Or: The One Where I Wind Up Doing a Character Analysis of Lupin
Or Or: The One With the Drinking Game
Want to start at the beginning?
Today’s lesson is as follows: there’s nothing like TV to prepare you for the movies, or so the story goes with this week’s episode. If you have an excess of post celebration alcohol (and are of legal age, or willing to tell me such), here’s a quick way to empty it: take a hearty shot every time there’s a visual or narrative motif that will one day be reused in The Castle of Cagliostro, and by the end of this post you’ll be so completely blitzed that an upcoming season of yet more sequels, moe shows, and harems will cease to be such an overwhelmingly depressing concept.
“Hunt Down the Counterfeiter!” begins with Lupin and Jigen pulling off an unusually straightforward car assault, stealing a briefcase full of money from what appear to be their evil twins (it would seem that low ratings were not kind to the character designers). But alas, aside from giving them off-screen time to nab a plane (an honorary drink for Miyazaki’s burgeoning love of flying machines), the briefcase is totally useless: the bills inside are all forgeries, and not even good ones at that. Lupin vows that he won’t rest until he finds a counterfeiter capable of making perfect false bills in order to fool his current rival, Baron Ukraine (who sports an unfortunate ugly shag cut to rival the Count’s, so go ahead and drink).
Drink! While observing the character development!
And now, a Nifty Hindsight Note. While few would dispute the quality of Cagliostro as a standalone film, there’s been many a debate as to whether the titular character is too soft, too nice, to be the ‘real’ Lupin (an argument that even gets a shout out in my personal nemesis, Green vs Red, and hence why the film was originally something of a flop in its home country). With that in mind, consider the following. Miyazaki has said that he envisioned Cagliostro taking place when Lupin was in “his twilight years,” or in other words as a sort of One Last Job. This makes it not only one of the great masterworks of animated film but also, if you keep the Green Jacket version particularly in mind, a real portrait of Lupin’s maturation as a person. It’s a brilliant move, if a risky one. While it might just be so obvious that no one needs to say it, I’ve never really seen the film described as a capstone to the character or any one of the series. Most are content to take it as one more adventure in an endless series, a move that can hardly be blamed given the nature of the franchise. Plus there IS the rather sizable continuity snafu inherent in the concept – a big chunk of the film hinges on the fact that Lupin’s been to the titular castle before, with the knowledge that the so called ‘legendary forgeries’ were there (and without Jigen). Let us handwave it by saying this botched break in occurred during the break between the Green and Red Jackets when the gang had gone their separate ways, and that there were a great many adventures Lupin did not care to fill his compatriots in on because, as we know, he’s Kind of a Dick.
But I digress. These two opening scenes are a prime example of the character development thing, a move farfetched and yet sneakily brilliant in such an episodic franchise. The Young Lupin is disgusted by the lack of skill in the counterfeit bills, believing them to be unworthy of his skill as a thief. On the other hand, he’s more than happy to accept a perfect counterfeit when he finds it, so long as it aids his scheme to bring down someone who’s bruised his enormous ego. It’s a pride thing, a little vicious and jealous and sharp edged. Even when he’s considerate enough to label the forgeries it’s to raise himself up, seeing as he labels them “rejected by Lupin III.” The Lupin of Cagliostro starts out with those perfect forgeries – a whole fiat full of them, in fact. But they’re not real. He’s a master thief now, far beyond the need to trade in something meant to fool people. For taking such bills would mean a) sub-textually admitting that there is someone cleverer than himself, because he was willing to accept a second-rate copy of a real item and b) would be antithetical to his gentlemanly principles if he were to send it. Let me elaborate on the second point: Lupin is a guy who, as time went on, honed a set of rules to set himself apart from garden variety criminals. Even the darkest and rawest of the bunch, the Fujiko Mine Lupin, calls himself a “pro among pros.” He lets people know he’s coming and exactly what he’s going to take, knowing they can’t stop him but more than confident enough to be honest. Spending a forged bill would by comparison be trading in a lie, easily translated by the victim as a ploy of his own invention (and thus linking Lupin to people he decidedly considers beneath him).
Why Lupin ostensibly goes to the Duchy of Cagliostro we’ll never know, since Clarisse colors the plan so early on. The narrative does seem to suggest they were out to steal the printing plates, given Lupin’s good natured griping at Fujiko in the final scene. After all, that would be re-appropriating the idea itself for his own use, which might count as reasonably high minded. Then again, Lupin’s nothing if not constantly masked in his words, so let’s judge his deeds: upon finding the forgeries, he sets fire to the whole lot. While Zenigata might be there, that’s never stopped Lupin from slipping a bit of this or that if he really wanted it. Instead, he sets out to end the whole charade. Now, I doubt it’s entirely professional pride – this is the business of the man who’s tried to kill him and has been tormenting Clarisse, after all, so ruining his life is icing on the cake. But we’ll come back to all of this in a minute. Let’s give a quick once over of the original version of the story, shall we?
The young Lupin and Jigen are off to find Baron Ukraine’s aunt, known for once creating the best forgeries ever produced, and her actually-doing-the-work partner Iwanoff. Both are retired, as the Baron Ukraine is quick to discover when he comes calling to his Auntie, the Silver Fox of Ukraine, for help. More perplexingly, he’s unable to find Iwanoff anywhere in the enormous clock tower where his aunt lives. And so, much of the episode is spent with Lupin and the Baron looking for the secret of the tower, so that they can exploit the skilled counterfeiter for their own ends. And just to point out something immaterial that hews to a whole different set of continuity, the Baron’s henchman is named Flinch, which was also the name of the ugly, musclebound, bald henchman in Secret of Mamo.
Honorary Terrifying Face: never before or since will it look quite so much
like Lupin skinned the good inspector to make his disguise
In between all of this there are death traps, faux-friendly conversations, Fujiko being refreshingly straightforward about her mercenary approach to theft (and she’s working for the evil nobleman to further her own plans while also feeding information to Lupin, so drink again), a car chase scene with rather obviously recycled animation loops, a binocular gun, and the Ukraine apparently being densely populated by hotel rooms offering rooms with every amenity except for
any visible bed.
There are better shots of the bedless hotel bedroom, but this one was too charming to skip. Behold, Lupin the Pirate and his extremely large parrot!
Oh, and there’s another “Lupin on a clock face” scene in there too.
The biggest change from this episode isn’t the transplanting of scene (which only goes from a real vaguely-European looking country to a fictional one) or characters, but a matter of tone. Despite “Hunt Down the Counterfeiter!”’s exuberant title it’s a rather bittersweet piece, centering around two ex-cons who want nothing more than to protect each other in peace and find that, as the old adage goes, you never leave the mob. Lupin calls Iwanoff’s counterfeiting ‘art,’ and there’s a real sense of loss and sorrow as the clock tower and the beautiful forgeries crumble away.
Which brings us back to our little Cagliostro comparison. As in the film, the clock tower chimes before crumbling to nothing (by using a secret built-in mechanism with a special key, so ready the glasses), with Iwanoff and the fatally wounded Silver Fox inside. In the episode, this is the height of the story’s sorrow – the direction quite effectively conveys the affection between these two, though we’ve spent less than ten minutes with them. When they die there’s a kind of senselessness about it, mirrored in the way that Lupin is 110% unfazed by the death of two living people and the loss of what he was initially so gung-ho about (he’s way more interested in telling Jigen about how cool he was). That’s the key difference, and it’s more a matter of Lupin himself than the plot. While the end of the episode isn’t interested in teaching us a lesson or salvaging anything profound, the destruction of the tower in the film yields something even greater. There’s art, old a priceless, between what was ostensibly the prize to be won (a prize Lupin readily gives up to save the human life at stake). To be disgustingly obvious about it, by no longer focusing on the shallow and material good Lupin was able to do a service for humankind as well as Clarisse. It’s the full fruition of his character arc.
When Lupin shows he’s far more concerned about nabbing Iwanoff than leaving them in peace, Miyazaki firmly places us on Iwanoff’s side, protagonist or no. It’s a moment I quite like – this is the guy who’s so often accused of making Lupin too cuddly, but in moments like these he’s not afraid to make us dislike Lupin, secure in the knowledge he’ll redeem himself (this is done in a distinct way from the first few episodes, where he is strikingly unlikable despite the director’s desperate desire that we find him cool). Cagliostro’s Lupin is content to discard what he wants when he realizes it counters what’s ‘right’ by his moral code – he burns the counterfeits knowing what damage they’ve done to the world (and the many, many corpses beneath the castle), he gives up the rings to save Clarisse’s life, and he gives up Clarisse knowing that it would do no good to accept her honest but starstruck and inexperienced feelings. He’s a thief, sure. He’s a trickster and a deviant and I’ve no doubt he and Jigen rushed off to steal things the very next day. But he’s also a good man, something you could never say of the Green Jacket Lupin for all that he’s a joyous thrill to watch. It doesn’t just make me respect Miyazaki more. It gives me true, down in my soul love for Lupin as a character, watching him grow like that. No matter how many adventures he has, mistakes he makes, or how cold he might seem, it’s going to be alright.
Drink, but observe as well – one wants to crow his own awesomeness,
and the other wants to know if it’s too late to help someone else
NEXT TIME: Nobody puts Lupin in the corner! But it seems evil terrorist masterminds already know how to exploit his weakness for cute girls. Witness! Boggle! Gape! as Our Hero saves a girl without any flirting (mostly, anyway). Also, there’s explosions and stuff. Hope to see you there!
Beautiful analysis of Miyazaki’s take on Lupin in the last paragraph. I have always been troubled when people claim Cagliostro is a “good movie, but a bad Lupin movie.” When viewed as being at the end of a long character arc, it’s a fabulous Lupin movie.
It definitely fits very specifically in the chronology – a long way removed from the rest of the shenanigans