Lupin III: The First, 2020.
Directed by Takashi Yamazaki.
Featuring the voice talents of Tony Oliver, Richard Epcar, Lex Lang, Michelle Ruff, Doug Erholtz, Laurie C. Hymes, David Brimmer, and Paul Guyet.
World-renowned ‘gentleman thief’ Lupin III returns in a new continent-spanning caper. Determined to unlock the secrets of the famed Bresson Diary, Lupin must race against the clock to stop the diary falling into the hands of a dark cabal who want to use the diary to resurrect the Third Reich.
Lupin III: The First marks the thief’s first foray into the world of 3D animation and visually, it’s a success. Director Takashi Yamazaki has created an entertaining and aesthetically impressive film but it’s one that may shut out those not already familiar with the Lupin III franchise. Compared to Hayao Miyazaki’s 2D The Castle of Cagliostro, arguably the most famous silver-screen iteration of Lupin III, Yamazaki’s film succeeds in utilising the 3D animation style to ramp up the action scenes. For long time Lupin III fans, it provides the franchise with a sense of invigoration – after all, Arsene Lupin III has been around since 1967 – yet whilst the title and fresh look appear to market the film as a reboot, Lupin III: The First‘s plot relies on familiarity alienating the new audience the film is trying to draw in.
Lupin III: The First‘s title is the first red herring. In an attempt to bring Lupin III from the world of anime into the world of mainstream cinema, the film markets itself as a reboot and an origin story – it’s literally called ‘The First’ – but the film is anything but. We first meet Lupin III (Tony Oliver) during a heist in Paris in which he’s trying to steal the Bresson Diary. This fun sequence – complete with disguises and rooftop chases – epitomises Lupin’s snarky and daring personality but just when you’re expecting some exposition to follow, it doesn’t. Seemingly, we should already know how Lupin came to be a thief and about how his rivalry with Inspector Zenigata (Doug Erholtz) came to be. The problem is, if you’re one of the new viewers the film is trying to draw in, you won’t and that’s the films plaguing issue.
Whilst the film triumphs in using 3D animation to visually reinvigorate the franchise, the plot’s reliance on familiarity ironically makes Lupin III: The First‘s characters feel two-dimensional. Lupin should be a likeable character but without building a relationship between him and the viewer, his snarky personality can come across as irritating. It’s frustrating because the potential for what this film could have been – or what it could become in future sequels – is evident. Towards the end of Lupin III: The First, Lupin teams up with three of his trusty sidekicks: Daisuke Jigen (Richard Epcar), Goemon Ishikawa XIII (Lex Lang), and Fujiko Mine (Michelle Ruff). Once again, the film’s action sequences prove to be its greatest strength. As the team battle what’s left of the Third Reich supporters, you see glimpses of their comradery and personalities and it builds a real sense of excitement. It’s a shame that Lupin III: The First only captures this dynamism during the film’s action sequences but unfortunately, the team barely utters a word of dialogue. Yet again, the film assumes we know everything we need to know and it’s damaging.
That being said, the arc of Laetitia (Laurie C. Hymes) is hugely enjoyable but it’s evidently clear why. Laetitia is one of the film’s few original characters and as such, Lupin III: The First is unable to rely on preceding material as it does elsewhere in the film. Laetitia is given a backstory that introduces her personal interest in the Bresson Diary, a personal tie to the film’s villains, and a mystery surrounding her identity. Unsurprisingly, she’s the film’s only character to show real nuanced emotion. It’s both a blessing and a curse for Lupin III: The First. There’s no doubt that Laetitia is the film’s most interesting character and by centring the story on her, it grounds an otherwise detached narrative but when you consider that the film is named after Lupin, it’s a clear indication that something went wrong during the writing process. Regardless of how much we enjoyed watching her, Laetitia shouldn’t have been the central figure of this film.
For Lupin III fans, Yamazaki’s Lupin III: The First is a well-animated and fun caper featuring a host of familiar characters who are looking better than they ever have. For new viewers, this animated heist-come-adventure will certainly prove to be an entertaining form of escapism for a few hours but it may struggle to garner a new legion of long term fans.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★