Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jun 28th 2014
Lupin the 3rd: The Hemingway Papers
Legend has it that before he died Ernest Hemingway wrote a one final tale. In it he revealed the location of an ancient treasure, stumbled upon during his travels. Naturally, this interests Lupin III, thief extraordinaire. The difficulty is that the story itself is sealed in an unbreakable box, somewhere on the war-torn island of Colcaca, and that the key is in the hands of unscrupulous arms dealer Marces. Undeterred, Lupin heads—Lupin-style—to the island, where he promptly gets on the wrong side of the local powers and mixed up with a beautiful revolutionary. He also finds Jigen and Goemon, on-island for their own disparate reasons, and naturally where there's the scent of treasure, Fujiko can't be far behind. Let the con begin!
Hemingway Papers is not trying to transcend the Lupin franchise the way Hayao Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro did. And it's not trying to deepen or darken it the way, say, Dead or Alive or, more recently, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine tried. No, Hemingway is standard Lupin: a feature-length caper in which our favorite thief gets in bad with some nasty folk, foments all manner of trouble, and comes away with the loot in the end. (In a fashion at least). It's Lupin as it always (or generally) is. Which is to say, wacky, wildly improbable, and overall just heaps of fun.
This time friend Lupin is after an undefined treasure, the keys to which lay in an embattled Mediterranean island and a series of European vaults. Which is really just an excuse to get Lupin into trouble in exotic locales—to break into castles and Swiss banks, drive motorcycles into murderous seaplanes, and leap out of jets, sailing into the middle of a warzone aboard a suitcase/emergency glider. After which he, two would-be despots, an embittered ex-guerilla, and a slippery arms wholesaler chase each other and the clues to the Hemingway Papers all over Colcaca, everyone trying to gain the advantage while simultaneously trying to off one another.
What ensues is classic Lupin mayhem, replete with exploding bars, pretty snipers, impossible heists, horseback escapes, and rescues via earthmover. Armies clash, enemies make and break queasy alliances, and everyone spends a lot of time screwing up, stabbing each other in the back, and either getting away by the skin of their teeth or buying the farm in ironic ways. Jigen gets into shootouts that range from the OK Corral to tightly-choreographed Tsui Hark madness. There's some Thunderdome business in an improbable natural coliseum, and a finale where luck, quick thinking, and overenthusiastic enemies unleash the powers of a place aptly named the Valley of Death.
In short, it's delirious, delightful nonsense. A high-spirited goof on the cheap, psychedelic James Bond rip-offs that were proliferating during the franchise's main run; bizarre, over-active, and very funny, with just a touch of deadly unpredictability and secret smarts. It's impossible to watch Zenigata practice his honed brand of surreal ineptitude, or to watch how Jigen and Goemon handle being on opposite sides of a civil war, or to see Lupin playing the gleeful agent provocateur—laughing and prodding at the center of the chaos, waiting to ride the wave of destruction and betrayal to the loot—without unforced delight. Delight that is only heightened by the little grace-notes: the glimmer of social conscience in its portrayal of first-world greed in third-world conflicts; the deft play on our preconceptions about who is dangerous and who's a joke; the beautiful little moment when principled bartender Maria accuses Lupin of being the same as the treasure-hunting vultures wrecking her homeland, to which, after a telling pause, Lupin simply replies: "Probably."
As with several other Lupin TV specials of its time, Hemingway was directed by highly-regarded industry veteran Osamu Dezaki. If you know your Lupin and you know your Dezaki, you know what you're getting here, stylistically speaking. You get your standard Lupin designs: lanky, with big hands and skinny arms and long faces, equipped with an arsenal of wonderfully cartoony expressions. Pointy shoulders. Lovingly detailed guns and vehicles. The familiar stable of Lupin actors, having their usual grand fun. From Dezaki you get his usual professionalism and customary stylistic quirks—detailed, painterly freeze-frames; expressive lighting; split frames; canny uses of repeated animation, speed lines, and cheap zooms. He handles the usual handful of (warmly familiar) Lupin musical themes adroitly. He assembles loony action with expert clarity. He delivers wacko humor with restraint—playing the gags straight and letting the oft-hilarious art speak for itself. He makes good use of real-life settings, and is just generally the old, grizzled pro that he is. Or was. He is, tragically, now passed away. Raw animation quality hovers somewhere in the OVA range and is gloriously hand-drawn.
This is an Eastern Star release and is thus as stripped-down a it can be. Or so you'd assume. In most ways it is. There's no dub and the packaging is minimalist. But this time there is an extra, and it's a good one: a punishingly informative commentary track featuring the mellifluous voice and exhaustive knowledge of ANN's own Mike Toole and the less mellifluous but also eminently knowledgeable Reed Nelson (of LupintheThird.com). The subtitles are better than some—quite good in fact—but the occasional embarrassing typo does get past the proofreaders. When caught trying to snipe one of her island's would-be rulers, Maria claims she's only up there in the mountains "to shoot some peasants to feed to my guests." I'm not sure the guests would appreciate that.
So, yes, The Hemingway Papers is boilerplate Lupin. And boilerplate with its own unsightly rusty spots too. Fujiko really is nothing more than a pretty face this time around, Zenigata is given no substantial role, and choosing Hemingway to give the treasure hunt its aura of mystery and myth was pretty foolish. Papa Hemingway would probably spit on Lupin and its dippy excesses. But why grouse? Plunk your butt down, dial down the brain-noise, and get ready to have yourself a grand old time.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ The good 'ol Lupin fun-fix, well-directed and with just the right amount of bite.
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