At the start of the new live-action Lupin III film, Fujiko, seeing one of her fellow thieves avoid a pressure-sensitive museum floor by using a rocket pack, utters, “You've got to be joking”—which is more than a little apt as it was exactly what I kept saying again and again over the next two hours and fifteen minutes.
Lupin III sports a plot with more holes in it than Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Very little makes sense logistically with even a moment’s worth of thought. Items appear seemingly out of nowhere, from costumes to jeeps to guns. Granted the anime series is often like this; however, unlike this film, you are having such a fun time that you are unlikely to get hung up on the details of the plot.
But it's not just the little things. The film hits its absurdity highpoint with a scene of black market item trading staged with a live studio audience—aka, a room full of witnesses for illegal dealings. In other words, when it comes to consistency, internal or otherwise, the film fails in nearly every scene.
But the worst thing in this film has to be the action scenes. It's long been a joke that by using a series of closeups, crash zooms, and quick cuts, you can make anything seem action packed (see Hot Fuzz for an example). This is why these techniques are often seen in 80s/90s action movies. Lupin III unfortunately uses nothing but these techniques in its action scenes. Even worse, they are combined with the shaky cam technique, which, while meant to add realism, often just makes everything hard to see.
This means that this film’s action scenes—of which there are plenty—are nauseating at best. Every second you see a new camera angle at a new level of zoom before it jumps to a completely different one. You get no sense of the action taking place and the techniques are so overused they lose their impact altogether. Frankly, it is just painful—literally—to watch.
Even the costume design is laughably horrible. Everything from Lupin's black vinyl pants (perfect, no doubt, for any thief wishing to move silently) and red velvet jacket combination to one of the villain's over-the-top, straight-out-of-a-manga biker gang outfit, are as silly-looking as they are impractical.
But the most absurd costume is worn by one of the villains. Seeking to ambush and abduct Fujiko as she gets out of the shower, Maria wears nothing but a garter belt and stockings under a pair of daisy dukes with an exceedingly tight corset for a top. It's a wonder that she doesn't pass out mere moments after the (typically painful-to-watch) fight with the bathrobe-clad Fujiko begins.
Perhaps the oddest thing about the film is the dubbing. It’s quite clear that the film was originally shot in several different languages—Japanese, English, or whatever the mother tongue is of the country in which a particular scene is located —to no doubt make the characters and adventure seem more global and realistic. However, in the theatrical release, all foreign language scenes have been overdubbed in Japanese. Thus, a good half of the movie has dialogue that doesn't match the lip movements—which is especially weird in the case of actors overdubbing themselves in Japanese.
While there are always side characters that Lupin and the gang meet in their adventures, this film seems determined to add several characters to the main group—namely a pair of hackers. Basically, it is their job to be the butt of jokes and give briefings on the upcoming jobs.
Also, their presence means we get a hacking scene at the climax—you know, where they are clearly just pressing random keys on the keyboard while the music, close ups, quick cuts, and shaky cam all try to make us think that this is actually exciting and not just silly. All in all, they are a waste and draw focus away from what is supposed to be an origin story for the Lupin III gang.
With decades upon decades of anime source material, you'd think it'd be next to impossible to mess up a Lupin III soundtrack. Of course, this film lives to disabuse you of such flights of fancy. While in the action scenes the music is simply forgettable, the rest of the time it is nothing but light jazz which feels better suited to a porno than Lupin III. Seriously, every scene of talking, be it comedy or exposition—and let me tell you, the film has no shortage of that—feels like it could break down at any second into the characters making out with each other as they tear wildly at each other’s clothes. It's more than a little distracting.
Lupin III is not only a bad adaptation but a bad film in general. It is poorly directed, is full of plot holes, and doesn't even succeed at giving the necessary amount of Lupin anime fanservice to keep fans interested. Instead, it is nothing but a schlock action movie; and while 20 years ago it might have been acceptable among the horde of similar films, that boat has long since set sail. Make no mistake though, it is far from the worst movie I have ever seen; but I would definitely not recommend this live-action adaptation to anyone.
Lupin III was released in Japanese theaters on August 30, 2014. It will be released in Singapore and the Philippines later this year. There is currently no word on a Western release.
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