Lupin III: The First not only serves as the swansong for franchise creator, the late great Monkey Punch, but marks the franchise’s first foray into CG animation. To say it was going to be contentious is a bit of an understatement.
Simply put, the film looks fantastic. The animation is dynamic, kinetic and possessing of all the charm that made the manga and its myriad animated adaptions such a joy to behold. Of course, this is CG so where previous instalments have existed in a flat environment, here Lupin and the gang have a whole new playground to wreak havoc in. That’s both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it can easily hold its own against Pixar but, on the other, the characters have much more expressive mouths than the flaps of traditional anime, making dubbing more difficult. Consequently, the English dub is often out of sync.
Director Takashi Yamazaki first and foremost helmed live action movies. It wasn’t until 2011 that he turned his hand to CG animated features, going on to earn accolades with 2014’s loveable Stand by Me Doraemon. Yamazaki is a big fan of Hollywood, citing Spielberg as an inspiration, and it really shows. From start to finish, Lupin III: The Third is shot like a live action spectacle and more than a little reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yet it never loses sight of its origins and, early on, we see Goemon gloriously slice an Interpol truck in half. Each subsequent set piece ups the ante, but, for my money, the one that shows off the animation best sees Lupin navigate a spinning tunnel of laser beams.
Each sequence is enhanced by the jazzy score provided by long-time Lupin III composer Yuji Ohno, adding the film an authenticity and continuity. As if that wasn’t enough, Kanichi Kurita – who has voiced Lupin since 1995 – is back in the lead role doing what he does best. Kiyoshi Kobayashi also reprises his role as grumpy gunner Daisuke Jigen, alongside Miyuki Sawashiro and Daisuke Namikawa, who have voiced femme fatale Fujiko Mine and Goemon respectively for the better part of a decade. Relative newcomer Suzu Hirose rounds out the cast as Lupin’s latest ally Laetitia, one of few designed purposefully for CG.
Where the film falls short is the plot. In a nutshell, there’s a McGuffin called the Bresson Diary that contains secrets of powerful technology left behind by an ancient civilisation. A bunch of sad old Nazis are after the diary in a ham-fisted attempt to bring back the Third Reich and serve an apparently still living Hitler. It’s paint by numbers, serving to connect the set pieces and introduce these characters to a whole new generation, as well as providing enough nods and winks to long-time fans (including a few to Miyazaki’s beloved Castle of Cagliostro). Still, it’s timely to see old Nazis signposted so clearly as the bad guys, and seeing Lupin so hilariously pretend to be der Führer is worth the price of entry alone.
We’ve seen heritage anime characters receive the CG treatment before – remember Harlock: Space Pirate? – but Lupin III: The First takes it to the next level. The film suffers from an uninspired plot, and functions more like a launchpad for future adventures, but with its stylish visuals, funny loveable characters, and jazzy score, it’s Lupin III, but not quite as we know it.
A digital screener was provided for this review.