by Jeremy Clarke.
A character with a long history in Japan in anime, manga artist Monkey Punch’s celebrated gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III is a descendant of the character created by Frenchman Maurice Leblanc in a series of early 20th century novels. Stories of the old Lupin are enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the 2021 live-action Netflix series LUPIN, in which Omar Sy plays a thief inspired by the original. The original Lupin also features in the backstory to this animated tale of his supposed grandson.
Master thief Lupin III sets out to steal a diary protected by a lock with a fiendishly complex mechanism, and becomes embroiled in an occult, Nazi plot to take over the world. For this Japanese reboot, Lupin III and his fellow franchise characters are back on the big screen, now lovingly rendered in state-of-the-art 3D animation. In one early sequence alone, Lupin nimbly evades the grasp of Interpol’s Inspector Zenigata by firing a climbing line at a ceiling, outwits an ingénue girl thief on Paris rooftops and finally has his stolen object taken off his hands by the shapely Fujiko Mine as she dangles from a helicopter rope ladder. It would look good in drawn animation – for similar antics look no further than earlier Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro – but looks considerably better in full 3D CG here.
The solid if occasionally risible script involves one Professor Bresson, an expert in archaeology who, in order to stop his writings about ancient doomsday weapon The Eclipse falling into the hands of the Nazis, encases it in a mechanical lock requiring not only a key but also a password. His fleeing son and daughter-in-law are killed in a car crash, leaving only their baby daughter alive.
Cue an amazing title sequence with Lupin and associates pursued by Zenigata through an abstract, fully working maze of mechanisms. Cue also an amazing, globe-trotting plot that never lets up, even upping the ante in the final reel to include, among other things, the ability to create black holes.
Newcomers to the franchise will pick up the identities of the characters without difficulty, while those of us more familiar with them will feel we’ve returned to spend some welcome time in the company of old friends. Daisuke Jigen’s cigarette dangling from his mouth has never looked more iconic, while the sword of latter-day samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII is put to such inventive uses as slicing a prison truck in half and lopping a wing off a hefty military transport aircraft.
A male/female buddy sub-plot could easily slide into slushy romance, but never does thanks to the reprobate, ever-active Lupin. The trusting Laetitia, a one-off character much like a Bond girl, is too pure and innocent to be a good thief, but turns out to be something of a whizz-kid in the field of archaeology. As an infant, she provides the preface character for the plot, and as a grown woman, a grounded moral centre for the manic, energetic and flighty Lupin.
Steals from other sources include Raiders of the Lost Ark with its globe-trotting archaeologist, occult artefact-obsessed Nazis and strong woman sidekick. There’s also a touch of Mission Impossible II, with various characters ripping off masks to reveal their actual faces beneath.
The success of Netflix’s Lupin suggests a UK audience would lap a movie like this up, particularly since it is a hugely entertaining outing for the long-running franchise. The Japanese voice cast do a good job, but dare I say it, the English soundtrack by GKids may be one of those rare cases where a dub knocks spots off the original, helping to ground the script in the European setting and characters.
Lupin III The First is released on UK Blu-ray by Anime Limited.