Lupin III: The First (Japan 2019)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/1/21

Master thief Lupin and his friends make the transition to 3D in this big budget CGI adventure. This time Lupin is trying to steal the famous Bresson Diary, which is somehow related to his grandfather. Rumor has it that whoever can open and decipher the diary will be rewarded with great riches. However, there are other parties who are also interested in stealing the book, which gets Lupin and Fujiko in trouble with some Nazis. A young archeologist named Laetitia also gets involved, and she has history with the book as well. Once the Nazis show their hand, Inspector Zenigata forms an uneasy alliance with Lupin to take them down before the Third Reich can be resurrected with the power contained in the diary.

The film clearly draws inspiration from the superb "Castle Of Cagliostro" (1980) and is essentially a remake of that movie with numerous elements lifted directly from it. There's also a blatantly heavy-handed influence of "Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade" (1989) and a dash of James Bond thrown in for good measure. While the story is eerily reminiscent of "Cagliostro," it plays things a little too safe by being cliché, overly predictable, embracing Hollywood sentimentality, and being a little too juvenile for my tastes. The series has never shied away from outrageousness, but the hidden treasure really strained my suspension of disbelief and made it difficult for me to engage with the second half of the film. The music and voice acting are excellent, and even though I really liked Laetitia (who is a carbon copy of Clarice from "Cagliostro"), she was ultimately just a little too sweet, cute, innocent, naïve, and downright nice to take seriously, and she became grating after a while.

The action is fun, exciting, and over-the-top, and the film moves at a pleasant pace. However, the biggest thing I struggled with was the art direction and the look of the film. The environments are all very photorealistic and the supporting characters fit within standard contemporary animation design, but the main cast looks extremely out of place because they all maintain their very distinctive Monkey Punch character traits. They have wildly exaggerated proportions and cartoonish facial features, which makes them look like a freak show in an otherwise normal world. It's uncomfortable to watch and difficult to mentally reconcile, much like seeing 3D representations of "The Simpsons." Lupin looks downright sinister with his big bug eyes and twisted grin, which doesn't match his "gentleman thief" persona. Similarly, Zenigata appears completely deformed and is hard to look at. Laetitia is adorable and looks absolutely fantastic, but also looks like a complete outcast when she's hanging around Lupin and his friends. I'm sure that multiple viewings of the film will reduce this reaction and I'll be able to look past the clash in visual styles, but my initial takeaway was awkward at best. All things considered, of all the Lupin titles I've seen, this is solidly my second favorite.