Monkey Punch, a Japanese cartoonist who was best known as the creator of the internationally popular Japanese anime and manga crime spoof Lupin III, died April 11 in Sakura, Japan. He was 81.
The cause was pneumonia, his company, MP Pictures, announced. Monkey Punch’s real name was Kazuhito Kato.
The Lupin III series, in the Japanese cartoon tradition known as manga, chronicled the escapades of master thief Arsène Lupin III, grandson of Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief in Maurice Leblanc’s detective novels of the early 20th century.
Monkey Punch’s manga creation, always resplendent in his bright red sport jacket, spawned at least six animated television series, eight animated feature films, two live-action feature films, two musicals and several video games.
The series spoofed spy and detective fiction and martial arts movies as Lupin and his gang — gunman Daisuke Jigen (modeled on actor James Coburn), sword master Goemon Ishikawa and sexy beauty Fujiko Mine — match wits with Zenigata, an Interpol detective they continually elude.
“The Castle of Cagliostro” (1979), one of the most successful Lupin III movies, was the feature directorial debut of animator Hayao Miyazaki and was loosely based on Leblanc’s “The Countess of Cagliostro.”
“It’s noticeable that the film’s European characters often fall back on courtly Japanese mannerisms,” critic Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times. “And much of the dialogue (‘Freeze, female rat!’ ‘My sword is thirsty tonight!’) has a martial-arts ring.”
Monkey Punch himself directed the 1996 animated film “Lupin III: Dead or Alive.”
For several years, because of copyright claims by Leblanc’s estate, the character was renamed Edgar, the Burglar Detective, in France, and Wolf or Rupan in Great Britain and the United States.
When Monkey Punch premiered the comic feature in 1967, he intended it for adult readers. The relatively explicit depictions of sex and violence in manga contrasted with the later family-friendly film and television series. Throughout the books, Lupin III and the cartoonist break the fourth wall, making dark and cynical ripostes to the reader.
“Those familiar with the animated television series of Lupin III should already know at least two things about this international man of mystery: He never kills anyone — no matter how bad they are — and that he is prone to beautiful chicks, but never scores,” a Daily Yomiuri critic wrote in a 2003 review. “But if you have these impressions from the television series, you will be surprised and puzzled when you read the comic book. . . . First of all, he kills people — not just a few, but many.”
The reviewer added, “Lupin is a coldblooded master thief who can steal two tons’ worth of heavy machinery without being noticed. But he is not free from weaknesses, one of them being a weakness for women, a shortcoming that is said to be passed down from generation to generation in the Lupin clan.”
Monkey Punch reportedly told his younger fans to watch Lupin on television but to read the comic books only when they become high school students.
Kazuhito Kato was born on May 26, 1937, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, where his father was a fisherman. He debuted as a professional cartoonist in 1965 while working part time at a bookstore. He adopted the pen name Monkey Punch soon after the Lupin series started in the Weekly Manga Action magazine.
In later years, he adapted to the digital revolution, studying animation in multimedia formats at a graduate school and teaching at a university in Nishinomiya, Japan.
Information about survivors was not available.
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