Lupin the 3rd Special: Hayao Miyazaki on LaserDisc
"New Lupin the 3rd Special" will be instantly recognizable to Lupin and Hayao Miyazaki fans. This laserdisc release from Japan includes the two Lupin Series Two episodes personally directed by Miyazaki. While at this time, he worked at the Telecom animation studio behind the scenes (alongside longtime friend and alum Yasuo Otsuka), guiding and mentoring the younger animators, only two episodes were directed by him. They are, needless to say, the series' two best episodes: "Albatross: Wings of Death" and "Farewell, Beloved Lupin."
As we have come to expect from LaserDisc, the packaging is superb. The large 12" canvas allows for greater variety in artwork, illustrations, and screenshots. It's also nice to see the title written in English ("New Lupin the Third," or Shin Lupin, was the formal name to the second series, which ran from 1976-80).
You will notice the director's names listed on the cover. Hayao Miyazaki, for reasons not entirely made clear, used a pen name for these episodes, instead of his own. Was this because his two most recent directorial works, 1978's Future Boy Conan and 1979's Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, were both commercial failures? Did he or the studio bosses feel the Miyazaki name was no longer bankable, years after the great triumphs of Heidi and Marco? These are questions we are left to debate and contemplate.
It seems inconceivable that the name "Hayao Miyazaki" would be considered risky or unprofitable, but the period of 1978-1983 is a very difficult time for the director. If we were to present his entire 50-year career as a five-act drama, this would be Act III. It is a time of hardship and difficulty, as multiple animated projects either fail to become hits (Conan, Cagliostro), are formally retired (Lupin Series Two), or are scuttled before completion (Sherlock Hound). Miyazaki also prepared story ideas for My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke (the first version), only to be stymied as no producer or studio was willing to accept. By 1983, after a final failure involving the trans-Pacific Nemo film project, Hayao Miyazaki's animation career appeared all but finished.
But this period is also creatively fruitful, as Miyazaki works with a stable crew of artists and animators with Nippon Animation and Telecom. The same crew is responsible for Future Boy Conan, Castle of Cagliostro, the Lupin Series Two episodes, and Sherlock Hound. That gives these works a consistency, a solid foundation. We see Miyazaki maturing as a director, perfecting the cliffhanger adventure serials that define the first half of his career (Animal Treasure Island was often cited as an influence for the Telecom animators like Kazuhide Tomonaga and Yoshifumi Kondo). And we're seeing the maturity brought about by Heidi, Marco, and Anne in Miyazaki's work. Future Boy Conan feels like the idea halfway point, doesn't it, between his younger, adventurous works and his older, serious works at Studio Ghibli?
This period shows Hayao Miyazaki in transition, approaching middle age, struggling to define himself, and searching for new directions. The years of struggle will eventually pay off, spectacularly, in 1984 with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, which not only revived his animation career, but reinvented it as well. And so these Lupin the 3rd episodes can be seen as a path to that destination - Rubber Soul en route to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.