The Magnificent Works of Tokyo Movie Shinsha!
(The following post is NOT all text. It begins with a medium-sized introduction, followed by a list of roughly 45 films and tv series, complete with cover art, synopsis, and links to related reviews. Feel free to skim through and read as much as you like.)
When you think of great American Animation, you think of Disney, right? So arguably when you think of great Television animation, you probably think of Disney again, right? Well did you know that in reality, the Disney company has never, I repeat, NEVER done their own television animation?
Simply put, television animation is constantly on the move and constantly requires new episodes for dozens of different TV shows for each network: Disney being one of the largest producers. But while Disney pioneered the concepts and construction of animation, and have hand-crafted some of the most impressive animated features in history; every single animated series they have ever produced has been animated overseas or in Canada.
That’s pretty much the way it’s always been. That’s still the way it is today. And that’s still the way it’s going to be in the future. And it all revolves around production costs and animator’s wages. So the question remains: Who do we turn to to show our gratitude and appreciation for flooding our TV screens with some of the most enjoyable visuals we’ve ever seen…
Wang Film Productions
No, I’m serious. Despite intending to talk about Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS), I just discovered that Wang Film Productions is responsible for 75% of every single Disney TV series produced since 1984: resulting in over 1000 episodes of Disney animation; along with the combined efforts of Sunwoo Entertainment, Tama Production, Toon City Animation, Walt Disney Animation Japan, and Walt Disney Television Animation Australia to fill in the rest of the other 400+ episodes. But Wang Film Productions was the most involved, dipping their hands into almost every series, not just a few. They also had a few full-time series and films that they produced. So we may have an entire post dedicated to them as well. But I’ve gotten way off topic here.
With all these different companies animating the majority of Disney’s TV shows, you may wonder where does the company known as Tokyo Movie Shinsha fit into this? Well it turns out that before Walt Disney Television spread its wings in the early 90s, TMS was the prime candidate for outsourced animation if you wanted something that looked really solid and high quality in the mid 80s. Something that could stand up to the high Disney standards. And you can certainly tell they delivered when you look back at their work on Season 1 of both DuckTales, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, and Gummy Bears. But it doesn’t stop there.
TMS is also responsible for developing the iconic designs of the Warner Brothers (Animaniacs), Buster and Babs Bunny (Tiny Toons); they are the sole owners, the production house, and creators of both Detective Conan (Case Closed) and my favorite anime francise Lupin the 3rd; and served as the production house for 3 of Hayao Miyazaki’s early efforts: those being Panda! Go, Panda!, Sherlock Hound, and my favorite film of all time, The Castle of Cagliostro. And if that wasn’t enough, their most notable product, the PINACLE of achievements: was their involvement as one of the chief animation companies responsible for wrangling in all of the supporting teams and studios, and conducting the animation behind the enduring anime classic, Akira. And even beyond that, they’ve handled dozens of other domestic Japanese series which some of you may be familiar with.
Tokyo Movie Shinsha, I think, exemplifies the immense skill of Japanese animation. This company is capable of working in traditional limited animation, and then turning right around and animating at a full 24 frames per second. They can match dozens of different art styles, change them on a dime, and are the only company I know of that has successfully recreated the appearance and comedic timing of Tex Avery’s signature over-exaggerated squash-and-stretch visuals. There’s just such a beautiful delicacy and intricacy in the amount of detail and care they put into their artwork. It moves more smoothly and precisely than anything I have seen before or since. It’s altogether a special style and quality we are likely never to see again.
Today I’d like to share with you a list of selections from TMS’s filmography that showcase the best of their talented crews; including their heyday when their signature style was at its peak.
In the coming months I will be adding more reviews of titles featured here and linking them back to this page and vice-versa: so be sure to check back if you’re interested in learning about some of these titles in greater detail. For the films or series that I don’t plan to write reviews about, I will try to add small blurbs of info and synopsis beneath each as time allows.
So please, take a few moments to look through the list, and hopefully after looking at some of the images and clips I have included, you too will come to appreciate the amazing work of one Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Enjoy.
Ducktales (season 1)
Adapted from the comic books series “Uncle Scrooge” and other series within the Duck Universe comics, Ducktales tells the story of eccentric billionaire, Scrooge McDuck, as he wards off criminals, assassins, witches, monsters, evil creatures, and legendary characters with the help of his ever clever and rambunctious nephews: Huey, Dewey, and Louis; of Donald Duck cartoon fame. Which makes Scrooge the kids’ Great Uncle.
Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (season 1)
As is often the case with TV series born in the 1990s, Donald Duck’s classic chipmunk foils are back, and they’ve started their own vigilante rescue/detective operation; comprised of Chip, Dale, their muscle Monterey Jack, his flying sidekick Zipper, and their mechanic Gadget: called the Rescue Rangers. Sort of a callback to the Rescue Aid Society of Disney’s The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. Their rouges gallery includes a mad Doctor, a Fat Cat, a band of mice pirates, and even an eccentric rich man obsessed with eggs.
(From TV.com): “Long ago, there was a thriving civilization of small humanoid bears called Gummi Bears. Possessing powerful magic and advanced technology, this race coexisted with humans until the growing rivalry forced the Gummis to flee across the sea, leaving only a small caretaker colony to prepare for a possible return. However, generations passed and the colony forgot their purpose even as human knowledge of the race faded into mere legend. All that changes when the colony meets a boy with a Gummi Bear medallion which unlocks the Great Book of Gummi which reveals lost knowledge of their past. Now the colony has dedicated themselves to the new goal to rediscover their heritage with the help of a few trusted humans while preventing new enemies like Duke Igthorn from exploiting that heritage to their own ends.”
The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (season 1, and a few from season 2)
Continuing on from the original 1960s/70s shorts (which were recombined into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977); this series further develops the characters, geography and even the human world surrounding the Hundred Acre Wood. Unlike the original shorts, this series often delved into previously unseen areas and topics. Such as helping Christopher Robin to learn how to talk to girls, making their own movie, does Eeyore really want his tail, or trying to figure if Tigger is still Tigger even without his stripes.
That’s only a small selection of stories, and trust me, there are quite a few exciting episodes within this classic 4 season series.
Inspector Gadget (season 1)
Obviously inspired by RoboCop, the titular Inspector is a cyborg man with a screw loose in his brain that ends up making him rather incompetent for his position in the force. And with his evil Nemesis, Doctor Claw, always on the loose; Gadget can certain find himself in a lot of sticky situations. Thankfully, however, he has a super-smart tech-savvy niece named Penny, and a dog named Brain, who are fully capable of keeping the good Inspector from hurting himself; and they often end up solving the crimes themselves. But of course they are more than happy to place all of the glory onto their Uncle Gadget, who continues to be the pride of the force.
Tiny Toon Adventures >>> (select episodes and title-sequence)
In the town of Acme Acres, there is a young crowd of fertile young comedians, who dream of becoming the next great cartoon stars. And with the greats of Looney Tunes showing them the ropes at the local Acme Looniversity; they are well on their way to becoming greats themselves. Our awesome team of Tiny Toons includes Buster and Babs Bunny (no relation), Plucky Duck, Hampton J. Pig, Shirly the Loon, Fifi La Fume, Dizzy Devil, Montana Max, Elmyra Duff, Sweetie, and Gogo Dodo: just to name the main ones.
The series’ main ongoing trope was always to be hip with the youth of the 90s, often featuring original music videos to existing songs, writing their own songs, and presenting cartoon shorts in the form of variety hours.
Animaniacs >>> (select episodes and title-sequence)
As a sort of cousin to Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs follows the chaotic adventures of The Warner Brothers: consisting of Yacko, Wakko, and Dot (the Warner Sister); as they constantly cause mischief and havoc around the Warner Studios lot.
The show would frequently feature cartoons of the Warners as if they were the old cartoon shorts that had been locked away in the vault all those years ago, along with other shorts involving the large cast of side characters the show had to offer. The most notable of which being Pinky and the Brain, Slappy Squirrell, Rita and Runt, Chicken Boo, and Mr. Director.
The Wuzzles (Entire series, lasted one season)
(From DisneyWiki): Wuzzles features a variety of short, rounded animal characters (each called a Wuzzle, which means to mix up). Each is a roughly even, and colorful, mix of two different animal species (as the theme song mentions, “…livin’ with a split personality”), and all the characters sport wings on their backs, although only Bumblelion and Butterbear are seemingly capable of flight. All of the Wuzzles live on the Isle of Wuz. Double species are not limited to the Wuzzles themselves. From the appleberries they eat to the telephonograph in the home, or a luxury home called a castlescraper, nearly everything on Wuz is mixed together in the same way the Wuzzles are.”
The series was premiered the same year as Gummi Bears, and was also fully animated by TMS. Both series were very successful during their first seasons, and The Wuzzles even enjoyed a large and vast line of toys and collectibles. But the series didn’t continue for a second season largely due to the sudden death of voice actor Bill Scott (the original voice of Bullwinkle the Moose) who played the character Moosel on the show.
The Real Ghostbusters (select episodes from seasons 1, 2, and 3)
Branching off the success of the first Ghostbusters film, The Real Ghostbusters further expands the realm of the ghosts and the variety of ghosts that threaten to attack New York City. We get to see a larger array of ghost-trapping gadgets, what the inside of the Ghost Trap looks like, and the how the relationship between Egon and Janine develops. In fact, some key elements of the The Ghostbusters universe that was established into the series was then added into the world of the movie’s sequel. Although Janine was hitched up with Louis Tully.
Personally speaking, the Real Ghostbusters can often be a very exciting and dramatic series, with the Ghostbusters team taking on some of the biggest and strangest baddies you can think of. And unlike the movies, they have to be rather clever about how they dispose of them, which gives the show a bit more tension. Arguably the best episodes are in fact the ones animated by TMS. And if you’re looking for them, they’re not hard to miss.
Galaxy High (Entire series)
(From Wikipedia): “Two earth teenagers are accepted into the InterGalactic high school, Galaxy High School on the asteroid Flutor. The teenage boy, Doyle, was a skilled athlete and popular, while the teenage girl Aimee was shy and as the theme song states, “the smartest girl in school, not very popular, not very cool.” But once in space their roles are somewhat reversed. The alien teenagers seem to accept the not so popular Aimee, while Doyle tends to rub the aliens the wrong way. Although Doyle finds himself an outcast and having difficulties adjusting, Aimee does not abandon him, and suggests he can make friends and bring glory to Galaxy High through his excellent sporting abilities, which he does by winning a championship in “psych-hockey”, which Galaxy High always lost. The show drops many hints of a budding romance between Doyle and Aimee but was never given time to grow due to the show not being renewed for a second season.”
Also, in case you didn’t know, it the show was created by Director Chris Columbus; of Home Alone and Harry Potter fame.
The Littles (Entire series)
(From TV.com): “This is DIC’s first animated show (with the second being Inspector Gadget) and it first premiered in September of 1983 on ABC. The Littles is loosely based on The Borrowers from a creative author named John Peterson. This series focuses on one particular family of Littles – Grandpa, Mom and Dad, Dinky, and the two youngest: Tom and Lucy. In their quest to become productive adults, the Littles and their 12-year old huge friend Henry face the same kinds of problems that young children face every day – issues of friendship, jealousy, honesty, prejudice, consideration for others, kindness, responsibility, risk-taking … and more. Each episode of the Littles focuses on one such issue, presenting it in explicit, concrete terms. And young, attractive characters with whom children can identify carry out these actions, they serve as excellent role models for young viewers.”
Raibow Brite (Entire series)
(From TV.com): “The story of a young girl who tries her best to bring beauty and happiness to the Earth. She wears a magic belt known as the Color Belt which is activated by a handful of Star Sprinkles brings forth a powerful rainbow. She is assisted by her faithful talking horse Starlite, ‘the most magnificent horse in the entire universe’ and her personal sprite Twink. She lives with the Color Kids in the wonderful Rainbowland. But not everything is always peaceful, they occasionally get opposition from Murky Dismal and Lurky from the gloomy Pits. Try as they might, these two bumbleheads can’t seem to succeed. At least they never give up. The fun never ends in Rainbowland thanks to other colorful visitors.”
Peter Pan and the Pirates (13 episodes)
(From TV.com): “As the title indicates, this TV show focuses as much on the pirates as it does on Peter Pan. Captain Hook and Mr. Smee traditionally are the only pirates who receive any attention in the story. Yet here, the other crewmembers of the Jolly Roger (Mullins, Mason, Starkey, Billy Jukes, and Cookson) are given distinct personalities and character development. But none could ever hope to overshadow their menacing captain. A real force to be reckoned with, Hook is a powerful, temperamental, cultured, intelligent, and charming pirate with an insatiable thirst for vengeance. Excellent writing and fantastic acting on the part of voice actor Tim Curry (who won a well-deserved Emmy for his remarkable work) make Hook such a cool villain that Peter Pan becomes even more amazing for defeating him time and again.”
Cybersix (Entire series)
(From Wikipedia): “The evil and psychotic Dr. Von Reichter, a member of the SS and the Nazi party, is an expert in genetic engineering. He initially began his work in concentration camps during World War II, implanting cybernetic organs in the bodies of dead prisoners in an attempt to bring them back to life to serve in the Führer’s army. However, the Allied forces intervened to defeat the Nazis, so he fled to South America, where he once again continued his sinister experiments.
From one of his experiments emerged the Cyber Series – artificial humanoids possessing superhuman strength and agility. But something was amiss: The 5000 original Cybers, engineered to be the perfect servants, mimicked human emotions too closely, displaying free will of their own. When they began disobeying their creator, Von Reichter ordered all of the Cyber Series to be destroyed. By this time, Cyber-29 had already died in a playtime accident when he fell from a tree (a cliff in the animated series), but Von Reichter managed to transfer the dead child’s brain into the body of a panther to be reborn as Data-7. Cyber-6 was the only true Cyber to survive the massacre, escaping with the help of a black slave who hid her away in a fishing village. When the slave was later interrogated and killed by Von Reichter, Cybersix escaped once again and made her way to the fictitious city of Meridiana, where she adopted the identity of a boy killed in a car wreck, Adrian Seidelman, and now battles her evil creator and his minions.
Like all of Von Reichter’s creations, Cybersix depends on a mysterious life-giving fluid called “Sustenance”. When her supply ran out, she was forced to prowl the city, hunting other creatures of Von Reichter’s creation, such as Frankenstein’s-monster-like “Fixed Ideas” or the more human-like “Technos”, to murder them and take their Sustenance to survive. Almost by accident, she became a hero by defending the people of her city from Von Reichter’s malevolent plans, often carried out by his cloned “son” José. Along the way, she meets the resurrected Data-7, as well as a young boy named Julian, and falls in love with biology teacher/reporter Lucas Amato, while her male alter-ego, Adrian, became the object of affection of one of “his” students.”
That synopsis is really more for the original comic book series published in Italy between 1992 and 1994. The 13-part animated series obviously has some differences between it and the comic, but I’ll have to watch the show to give a proper explanation if this Wikipedia entry is inaccurate to the show.
The Cybersix series is currently available for pre-order on a new DVD release from the wonderful Discotek Media, and will be released within the next two months.
Doing a complete 180*, and retconning the previous film, Fievel Goes West, we are taken back to New York city where Tanya has become a low level employee at her local newspaper, and Fievel and Tony have become friends with a local archeologist. The archeologist, named Dr. Dithering, believes that there is a lost civilization of Native American mice living deep below New York; and he plans to venture forth into the caverns of an old subway in order to find it. Fievel, Tony and Tiger, of course join along for the ride.
Being one of the last American projects (other than Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker) I know of to be outsourced to TMS, this is the most recent production to include their signature foreign animation style. Surprisingly it’s a lot older now than I thought: 1998 actually. I had previously thought it was from 2002 or 2003.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
(From RottenTomatoes.com): “The young protégé of one of the world’s greatest superheroes has his first encounter with an old nemesis in this direct-to-video feature adapted from the popular animated series Batman Beyond. Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) has taken over the crime-fighting responsibilities of Batman from aging Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy), but while Terry has learned a great deal from Wayne, he’s never heard the startling truth about Batman’s final encounter with his arch-enemy, The Joker (Mark Hamill). However, when The Joker returns to Gotham City as vicious as ever, Wayne decides that it’s time that the new Batman learned all there is to know about the green-faced terror before he can bring the city to its knees — especially after Bruce is attacked by his one-time rival. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker also features the voice talents of Melissa Joan Hart and Angie Harmon. Upon its initial release, the movie sparked some controversy among Batman Beyond fans because of last-minute edits that toned down the violence level. However, it was eventually released on DVD in an uncut format.” ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Although this film is on this list, and does have a similar movement to their previous work, it is probably the least like TMS’s regular style that appears on this list; due to the slightly more limited animation, and Batman Beyond’s particular art-style, which was typical to the DC universe animated productions at the time.
The school year is over, and the students of ACME Looniversity are eager to get out for Summer Vacation. However, their plans for summer fun go awry, and Plucky Duck finds himself on a dismal and torturous car ride with the Pig family on their way to HappyWorld Land; while Buster and Babs are sent down river on an over-turned table, where they meet up with a wide array of disreputable characters.
The rest of the cast has their own little tale to tell, and it all wraps up with the Tiny Toons returning to school for the new academic year.
Yacko, Wakko, and Dot are lowly and poor citizens of town of Acme Falls in the Kingdom of Warnerstock. Dot at one point is stricken with a terminal illness, and so Wakko attempts to get a job out of town in order to make enough money to pay for an operation for her. But when his only hey-penny is taken away by Baron Von Plotz, Wakko wishes upon a star in desperation. But of course, the wishing star turns out to be real, and it falls to Earth just a few dozen miles outside of Acme Falls. At that point, everyone in town, including the evil King of Warnerstock can see the glow of the star, and they all set off to claim it as their own wish; many individuals putting up traps to prevent the rest of making it any further.
There are gags and jokes abound as usual. But the interesting thing about this film is that it attempts to be more serious and emotionally charged for the first hour or so, before switching entirely to humorous antics once the Warners come into direct contact with King Salazar, the Pushy.
Something else of note is that it appears this movie’s narrative was modelled after the personal opinions of the production staff over the Time Inc. and Warner Brothers merger. Which is why the evil neighboring Kingdom to Warnerstock is called Ticktockia.
Lupin III: Part 1 (Entire series, Oct. 1971 – Mar. 1972)
Put into production after the success of the Lupin the Third Pilot film (1969), Lupin III: Part I tells the exploits of the titular world-class master thief, Lupin, as he steals countless priceless items from the rich and the wealthy with the help of his cohorts: Daisuke Jigen, Goremon Ishikawa; and his on-again off-again girlfriend/rival, Fujiko Mine. All the while, Lupin and the gang are pursued by the relentless Inspector Zenigata, who has an international warrant out for Lupin’s arrest.
Hayao Miyazaki and his friend Isao Takahata were brought on 6 episodes in to change up the style and pacing of the series. Which did end up softening the personalities and the subject matter of the show. Lupin was normally a playboy and a very gutter-minded character in the original mangas. But it is perhaps Miyazaki and Takahata who helped change Lupin’s image into a more TV friendly persona, and a more likable one. This would carry over into almost all future Lupin projects.
Lupin III: Part 2/Shin Lupin III (Entire series, Oct. 1977 – 1980)
Lupin the Third enjoyed mild success in its first television run in 1971 and 72, but it was only because of the box-office returns for the live-action Lupin movie from 1974, that allowed this animated sequel series to be possible.
Upon its return to television a couple of things were changed while the basic structure remained: Lupin’s outfit was now violet with a Red Jacket, Inspector Zenigata was more clumsy and bumbling, and a new composer by the name of Yuji Ohno was brought on to define a new sound and signature theme for Lupin. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Ohno went on to compose the music and theme songs for almost 85% of all Lupin series and films produced after this point; all the way up to present day, with a total of over 35 years of music produced for the Lupin franchise.
Lupin III: Part 3 (Entire series, Mar. 1984 – Dec. 1985)
Another drastic change of style, Part 3 saw multiple artistic shifts throughout the 50 episode run; eventually going from a more straight and sturdy style to a squishy and almost formless cartoony style. This cartoony style is often ridiculed by Western fans as the worst art style the franchise has ever had, and unfortunately it found its way into the feature film The Legend of the Gold of Babylon, which I will feature later on this list.
Other significant changes include Lupin’s jacket color, which is now bright pink with a turquoise dress shirt and orange tie. Zenigata’s trench-coat is now a bizarre soy-bean green color. And unlike most other interpretations of the character, Jigen’s eyes are more frequently seen throughout the series, whereas normally his fedora covers them completely.
Sherlock Hound (Entire series, in Co-Production with RAI)
The name pretty much says it all: It’s Sherlock Holmes as if he was played by an anthropomorphic dog. In fact, everyone is a dog in this universe. It is also effectively a children’s anime, due to the fact that every single episode results in Professor Moriarty being the mastermind behind the crimes.
But while it does leave much to be desired plot-wise, the animation is beautiful, even when it’s not specifically Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (who only directed 6 of the 26 episodes). And the sparkly 1980s synth infused jazzy music is incredibly charming, especially the opening and ending themes.
A Dog of Flanders (Oct. 1992 – Mar. 27, 1993)
Detective Conan (Entire series, 18+ years, from Jan. 8, 1996 – Present Day.)
The young, but highly skilled prodigy detective, Jimmy Kudo (Shinichi Kudo) is the prime consultant for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. But after a run-in with two shady characters named Gin and Vodka, Jimmy is transformed by an experimental poison into an eight-year-old boy. Now he must hide his true identity from his girlfriend, Rachel Moore (Ran Mouri), and live under the name Conan Edigawa; as he secretly helps Rachel’s father Richard (Kogoro) build up his private detective reputation, in order to search for clues to the men that poisoned him.
Sadly the show was so popular that it fell to the same illness that Pokemon suffers from: Eternally Youthful Disease. Meaning that no matter how long the series goes for, no matter how many hundreds of episodes and films are produced; the main premise of the franchise will never be resolved because the fans think that a child detective and an unending relationship tease between Jimmy and Rachel is too awesome not to resolve. And so just like Pokemon, the 18 year old Jimmy trapped in an eight-year-old’s body… never gets any older.
Monster Rancher (Apr. – Sep. 2000)
(From Wikipedia): “The story follows a boy named Genki Sakura, who is a keen player of the Monster Rancher video games. After winning a tournament hosted by the game’s creators, Genki wins a special CD that he can use to unlock a special monster in his game at home. However, upon using this disk in his game console, he finds himself transported to a world of monsters that, much like Genki’s game, are given life by scanning special stone disks within temples. There, he meets a girl named Holly, who is seeking a stone disk containing a legendary Phoenix that will save the land from the tyranny of an evil ruler named Moo. Upon attempting to use the disk Genki had won to try and release the monster, they bring forth a different sort of monster, which Genki names Mocchi. Wanting to free the land from Moo’s rule, Genki, Holly, Mocchi and their other monster companions go on a quest to find the stone disk that contains the Phoenix.”
Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (2012, all 13 episodes)
This incarnation of the Lupin franchise takes a departure from the rest and decides to tell the origin story of Lupin and the gang from the perspective of the femme-fetale, Fujiko Mine. It’s a wholly new take on the origin compared to both the original manga and the 2002 TV Special, Episode Zero: First Contact.
This short mini-series is also the darkest, grittiest, and most raunchy the franchise has ever been on screen; and it goes for a more psychological/philosophical approach to its narrative, often becoming a tad pretentious at parts.
Also, if you’ve ever seen the anime film Redline, this series was both animated (he oversaw the animation department) and designed by its director, Takeshi Koike.
Kamisama Kiss (2012, all 26 episodes)
(From Funimation.com): “Nanami was just a normal high school girl down on her luck until a stranger’s lips marked her as the new Land God and turned her world upside down. Now, she’s figuring out the duties of a deity with the help of Tomoe, a reformed fox demon who reluctantly becomes her familiar in a contract sealed with a kiss. The new responsibilities—and boys—are a lot to handle, like the crow demon masquerading as a gorgeous pop idol and the adorable snake spirit who’s chosen the newly minted god to be his bride. As the headstrong Tomoe tries to whip her into shape, Nanami finds that love just might have cute, pointed fox ears. With romance in the air, will the human deity be able to prove herself worthy of her new title?”
Panda! Go, Panda! (1972) and Panda! Go, Panda!: The Rainy Day Circus (1973, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata)
Lupin III VS Clone [a.k.a. The Mystery of Mamo] (1978)
A departure from the more sane and somewhat more grounded Lupin stories, The Mystery of Mamo turns out be a film modeled after 2001: A Space Odyseey and The Twilight Zone, in that its story and premise are fantastically grand and outlandish, with just a hint of Salvador Dali-like nonsense thrown in. In fact, Dali’s paintings show up in the film as backgrounds, if you can believe it.
The story is this: Lupin is pronounced dead. Zenigata travels to an old Transylvanian castle where Lupin is buried, in order to drive a stake through his heart just to make sure he’s really dead. But it turns out Lupin isn’t dead, and that the Lupin that was hanged was somehow a clone. We later find out that Fujiko has asked Lupin to go search for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, and that she was asked by an eccentric trillionaire to ask Lupin to find it. This secretive philanthropist goes by the name of Mamo, and even upon first glance, he is not what he seems. The rest of the film descends into madness from there.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Possibly the most famous of all the Lupin films, this was Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut on a feature film. Originally it was abhorred by the Lupin fanbase back in 1979, due to its highly censored and almost Disney-fied version of the Lupin characters. But since that time, it has grown into the most popular and most well-beloved of the franchise; and has garnered an immense collection of books, toys, games, and other memorabilia rivaling even that of the most famous Disney films.
The story is this: Lupin and his partner Jigen succeed in pilfering large bag-fulls of money from the Monaco Casino, and they race across the border with the money in toe. Except of course, Lupin soon realizes that the money is all counterfeit, and he knows exactly who produced it: the Count of the small middle-European Duchy of Cagliostro. And so Lupin and Jigen set off to the Count’s castle, only to get caught in the middle of a car chase between the Count’s bride-to-be and the Count’s henchmen. Lupin tries but fails to save the girl after she runs off again, and so he makes camp at the nearby old castle ruins in order to start devising a plan that will not only rescue the Lady Clarisse, but shut down the Count’s counterfeit operation for good.
It’s a wonderfully charming and elegant film that proves Miyazaki was at the top of his game even before the great Studio Ghibli was born. And it happens to be my favorite film of all time.
Chie the Brat [Film and TV series] (1981, directed by Isao Takahata)
(From AnimeNewsNetwork.com): “Chie Takemoto is a dependable girl who struggles to help her troublesome father run a small tavern in Osaka. Unbeknown to her dad, she occasionally visits her mother who left him not too long ago. She plans on trying to reunite them, but not until her father gets a job.”
Space Adventure Cobra (1982)
(From Rightstuf.com): “Seeking reprieve from a painfully ordinary 9-to-5 existence, mild-mannered office worker Johnson visits the TM Corporation, a company that sells virtual dreams. In Johnson’s dream adventure, he’s the notorious space pirate Cobra! Accompanied by his android partner Lady Armaroid, Cobra fights the lowlife scum of the Pirate Guild by day and saves sultry sirens of space by night. After the journey is over, events unfold that bring reality into focus. His experience wasn’t a dream at all – it was a reawakening of his buried past!
With the most feared weapon in the universe, the Psycho Gun, Cobra sets out into the galaxy in pursuit of love, fortune and fame!”
Sounds suspiciously like Total Recall. Makes me want to check out the movie all the more now that I know that’s what plot.
Lupin III: The Legend of the Gold of Babylon (1985)
Possibly even more bizarre than The Mystery of Mamo, Gold of Babylon sees Lupin and the gang going up against a young hot-shot rich-kid on the hunt for the legendary golden tower of Babylon. But as Lupin digs further into the history of this great structure, he finds that there may be some truth to the rumor that aliens brought it to Earth, and now they are on their way to reclaim it.
But you want to know the weirdest thing you’ll see in this movie? Lupin and Zenigata spontaneously spur a motorcycle chase between each other, in which they ride their bikes along steel gerters, back alleys, roof-tops, suspension wires, and the face of a giant female robotic billboard.
I just… huh? WHAT IS THIS, I Don’t Even?!
But no, seriously, it’s one of the most amazing things you will ever see.
If you don’t know what the story is about, then let me attempt to break it down for you. A secret government lab has been making extensive experiments on children and young people who possess great potential power in their minds and bodies, and have been attempting to help these children harness their power and control it. But the return of Akira is near at hand, and one particular young man by the name of Tetsuo has just become the new unlucky recipient of these powers. Tetsuo soon begins to run amok, killing dozens of people, destroying enormous amounts of property, and by the end has become so powerful that his body can no longer hold itself together: and so he expands into an amorphous gelatinous mass of muscle, organs and tendons: lurching out and enveloping anything he touches.
It’s a very psychologically heavy plot with philosophical jargon and symbolism which may make your head hurt trying to make sense of it. It’s not a very clear film, but has become a cult phenomenon and a seminal anime blockbuster because of its animation, which is why it is most certainly on this list of TMS’s achievements: even if they weren’t the sole animation production house.
Lupin III: The Plot of the Fuma Clan (1988)
Directed by the Co-Director of The Castle of Cagliostro, this film decides to focus more on the life and love of our resident Samurai, Goemon Ishikawa. Goemon is due to be married, but complications arise when his fiance’s sacred family urn is stolen by the Fuma Ninja clan. And so Goemon vows that he cannot marry his bride-to-be, Murasaki, until that urn is returned. So Lupin and Jigen head out after Goemon in order to help him in his quest.
You can find everything you need to know about this film in my Animated and Underrated Review, right here: Little Nemo REVIEW
Lupin III: Farewell to Nostradamus (1995)
Lupin III: Dead or Alive (1996)
The Princess and the Pilot (2011, co-production with Madhouse)
Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie (2013)
Lupin the 3rd: Daisuke Jigen’s Gravestone (2014)