Maybe it is because I watched Lupin III in the midst of the sheer glory of the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. Maybe it is because I haven’t met a multi-language movie that I liked. Or maybe because this is the first time I’m watching an Oguri Shun film in an actual theater and not just a subbed torrent or DVD, and I had such high expectations. (At least that’s one thing off my lesser-dreams bucket list). Try hard as I did, biased as I am, I found it hard to sincerely like this movie.
The adventures of the great master gentleman thief Arsene Lupin III was part of the anime slice of my childhood, right there with Ghost Fighter and Flame of Recca. So to see him brought to life in the big screen by none other than my favorite actor was a treat. Several things however, got in the way of this film’s being a successful adaptation.
It starts off with a heist, naturally, with Lupin (Oguri Shun) showing off his unconventional and rebellious style of thievery. He outwits and out-slicks them all, gets the treasure, only to be foiled because of his one weakness – his one-sided affections for the sly and wily Fujiko (Kuroki Meisa). That had a sense of foreboding right there, as fans of the anime/manga would know. But then sadly, that would be the least of our worries.
Lupin and Fujiko, part of an elite circle of thieves, attend a ceremonious affair only to be crashed by several badly costumed villains led by a traitor in their midst. From there the plot unravels with several twists across several countries, with plot holes peppered across nearly all the scenes. The film suffers from inconsistencies and unimpressive action sequences (blaming Otomo‘s Kenshin movies directly here for raising the bar). It felt like there were gaps between scenes that even the sweeping settings and convincing acting cannot connect. Mind you, the movie didn’t spare much in terms of locations and casting. Filmed across Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, Lupin’s day out didn’t lack impressive sights. The cast was likewise international, with from the British imports to Taiwan’s Jerry Yan and Korea’s Kim Joon joining the crew.
But it was the Japanese cast that remained at the movie’s core. Oguri did a valiant job of portraying the comically arrogant, thieving genius, lifting Lupin’s facial and vocal ticks and his trademark wide lanky strides straight off the comics. Kuroki was as voluptuous as any human female can be, anchoring her performance on Fujiko’s cleverness and vulnerability. Tadanobu Asano’s Zenigata was a brilliant adaptation, his bumbling antics and frustrated screams right out of the pages. If the plot focused on the dynamics between these three (add Jigen and the silent samurai Goemon), and the push-pull in their tumultuous relationships, it might have been a rich yet cohesive story. But alas, that was not the case, and these prime actors can only do so much.
Maybe the movie tried to do too much in too many places. Maybe the hot pot of foreign actors, though attractive in movie posters and teasers, was not stewed to perfect harmony. The shifts from Japanese to English were distracting, though to the actors’ credit they were fluent enough. Maybe the adaptation was just old school and not in a good way, leaving behind the raw taste of a movie that needed a few more script and post productions edits. Japan didn’t seem to mind though, awarding the movie 2nd place at the box office. If a second installment comes out I would probably still watch it (biases die hard), but with a wary heart and much lower expectations.
Fun fact: The three live action adaptations of Hana Yori Dango were represented in the cast — Taiwan’s Dao Ming Si (Jerry Yan), Japan’s Hanazawa Rui (Oguri Shun), and Korea’s Woo Bin (Kim Joon) –, just short one member to complete F4. But then I wish that for the script’s sake, they just stuck with Rui.
Photo and video credits to owner.