LUPIN III: The First. M, 93 minutes. 4 stars
The history behind this slickly made, highly enjoyable CGI Japanese film is even more complicated than the title.
What we have here is an English dub of a 2019 anime based on a manga featuring the grandson of a French literary character. This is the first I'd heard of Arsene Lupin III, a character created by Monkey Punch (real name Kazuhiko Kato) in 1967. Lupin is a master thief and the grandson of gentleman thief Arsene Lupin, a character created by French writer Maurice LeBlanc in 1905.
Lupin III became a franchise that has included animated and live-action films, TV series, video games, musicals, and more, ranging from dark and adult to family friendly. Lupin III: The First is the first CGI film (hence, presumably, the title) and is certainly in the family-friendly category, at least for older children, despite the M classification. It's a comedy-adventure somewhat reminiscent of films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and works well on its own, even for those, like me, who are encountering Lupin for the first time.
The action begins during World War II in Nazi-occupied Paris. Lambert, who works for the SS research group the Ahnenerbe, steals an amulet containing the key to the locked diary of archeologist Professor Bresson. But Lambert doesn't have the diary itself, which is believed to be the guide to finding the Eclipse, an immense and powerful treasure.
In what appears to be the 1960s, the diary resurfaces. Lupin tries to steal it, as his grandfather had tried, but is foiled twice - by a museum guard and then by a rival, Fujiiko - and arrested by his nemesis, Inspector Zenigata of Interpol. He escapes with the help of his friends, sharpshooter Jigen and martial arts and sword expert Goemon. From there, the quest for the diary and the power it can unleash continues. Lupin III: The First is lots of fun, an action-packed globetrotting adventure.
Along the way, an alliance is forged out of necessity between Lupin and Zenigata. Members of the Ahnenerbe are seeking Adolf Hitler in South America - the dictator was reputed to have survived and fled there - and the possibility that the Third Reich will be resurrected (a Fourth Reich?) is a sufficiently dire threat to have the adversaries put their differences aside, at least for the time being.
The film has a different look to the typical anime but it doesn't look quite like the typical Western animation, either - it's almost a hybrid of the two. The animation is impressive - both when it's relatively naturalistic and when it's defying the laws of physics - and the backgrounds and settings are richly detailed.
In this English dub, the dialogue has been tooled to do a good job of synchronising lips and words, although this leads occasionally to awkward sentences. We also sometimes have the classic anime gasp inserted - since this doesn't look like a typical anime, it's a reminder of the film's origins.
The voices - with accents ranging from American to French to Japanese - suit the characters for the most part. Tony Oliver as Lupin sounds a little goofy at times but then the character - who looks like a blend of Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey and a chimpanzee - is like that: he's not a suave James Bond type. Certainly it's hard to imagine Bond with Lupin's prominent sideburns and distinctive dress sense - dig that bright yellow tie!
This might be the best animated film released in Australia this summer. It's been a while coming - it opened in Japan in 2019, the year Kato died - but it's been worth the wait.