I had heard about the new, 3D CGI animated movie in the Lupin the 3rd franchise about one year ago – more or less when I learned of the death of Monkey Punch, the artist and writer of the original manga from which the character was derived. I was curious about the movie, but for a number of reasons, I had no opportunity to watch it.
Until last night.
Lupin the 3rd: The First opens with a pre-titles scene set in France at the end of World War 2: as the Nazis storm the residence of noted archaeologist Professor Bresson, he entrusts a mysterious diary to his daughter; as the woman tries to get away with her husband and their infant daughter, they are involved in a car crash and only the child survives, and the diary is lost.
Cue to twenty years later, when the diary, recently recovered, is the centerpiece of an exhibition in Paris. The diary attracts international thief Lupin the 3rd, the Interpol as usual hot on his heels, but is also the target of a mysterious young woman called Laetitia.
In the ensuing treasure hunt, Lupin and his gang (femme fatale Fujiko, black-suited gunslinger Jigen and stoic samurai Goemon, plus Inspector Zenigata as an unlikely ally) against the Ahnenerbe and a bunch of South American Nazis hell bent on … well, on conquering the world, of course. There will be chases, dogfights, secret codes, ancient mysteries and a trap-ridden underground complex, and a healthy dose of action.
And, surprisingly enough in these cynical times, a soul – because Lupin the 3rd: The First is a warm, charming and optimistic tale, that checks all the right boxes of old-style pulp entertainment without winking at the viewer, or trying to justify its choices. Even the trademark lewd, low humor of the Lupin franchise is kept to a minimum, and is almost tasteful.
The idea of setting the film in the early ’60s (at the time in which the original comics were released) is also a winner, as the movie benefits from the look-and-feel of old time technology and landscapes.
True, it would be great to see more of Jigen and Goemon, and Fujiko, in action, but as things stand, this is a first class entertainment, bound to please old time fans of the series, and to send new viewers to track the old movies (starting with Castle of Cagliostro, probably the spiritual forefather of The First).
Add a couple of great action set pieces, a bunch of suitably creepy bad guys and a top-level animation and design,and the end result is exactly what the doctor ordered for an early autumn night.