Anime's favorite thief is back in a shiny, three-dimensional form. Director and writer Takashi Yamazaki is no stranger to bringing beloved franchises into CG animation. He previously helmed the blockbuster Stand By Me Doraemon and Lupin III THE FIRST is looking to continue his successful streak of releases.
This movie is available for streaming on demand
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the movie ahead.
Hey, Jean-Karlo!! Is that a brand new heart-warming and exciting action-adventure film, animated in stunning CG and fun for the whole family I see? Yes?? pulls off mask
Ah, It's Lupin!!
This week, Nicky and I are pleased to discuss one of the most-fun films I've seen all year: Lupin III THE FIRST, Lupin's first-ever all-CG animated film. I don't know where to start with this thing other than by just excitedly screeching "LUPIN" over and over like a chorus of singers from the 1970s.
Directed by the ambitious Takashi Yamazaki
, produced by Marza Animation Planet
and TMS Entertainment
, and brought to you to our small screens by GKIDS
, this Lupin
film asks: if this titular thief can change up his suit jackets and still remain an icon, why not change up his medium? But can this switch to CG make Monkey Punch
's creation steal his way into the hearts of even more households? Let's find out!
"And while we're at it, why not turn the dial from 'Hey, it's Jigen!' to 'He-llo
, Jigen~!'" Never thought I'd be so happy someone had the chutzpah to show us what Lupin's polycule-buddy keeps under his hat...
Dehydration aside, yeah, it really bears mentioning how phenomenally this movie has adapted Lupin and company into 3D. While the recent Blue Jacket Lupin is known for a return to the edgier, more-hard boiled and grounded stories that Monkey Punch originally wrote, this movie specifically uses the Red Jacket/Yellow Tie Lupin of the movies and specials. This film takes great advantage of everyone's animated body language and the result is just stunning when you can tear your eyes away from Jigen's knowing smirk...
Well besides Jigen's literal facelift, I'd say the whole cast gets a pretty good CG makeover treatment. While in The West™ we've seen some classic cartoons successfully make their way over to CG-er pastures in order to appeal to bigger audiences (e.g. The Peanuts
) there's also a lot of room for error as 3D tries to adapt more and more established 2D properties. Hollywood may have more resources to be successful at this, but the same is not always true over in Japan. However, it's really nice to see Lupin
get this kind of prestige treatment.
The design for this film was so on-point that it's easy to see why people believed the rumor that it was only the intro that looked this good. I know I bought it; I can't remember the last 2D-to-3D jump that was this good.
seems to be really talented at this kind of stuff. I really enjoyed his other Pixar-level design work on stuff like the Dragon Quest: Your Story
movie and I'm happy to report the animation in this film is snappy as hell to match the moves of this smooth group of criminals.
However, if you have a good memory and have been an active TWIA reader you'd also remember that the story of that Dragon Quest
film left MUCH to be desired, so the animation wasn't really my primary concern going into this. After all, it takes more than just good looks to win me over.
I'm a simple nerd, and I love it when established characters Do The Thing™: Kamen Rider Faiz
flicking his wrist after transforming, Sonic the Hedgehog wagging his finger, Goku giving a salute and saying "Hi, I'm Goku!". Lupin
's many forays into film have been hit-or-miss, but as far as I'm concerned this movie Did All The Things™️ and also had a good story to go with it. The sight of Lupin's little yellow Fiat 500 is enough for my brain to produce the serotonin, but I'm definitely glad that this movie took the pain to make a statement. God knows those boxers would have been enough for any Lupin
film, but Yamazaki had greater ambitions than just making Another Lupin
Yeah, I think even on the scale of "animated Lupin
movies", this one gets quite up there while still trying to maintain a tone light and simple enough for the kiddos but somewhat edgier with some pulpy elements for the adults. Which is something I respect a lot from Lupin
as a property: there's enough leniency with both to have fun no matter who you are.
Nothing quite so approachable as "The Gang Clowns On Nazis", after all!
See, it turns out there's an artifact called the Bresson Diary that Lupin is after—a book so well-protected even his grandfather couldn't steal it. But this book is also coveted by a cell of Nazis who think it'll lead to a treasure to restore the Third Reich. Our movie-only character is Laetitia, a young girl with aspirations of being an archeologist who is nevertheless roped into helping Nazis and finds herself swept up into Lupin's adventure.
What a read, huh? 2/3rds of that 90 minutes is build-up trying to crack the spine on this baby keeping the Mysterious McGuffin book that holds all the secrets safe. After Lupin initially fails to nab it, we're swiftly introduced to our heroine working to nab the book for her so-called Grandpa who, unbeknownst to her, is a Nazi who killed her parents and actual grandfather, the renowned archaeologist Bresser.
However, she's pretty much instantly butterfingers in Lupin's hands, who then in turn gets pilfered by Fujiko, as always. Fujicakes is working with the bad guys and plans on backstabbing them for the real prize, also as usual.
Also, Zenigata is there.
Part of what makes the ensuing film so entertaining is that it's just amazing to watch the chaotic spirit that is Lupin clowning on such self-serious, self-absorbed, self-deluded Nazi dolts. You half expect Lupin to throw in a random diss about them having bought their suits at JCPenney for the ultimate put-down.
It also means that it's super-easy to fall in love with Laetitia when her so-called Grandpa turns Evil Step-Parent and tries to crush her dreams at archeology.
I personally find the Nazi-flavoring in this movie in 2020 to be my least favorite part of it. They're still effective villains, and the film sets up so that Grandpa Lambert is particularly evil outside of that because he's also a power-hungry hack, but it feels a little old-school pulp to be using Secret Evil Nazis without really being able to get deeper into what makes them So Bad. Especially when you bring in OLD BUT STILL-ALIVE HITLER into your family film!
has always had these kinds of strange speculative elements, including weirdo Nazi conspiracy-level stuff and even Marvel's Winter Soldier
still did that kind of thing, so it's not a problem I have with this movie specifically, but it might be jarring to some. To it's credit, the film also opens by calling them NAZI FILTH, and it balances the cartoon silliness well while still imposing a level of threat, so I can't say that it doesn't try.
It helps that the big reveal (no, Hitler's not really alive, you fool, you utter dolt, you primped-up loser with a Supercuts haircut
) emphasizes just how pathetic these goose-steppers are when waxing nostalgic about their trumped-up glory days.
Big Shout out to both the Japanese and the English Dub voice actors as well who really push the effectiveness of those one-liners. You have some familiar names here on both ends, but it seems like a really tight script to make work, even if some of the animation is so good, the dub actors have to try even harder to try to match the level of acting presented on screen compared to your typical anime 2-frame lip flaps. It's not 100% synced up all the time, but it still works.
I really wanna give the dub cast credit, because GKids
rounded up what I think are the quintessential Lupin
actors for this go-around. Tony Oliver
is the perfect voice for goofy-Lupin ever since the old days where Lupin III
aired on Adult Swim
. Richard Epcar
is irreplaceable as Jigen. Lex Lang
knows how to make the terse Goemon's one-liners stick. I had to give Michelle Ruff
a moment as Fujiko, not because she was bad but because I had gotten used to Christina Valenzuela's take on the role courtesy of Jigen's Gravestone
. Ruff nailed the role all the same.
Yeah, the gang is all here, and they all have enough to do in the film to make each one of them shine even if it's just for a moment or two. Lupin may be the one in the spotlight but he's nothing without his crew (and Zenigata).
In the first part of the film Jigen and Goemon are notably somewhat absent, as they're only in it for the money and feel like Lupin's new plan is nothing but a farce with no profit, but they still find moments where they really come through later. Doing so also gives a lot of time to flesh out Laetitia, who is genuinely a really good heroine, and the heart of the film.
Gotta give a shout-out to all the starry-eyed women of the world who dream of archaeology. Usula Le Guin would be proud of you! I agree that the extra time with her in the spotlight does worlds for her just not being the Movie Girl In Distress. I still have a hard time saying terribly much about her, but for a one-shot character she's plenty great. The moments where Lupin opens up to her are phenomenal, considering the serial-philanderer that Lupin is.
She's not a super-deep character, but her story is tragic, her ambitions are relatable, and her aspirations to be like her predecessor really highlight Lupin and his aspirations to be like his, which gives lots of good Family vibes. We also get this great shot of the rest of the gang just coolly eavesdropping on the whole thing like the lovable scumbags they are, and it's great.
Hey, can't add someone to the polycule unless everyone's
cool with it. It's a rigorous screening process.
If there's something that turns me off a little it's the nature of the treasure at the end. Like you said earlier, Lupin deals in speculative material all the time (one of the specials had him going to Area 51), but I guess I'm still in love with how the ending to Castle of Cagliostro
handled the idea of a "vast treasure" (literally too big for Lupin to carry in his pocket, even). But if you need a big, bombastic climax to this adventure and you've already hooked us in with great character design and development, I can buy this twist.
I saw some rumblings that the sci-fi nature of the artifact felt out-of-place for Lupin, but I disagree because it's still in the spirit of upping the stakes and setting up for a world of challenge and adventure. The McGuffin doesn't really matter so much as it is a way to put the gang in a jam and see them try to slick their way out of it; whether it be jumping out of a plane or dealing with a DEATH CORRIDOR of lasers. Each of the set-ups really play to the gang's character too so I think it's fun. What's a bit of the fantastical to go with your adventure, eh?
Yeah, if you've got Nazis, you may as well go full Raiders of the Lost Arc. And we can't fault the movie, it succeeds at being exciting!
All the set pieces are as daring as they are gorgeous too. From the streets of Paris to the deserts of Mexico, I think it tries hard to present a little of everything you expect from a good Lupin
I'll also note that even though Lupin
is a storied franchise, and even though me and Jean-Karlo are already indoctrinated to these characters, there's nothing that really stops this movie from being enjoyable to a newcomer either. Most Lupin
Media is pretty standalone since the characters don't really have much backstory to explain but rather seeing how their archetypes fit together to create entertaining rapports, like Lupin flirting with Fujiko, Zenigata trying to catch Lupin, Goemon being a walking anachronism.
Yep. You don't need to have seen Castle of Cagliostro, Mystery of Mamo, or The Woman Named Fujiko Mine to fall in love with the cast, everyone is just immediately recognizable even without decades of pop culture ingraining. Fujiko's the sly, backstabbing libertine. Goemon's the straight guy. Jigen's the irascible partner. It's a snap to get a feel for the cast. Sometimes, you don't need LORE to make characters stick.
There's enough there to make them feel likable regardless of if you already know them or not, and even though most of the cast is a bunch of scoundrel thieves, they're never too mean or extreme. There's not even a whole lot of violence for a Lupin thing that it ever feels like too much for a kid to handle. It's also backed by some killer 70s jazz tunes.
You can modernize things however you want. You can give Jigen a whole face. You can make Goemon look a little like Bruce Lee
But you do not take the jazz out of Lupin. Always on my mind, indeed.
Of course, be it the music or the art, you could tell this movie was in good hands the moment that intro sequence kicked in. The jazzy arrangement of Lupin's theme, the textbook smirk from Lupin before he dodges a hail of gunfire while under a spotlight... It's been a while since I was a kid, but I'd like to think kids would think that's exciting to see.
This movie played in American theaters during a Pandemic for Some Odd Reason (probs has to do with award qualifications), and last year I would've been ecstatic to see if Lupin III
could have an impact on an audience here, but now I think people should do whatever they can to stay safe at home. Also right now, it's not going to reach too many folks directly without a streaming or rent option, but I hope people who already love Lupin
still take the opportunity to spread the good word to their friends and family of this highly accessible film. After all, Lupin III
has already been on the run for decades so it's never too late to catch him. Right, Zenigata?
And you can't keep a good thief down, so you can only hope the next movie is just as good! Er. Whenever that comes out. Right, Lupin?
So would Monkey Punch
. May he Rest in Peace.