s and '80s. Mostly from TMS/A Pro, but yeah. Anime is pretty capable of funny stuff. Amazing since the production schedule is much, much more tight than America's.

Shows that even with the limited time and money, you can still get something good out of it.

wah said...

I watched this movie once and thought the only good thing was the animation. I think the second Lupin series strikes a good balance between wackiness and playing it straight, while this movie and what I've seen of season three are a bit too loose for my tastes.

Like you said, the story's a mess, which really hurt this movie for me. Looks great, though.

wah said...

Oh yeah, this movie's getting a DVD re-release soon I believe so look forward to that. It may already be out.