'Lupin III: The First' Review: Action-adventure heist seamlessly blends slapstick with style in a must-watch film
The classic Japanese character is brought to life with brilliant animation in a hilarious live-action film
A revival of the Monkey Punch created classic, 'Lupin III: The First' is a little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, a little bit anime and a little bit science fiction, all blended together into one gloriously fun cocktail that never stops being a wild ride. 'Lupin III: The First' takes a manic approach to the heist film, coupled with some truly breathtaking animation that brings all of its classic characters to life in a world that's so real you could almost imagine this was a live-action film if the characters themselves weren't so funny looking.
For those new to the franchise, 'Lupin III' is a character created by Kazuhiko Katō - more popularly known as Monkey Punch - who is a master thief, the grandson of the fictional French thief Arsène Lupin. His adventures have been told in comics, long-running anime series, and movies both live-action and animated. This is the first time, however, that Lupin has been rendered in 3DCG, and he has never looked better. For a film whose character knows how to best make use of a good trick of the light, the lighting in this movie goes a long way into making the world feel real. From sunset gold and purple during rooftop chases to the eerie futuristic blue in the underground light of mysterious technologies, the film is confident enough in its animation to shine a light on just how good everything looks. The movie adds a little science-fiction to take full advantage of the format, creating a spectacle worthy of a feature film.
Of course, it's still an animated film, so everything is just punched up a little bit in subtle ways - a brightness and intensity to everything that moves. The characters themselves, of course, look almost exactly like their 2D counterparts, lending a surreality to everything. Arsène Lupin III (Kanichi Kurita/Tony Oliver) himself is the most cartoon-looking of the bunch, and it's strange to see him in otherwise normal-looking settings, an effect that's most similar to the Looney Tunes walking around live-action characters in 'Space Jam'. Once you get used to that, though, it's all part of the fun, because as grounded as the setting itself can be, the film prides itself on being joyfully ridiculous.
The story sees Lupin attempting to steal the Bresson Diary, a treasure that not even his grandfather was able to steal, and he gets himself involved in a complicated heist involving Nazis, a buried sci-fi superweapon, and an archaeologist named Laetitia (Suzu Hirose/Laurie Hymes) who has her own personal connection to the diary. Every heist, escape and action scene is delightfully silly, managing to blend slapstick with style in a way that's wholly unique to the 'Lupin III' franchise. It's complemented by the jazzy, upbeat theme by 'You & Explosion Band' from the animated series, setting the film's quick pace.
All of the archaeological clues and underground traps gives this film a lot of very recognizable overlap with both the 'Tintin' and 'Indiana Jones' franchises - especially 2011's 'The Adventures of Tintin', which also brought classic cartoon characters to a breathtaking 3D setting. It's Lupin's shameless silliness that sets it apart from those films, however. Every character has a unique voice and style to them, coming together in a symphonic blend. Lupin and Laetitia's story remains front and center though, with a focus on Laetitia's story involving her Nazi grandfather.
'Lupin III: The First' deserved a proper theatrical release, and it's a tragedy that the pandemic robbed the States of the chance to see it in theaters. Nonetheless, even on a small screen, it's a wonderful spectacle of a film, and a must-watch whether or not you're a fan of Japanese animation. If you enjoy your action-adventure stories with a healthy serving of comedy, this film is a must-watch.
'Lupin III: The First' is now available on VOD.