One of the most fascinating phenomena in film is the animated cartoon: elastic, threatening, inanimate yet agitated - the cartoon is an art form with very few parallels. What can seem confounding, however, is when live action films seek to imitate the cartoon. How can “real” actors emulate the raw madness, the infinite potential for everything imagined, that a drawing can possess?
Drawings are unique in that they are directly connected to the brain; and as this art form adjoins the brain, nowhere else can art be so directly connected to potential madness in all its sensual splendor. The only possible filters or censors are the ego and ability of the artist, and later on the nerve of the distributor or producer. This is why animation can seem so terrifying - nowhere else is reality so thin that a character can tear its own head off, then laughingly discourse with its torso while its legs ripple hideously. If this does happen in live action, it’s usually due to the touch of an animator, or with the sinewy puppetry of animation’s inbred cousin, special effects.
So it is rare when films come along that seek to emulate animation’s dynamic quality, and pull it off successfully. It is even rarer when the tricks they use to do it are limited to in-camera devices and the physicality of the actors alone. In this respect, Lupin III: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy (or Rupan Sansei: Nenrikichan Sakusen) from 1974 is quite a find. Based on Monkey Punch’s famous manga, Lupin III, the film finds its charm in broad slapstick, stunts, and contrived situations that are generally done without use of the special effects department. All of Melies’s tricks are employed here: split screen, double exposure, and jump cuts are all used to comic effect. But the treats this film conceals are not limited to camera tricks alone.
The basic plot of the film is that Lupin III, a naughty trickster raised in a Catholic orphanage (who spent much of his time peeking up nuns’s skirts and boosting the sacramental wine), has fallen in love with an extremely greedy thief named Fujiko who seems pretty ambiguous when it comes to Lupin III’s attentions, and forgoing the usual candy and flowers, wants Lupin III to pull off a big heist for her. To complicate things, Jigen, a gunslinging mafioso footsoldier, arrives to inform Lupin III that his father, Lupin II, had a huge mafia empire stretching across the globe that now needs Lupin III’s guiding hand.