Movie: For some reason or another, many people seem to enjoy the antics of thieves and criminals as fictional characters. I'm not sure why this is since on some conceptual level or another, none of us likes being ripped off of the possessions we worked hard to acquire but taking that as a given, today's review will focus on the latest offering surrounding the famous Japanese anime thief, Lupin. The movie this time was Lupin the 3rd: Crisis in Tokyo, a FUNimation release about the guy from 1998. The basic story is that Lupin is trying to find some very old photographic plates as they reveal a treasure hidden somewhere in Japan. Needless to say, Lupin isn't the only one trying to get the treasure and even the best thief in the world has to compromise when faced with overwhelming odds, yes? Here's what the box cover said about the movie:
"When a strange set of photographic plates makes its way into the hands of a famous art dealer in Tokyo, it's up to Lupin to steal them. But this time, it seems that he may have to do it alone. Or will he? Goemon and Fujiko team up and put a deal on the table that Lupin may be forced to take.
Following Lupin every step of the way is Inspector Zenigata. He is so focused on his target that he tends to forget his department's deal to allow a journalist named Maria to tag along with him. However, there may be more to her and the photographic plates than anyone knows... or even begin to fathom."
Those familiar with Lupin know that he is a very skilled thief, able to pick any lock, overcome any barrier, and generally lucky as all get out when it comes to dealing with various threats that he comes across. Starring in a hit television show as well as many movies and specials, Lupin evidently hit upon some aspect of the usually reserved Japanese persona since his popularity seems to rarely waiver (and the consensus is that the Japanese hate thieves). Most of his antics follow a specific formula where he finds out about a treasure, seeks it out, and finds himself in the crosshairs of others wanting to either steal the treasure for themselves or to protect it from the likes of Lupin. This sums up just about every show and movie of his I've seen yet I still can't turn away from the silly thief whenever I come across him on TV or cable.
Perhaps part of his appeal is his lecherous ways. As a guy, I know something about chasing skirts so maybe that aspect of his antics is the driving force behind his nearly universal appeal (or the fact that he never seems to bag the gal he's chasing). Whatever the case, Crisis in Tokyo followed the formula and had him team up with a few of the series regulars in an effort to find the stolen plates, find the treasure, and stay out of the clutches of a billionaire industrialist that had a few secrets of his own. The specific nature of those secrets involve spoilers and I'm not going to ruin the story for you but suffice it to say, genetic manipulation, a lost sword (Goemon's reason for being in the movie), a bad tooth (Jigen's main enemy here), and a series of chases on foot and by car all combined to make this yet another fanciful volume in the long running franchise. I thought Inspector Zenigata's role to be among his best yet as he sought to save face and regain his position on the police force but fans of Lupin have likely seen this before as the "hero" and he have bounced off one another for decades.
So, how do you rate a movie that almost requires some background knowledge to fully appreciate the subtleties (a word not generally associated with anything involving Lupin)? Well, you just accept that this is a decent entry point into the franchise and give it the Recommended it deserves. Yes, the movie looked like it was far older than something produced in 1998 and yes, those who aren't into the antics of Lupin will probably find it somewhat generic in terms of what took place (a common complaint about the character's many exploits) but the fun factor was high and the addition of another layer of interest (in the form of Maria) on top of that reminded me of the great replay value the show had as well as the silliness so many fans like to see.
Picture: Lupin the 3rd: Crisis in Tokyo was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in. In many ways, it looked better than the older The Mystery of Mamo but that's to be expected since the age difference. In general, the colors were slightly muted, the anime style a bit on the rougher side (less need for expensive in-betweeners that way), and the look maintained the original style of the Manga series released by Monkey Punch. On the down side though was some shimmer and minor pixelation which were rare but still a factor if you paid attention. In all though, I thought it looked pretty decent and the visuals enhanced the story line as expected with no compression artifacts bothering me as I watched the show.
Sound: The audio was presented with the choice of a Japanese monaural track (cleaned up with Dolby Digital), a 2.0 Dolby Digital English track, and a superior 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English track, all with optional English subtitles. The vocal acting on the Japanese track was my favorite for that aspect of the show but the sound effects and music were much better on the English tracks, particularly the 5.1 track due to superior separation and dynamic range. I'm under the impression that the original stereo Japanese track was left off due to licensing rights but my limited knowledge of Japanese keeps me from verifying that (online sources tend to be extremely unreliable in this sense so I take what they say with a pillar of salt). The subtitles weren't dub-titles in regard to the English language track (there were some changes in the words, small changes though) but they were clear and easy to read; usually making sense too.
Extras: My favorite extra this time were the multitude of character profiles that would allow for a newbie to catch up to speed with who's who in the Lupin Universe. I wish other series would have them as it saves a lot of guessing but extras in general tend to get short shrift in anime so I'm not holding my breath. There were also some trailers, a small art gallery of sketches, and a DVD release catalog inside the DVD case for other FUNimation releases but none of those really interested me much.
Final Thoughts: Lupin the 3rd: Crisis in Tokyo was just what Lupin fans seem to like; a quest for treasure, really nasty bad guys, a lot of silly circumstances, and an ending befitting the world famous thief as he gets everything he deserves. In all, it didn't stray far from the established formula and I can see why some would argue that the sheer "sameness" of the material should lower the rating but fans like the dependability of the characters doing what they do best and the creative forces behind this movie saw to provide exactly what said fans wanted. In a sense, you could say that Lupin is a timeless character (however unconforming to societal norms) and an acquired taste. If you've previously acquired the taste, you'll know why Lupin the 3rd: Crisis in Tokyo was worth a Recommended.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk