An eternity passes in popular culture if you aren’t paying attention. 2019’s The First wasn’t just the first 3D-animated Lupin III adventure, it was the first theatrical outing for our hilarious heroes in over a quarter-century. Most of those prior stories that we have watched were annual TV specials. Well, annual-ish, anyway.
The First was written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, who made that live-action Space Battleship Yamato movie in 2010. I should probably see that. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a back-to-basics story set early in the gang’s careers, in a sort of nebulous mid-1960s. The time doesn’t honestly matter very much; other than some manual typewriters, the only plot element that requires it to be set then is the possible appearance of somebody who died in 1945 maybe still hanging on twenty years later.
What happens in the movie isn’t too surprising or strange. It’s a globetrotting adventure for the mcguffin of the day, racing against another powerful criminal organization, with a naive teenage girl to help out (and for Lupin to treat remarkably respectfully). There’s a lot of Castle of Cagliostro in this one, right down to a car chase with a familiar yellow Fiat, but also a lot of Blood Seal of the Eternal Mermaid, which I probably enjoyed more than many people did. It even shares that film’s element of the mcguffin being something that the original Arsene Lupin chased.
Basically, this one’s just a straightforward crowd-pleaser that ticks all the appropriate boxes very well, without doing anything even remotely new. If you’ve never seen any Lupin III before, then this is certain to completely thrill you and keep you laughing. Our son had a ball, but even he had to concede that he’s seen this stuff a time or two before. But it had him laughing at all the appropriate moments – Jigen making impossible shots, Goemon cutting worthless objects, Zenigata arriving with an ever-loving army of astonishingly steadfast and loyal cops in riot gear – and since I really get the feeling (not backed by anything) that even in Japan, the Lupin III franchise is something that most people just enjoy casually instead of watching obsessively every week, going back to basics every once in a while for something new and big is not a bad idea.
I’ll tell you what, though. Between the references to Lupin’s granddad in this and Eternal Mermaid and Dragon of Doom, along with the recent French TV series Lupin starring Omar Sy, I think we are long overdue for some production company, somewhere, finally making a new Arsene Lupin series set in the 1900s. I don’t think that there has been one, anywhere, in fifty years. I can assure you that as soon as some multi-billionaire signs over all their assets to me, I will definitely bankroll that.