Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Live-Action ‘Lupin III’ Movie is a Big Pile of Disappointment

I was greatly looking forward to this movie ever since I became aware that a live-action Lupin III movie was on the way and saw some teaser images and trailers.  It was released in Japan (and limited releases on some parts of the world, maybe) in 2014, but it was only this year that most of us got the opportunity to see it (the release of DVD and Blu-ray was recent).  Unfortunately, the result of the long wait for it is a big pile of disappointment.  Lupin III’s such a disappointment that it took me four part-by-part viewings before I could watch its entirety; I couldn’t watch it in just one go. 

To be fair, my expectations were probably too high, hence, the big disappointment.  I was hoping it was going to be a live-action The Castle of Cagliostro (I mean, have the same quality of that classic anime movie, not necessarily have the same plot).  At the very least, I was hoping it would be as authentic and appealing as the live-action Ruruoni Kenshin.  But it was not to be so.   

The live-action portrayals of the Lupin III characters have been almost fantastic.  I have nothing negative to say about the characterizations of the adapted characters in general.  However, I have a couple of problems with the particular portrayal of Arsene Lupin III.  There was noticeable emphasis in making him a badass combatant – an “action hero” – but, on the other hand, a lack of stress on what makes the iconic anime character truly awesome.  Sure, in the anime, Lupin can also throw a mean punch once in a while as well as be an impressive shooter, but that’s not how the character is defined.  His distinctive traits are his wits, slipperiness, and unpredictability; beneath the goofy, playful appearance is a sharp, creative, and tactical mind.  There were moments when I can see these elements in the live-action character.  But, unfortunately, those moments were not sustained for me; the excessive way he was being sold as an “action hero” just proved to be too distracting.  I would have considerably preferred more for the character to be straightly depicted as the extremely versatile escape artist and master of disguise that he is – a facet of Lupin that was only minimally used in the last act (just another disappointment in a big pile of disappointment) – than just another generic “action hero.”

However, the characterization flaws would have only required a tweak or two to fix.  The movie’s biggest problem is its mediocre story.  With the anime series/movies as benchmarks, the live-action movie was an unimpressive tale that such delightful property as Lupin III is undeserving of.  The plot attempts to be several things at the same time, including being an Ocean 11-esque heist film, but lacked enough suave and twists to pull it off.  I also hated that there were so many unnecessary plot elements and additional characters.  I know the movie would have worked so much better if the plot was kept simple.  The narrative just felt so forced – from the dialogues down to the humor.        
As far as the action went, the highest points were scenes wherein the kickass samurai Goemon is involved. In comparison, the rest of the action scenes were often slightly entertaining but unremarkable.  With the decision to consciously be an “action movie”, its action ironically failed to engage me.  The messy camerawork during action sequences doesn’t help either.       

Lupin III is an accurate picture of the word “disappointing” (especially if you adored the anime), but I’m also not completely comfortable of directly branding this movie as “awful.”  It does have a few redeeming factors.  Example, thinking of it as a “cosplay play”, I did find it fun to see Goemon, Jigen, Fujiko, and – despite my minor nitpicks on him – even Lupin being brought to life in live-action.  And, maybe, if I didn’t have such high expectations for this movie – and take it as it is, a stupid-and-shallow action-comedy movie – I could have completely enjoyed it, too. 

But here’s to hoping to a better sequel (if any).

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