Sunday, November 6, 2011

REVIEW: Lupin the 3rd: Missed by a Dollar

ルパン三世1$マネーウォーズ (Rupan Sansei: 1$ Manê Uôzu)

Released: 2000

Director:
Hideki Tonokatsu

Starring (voice talent):
Kanichi Kurita
Goro Naya
Kiyoshi Kobayashi
Makio Inoue
Eiko Masuyama

Running time: 91 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr


First aired on television in 2000, "Lupin the 3rd: Missed by a Dollar" is the most recent film I’ve seen thus far that features the popular character created by manga artist Monkey Punch (Kazuhiko Kato). The rascally thief and his band of accomplices have appeared in several animé films over the years, among the more notable ones being 1979’s "The Castle of Cagliostro," an early effort from Hayao Miyazaki. This particular outing offers the kind of antics that audiences have come to love and expect from the franchise, yet because of the more recent timeframe in which it was made, it contains some themes that possess an all-too-eerie relevance – yes, in a Lupin III outing - when viewed today.

The story kicks off with a large auction in the heart of New York where a seemingly trivial ring attracts unusually high bids. It eventually sells for $1000,001, thwarting a disguised Lupin’s attempts to claim it for himself with just one dollar. The ring supposedly points the way to yet another treasure: a prized brooch that has given good luck to various significant leaders over the years, including Napoleon, Lenin and Hitler. Along with his friends – the fedora-clad, revolver-packing Daisuke Jigen and the ever-serious samurai Goemon – Lupin sets out to find the brooch and winds up facing off against some formidable foes: the mysterious Cynthia, head of the massive Bank of the World, and her former KGB hit man and love interest Alex Nabikov. And every step of the way, there is Inspector Zenigata of Interpol, persistently continuing his long-running pursuit after the wily Lupin.

Perhaps more so than previous Lupin III adventures, "Missed by a Dollar" directs a fair amount of attention to the old-fashioned, wildly romantic nature of the master thief. At several points, he is reminded of how new and different the world has become – it is, after all, a whole new millennium now. Even though his familiar love interest, Fujiko – who appears here as a savvy businesswoman – warns him that the real way to make money is through the economy rather than burglary, Lupin proudly carries on with his ambitious schemes. During a heist, he proclaims, “Analog’s the way to go” to beat the digital world, and sure enough, he later expresses disappointment at the underwhelming convenience that technology grants him. Other elements of the story come across as strangely prophetic, one of them certainly being the focus on big corporations, the oil industry and the super wealthy – all sore subjects for today’s recession-weary viewers. Coupled with this is the film’s attention to war. Between the brooch’s influence on some of history’s most influential figures, the story of Cynthia’s father – a dictator who was overthrown by revolutionaries – and a plot designed to launch the world into mass conflict, one certainly can’t help but be reminded of the tumultuous recent events in the Middle East. The final chilling touch is the repeated appearance of the World Trade Center’s looming twin towers. All of these things charge Lupin’s cheery jaunts with a sad irony, which reaches its height with his triumphant statement that “the century of war is over.” About a year later, the terrible frailty of such a statement would be made all too clear.

Traditionally, Lupin III films act as highly entertaining and fun testaments to adventure for adventure’s sake. While the abovementioned points may make this sentiment seem a little too naïve for comfort these days, at the same time "Missed by a Dollar" provides a comforting dollop of innocent escapism. Fans of the classic characters certainly won’t be let down, as ample time is devoted to Lupin’s incurable womanizing habits, Goemon’s unmatched sword skills, Jigen’s fixation with his gun and Inspector Zenigata’s hilarious and frequently unsuccessful attempts to capture his ever-elusive quarry. With very good animation and such other delights as cars that transform into aircraft, fast-paced chases, Lupin’s marvelous array of disguises, a winding treasure hunt and a remarkably melancholy ending, "Missed by a Dollar" makes for a very satisfying Lupin III romp.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog

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