Forty years on from Hayao Miyazaki's ('Spirited Away') enduring debut feature 'The Castle of Cagliostro', its timeless protagonist and serial Manga character Lupin III returns in his first CG-animated film, 'Lupin the Third: The First'. It's been 23 years since Lupin was last on the big screen, and it's an overall stylish and welcome return for the world's greatest thief.
Even those who merely dabble in Japanese Anime and Manga will be familiar with Lupin III, who made his start in 1967, and has gone one to become one of Japan's most recognisable and infamous characters. For those who are not familiar, I will give a short overview of the premise, although it must be said that minimal knowledge is needed for this film.
Created by the recently deceased Monkey Punch, Lupin III is the grandson of Frenchman Arsne Lupin, he himself a famous gentleman thief. Lupin's right-hand man is Jigen, a marksman of the highest talent. They also often work with Geomon, a master swordsman of few spoken words. There is also Fujiko, the sometimes love interest and sometimes double-crosser to Lupin, a handy thief in her own right. Lupin and his gang are always being chased by Interpol inspector Zenigata, who is determined to catch Lupin in the act and put him behind bars - a task that proves ever impossible.
Credit to director and writer Takashi Yamazaki ('Always: Sunset on Third Street') and the team behind 'Lupin the Third: The First', because even though there is some assumed knowledge of these characters and there is no backstory given in the film, anyone can pick it up pretty quickly, as they make it extremely accessible for any newcomers. That is one of the many shining lights of this enjoyable film: that it manages to both stay true to the canon and themes of the series, but that it equally manages to bring a fresh feel and invites a new audience to discover the characters.
Even if you are not interested in watching all 300 TV episodes, reading the hundreds of comics, playing the video games or buying all the merchandise, this latest adventure is still worth your time. Think of all the best bits of Indiana Jones, Tintin, James Bond and 'National Treasure', and you've got one hell of a ride.
Lupin's latest escapades see him try to steal the Bresson Diary, a diary with all the maps and secrets to uncovering a treasure, the "Eclipse". However, Lupin is not the only one searching for this secret treasure, as the now-underground Nazi cabal, Ahnenerbe, are hot on his heels. The film follows all the beats and standard tropes one would expect from this genre type, and the film essentially plays out by moving from set-piece to set-piece. I always have time for an anti-Nazi treasure hunt adventure flick - and this is no exception. The film's antagonist even has a scar on his eye to go with his evil German accent. Obvious parallels to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' will undoubtedly be made, especially when things get a little supernatural in the third act, and it was impossible not to think about it during the film, but nevertheless, 'Lupin the Third: The First' proves to be a fun and engaging film in its own right.
One of the many shining lights of this enjoyable film is that it manages to both stay true to the canon and themes of the series, and that it equally manages to bring a fresh feel and invites a new audience to discover the characters.
One of the things working against this film is that, unfortunately, most audiences will not be able to catch this on the big screen. The animation is glorious and the action set-pieces are truly stylish and bombastic, however they just don't play as well when sitting at home. I would also like to try this film again with the Japanese voice cast, because as well the English actors did, the poor dubbing did take some getting used to and was often distracting. You eventually forget about it, thanks mainly to the wonderful voice work from Anime stalwarts Tony Oliver as Lupin, and Laurie Hymes as the spirited archeology student Laetitia. The dialogue itself feels very uninspired and often lacks the rhythm necessary to instil the rush of blood an adventure of this calibre deserves, but it can be mostly forgiven with the colourful visuals on screen.
There are very few surprises along the way, especially the major plot twist which can be spotted a mile away, but there is something here for everyone to enjoy. The script doesn't veer far away from the series to please even the most die-hard of fans, and the cartoon-like style of the animation is both fun and eye-catching. 'Lupin the Third: The First' boasts an excellent combination of what makes the series so popular - it's goofy, serious, adventurous - and dare I say, sexy. What else could you ask for?
Questions were raised when it was announced that Lupin would make his way into CG animation - but fear not fans, dedicated to the memory of the creator Monkey Punch, 'Lupin the Third: The First' makes a seamless transition. There's little here for fans not to enjoy, and although it's certainly not going to blow the mind of any newcomers, it's a fun introduction to the world's greatest gentleman thief, Lupin.