Movie: One of the things you learn about anime is that a great deal of it is based on successful manga stories in Japanese comic books. These are thick (almost like telephone books here), typically black & white, and often easily followed by fans regardless of language barriers due to the over the top manner in which facial expressions are used to convey moods and plots. The bad guys all look evil, the good guys look good and the women are typically over the top in terms of breast size and symmetry; lending a distinctive look to them regardless of translation. Well, back almost 40 years ago, a character was created by Kazuhito "Monkey Punch" Kato for Weekly Action Manga called Lupin the Third, patterned after a French cat burglar named Arsene Lupin by novelist Maurice LeBlanc. He was suave, sophisticated, and something of a successful ladies man but converting this idea to a manga required retooling by the artist since the media format lends itself more to a rougher element. The end result was the character well known throughout the world, and star of endless shows like Lupin the 3rd: All's Fair in Love & Thievery, Lupin the 3rd: The Columbus Files, Lupin the 3rd: The Flying Sword, Lupin the 3rd: Crisis in Tokyo, and Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo, among a great many others. The focus of today's review of the only live action version of the characters exploits, Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy (AKA: Rupan Sansei: Nenrikichan Sakusen), is somewhat different from the anime releases and manga but interesting nonetheless for a guy like me that has been watching the infamous thief's exploits for the better part of thirty years by last count. Here's what I found:
Like most big screen translations of a comic character, this live action Lupin varied a bit, losing his comrade Goemon but still retaining the other three characters essential to any Lupin story; Inspector Zenigata, comrade in arms Daisuke Jigen, and girlfriend (or at least the object of Lupin's desire) Fujiko Mine. Lupin is heir to a large fortune by virtual of his family legacy of being the world's greatest thieves. He lives each day as though nothing mattered, sleeping outside one day and in a fancy hotel room the next with little sense of difference to his way of thinking. Money isn't important to him since he can, he insists, take anything he needs without thinking hard on it. In the movie, Lupin falls for Fujiko and sets to courting her after springing her from jail. She tells him she likes rare gemstones, listing them off and getting him to agree to a heist worth a tremendous amount of money. He agrees since he thinks with his little head in regards to her charms, and this starts the whole movie in earnest as the trio of thieves is chased by the inspector after the burglary is almost foiled.
This leads Lupin to attempt to steal a precious artifact that a mob syndicate has its eyes on, so the mod sets to having him assassinated in order to play it safe. Needless to say, their attempts fall as short as Zenigata's do at catching Lupin although he turns himself in while he plots his next move. In all the movie looked very much like it was made in 1974 though it was one of the cleanest such prints of a film from that year that I've seen (funnily enough, the movie was filmed by Toho, the home of Godzilla and many other monster flicks). Of interest in the movie was the relationship between Lupin and Jigen; Jigen falling into a more generic slot of manservant to the Lupin estate than the quick draw gunman of the anime and manga. He worries about Lupin's reclamation efforts for the empire (Lupin doesn't care about anything except getting laid in the movie, an admittedly noble goal although somewhat limiting to the character). His courtship of Fujiko has the two in more of a traditional relationship where she wants valuables in return for her affection instead of the comic version where the two were often rivals for the same heists but the nostalgia factor alone was kind of interesting too.
In all, the kind of outlandish comedic efforts were similar to a great many Japanese comedies with the exaggerated facial expressions, the impossible physical antics (jumping many feet in the air), and the twists & turns that could have been used in any number of generic shows (most of the time, aside from the names, the situations weren't exactly in line with Lupin mythology). Still, it was a cute show that appealed to the Lupin lover in me and as such was worthy of at least a Rent It, if not even more. I believe that the Lupin franchise has had numerous attempts at making other live action versions of the character but to date, this was it and aside from the discothèque suit he wore throughout the show (maybe that's why it was picked up for release by company), it brought more than a few smiles to my face as I watched it.
Picture: Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy was presented in a surprisingly fetching anamorphic widescreen presentation in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It could just have easily been released in the late 1990's except for the styles and fashions shown, with accurate flesh tones, colors, and other visual matters looking very handsome. I saw minimal grain and almost no video noise, a tribute to the folks at Discotek who took some time cleaning it up for DVD release. I hope their other titles look this good and that maybe they'll obtain the rights to some other movies in need of a proper restoration.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese monaural. The audio wasn't as solid as the visual aspects of the film but it never sounded so out of place that it factored into rating. The vocals were easy to hear, the almost porno styled music score seemed oddly appropriate to the material (and the time when it was shot), and the special effect noises never so problematic that they interfered with the storyline, enhancing it instead.
Extras: The only extras this time were a photogallery, a double sided DVD cover, and a paper insert detailing some of the history behind the movie and character. I liked the insert a lot although I wish there had been more extras (perhaps even an audio commentary by some of the experts that wrote the insert).
Final Thoughts: Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy was indeed strange and somehow that was fitting for the material. Lupin is one of those characters that is stuck in time for many folks on both sides of the Pacific Ocean so it is only fitting that the live action movie starring the character would be too. That said, as well handled as the DVD release may have been, the limitations of the movie were such that it may bring a few smiles to the faces of Lupin loves everywhere, but it wasn't all that great a Lupin movie outside of the context it was made in. In many ways, the show was generic to the point where if the names had been changed, few people would recognize or attribute the material to Kazuhito "Monkey Punch" Kato (probably even the writer himself). This is not a slight on director Takashi Tsuboshima (it was his last movie according to the internet movie database) but I'm willing to bet that a number of compromises were made in order to see the adventures of Lupin the Third make it to eh big screen, far too many which hindered the viability of the movie's success.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.