I’ve never been a fan of the “Lupin” mangas, and I’ve never seen the anime, but this live action 1974 film (recently released on DVD with almost no extras) is strangely engaging. Yuki Meguro plays the lead perfectly, and the story moves at a brisk pace with hardly a wasted moment. That all adds up to something worth watching.
Lupin is an irreverent thief, lover and scoundrel in the safe-to-take-home-to-mom sense. He’s more a playboy than a killer, and when he runs into the attractive Fujiko (a lovely Hideko Ezaki), he finally realizes love — or at least something close to it. Thrown into this comedic mix is Jigen (Kunie Tanaka), an expert shooter who is looking to restore the Lupin Empire to greatness, and Inspector Zenigata (Shiro Ito), who wants nothing more than to see Lupin behind bars no matter how many bones he breaks in the process. The loose plot also involves some other thieves out to score goodies who view Lupin as an obstacle that needs to eliminated. Hijinks ensue.
No one will ever say that “Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy” is a high brow comedy; there is no deep intellectual message. It’s just a fun romp with a catchy soundtrack and an almost timeless look (though one can easily tell it’s a Ô70s Japanese feature). What it does, however, is make all the nonsense on screen not only easy to swallow, but also hard to turn away from. It seems like everyone involved is having a lot of fun making the film, and that spirit infects the audience, as well. Yes, it’s crazy when a bunch of nuns strip down to some leather short shorts and start a song and dance number, but it’s also funny and well-placed. The end of the film stumbles a bit, however, as Lupin is caught in some near death situation that seems like it would be easy to get out of just based on the supernatural powers he has displayed throughout the film, but then there would be no tension, so it breaks its own rules there. That’s a very minor complaint, though.
This film hasn’t made me a fan of the manga (my tastes run more to “Akira,” “Lone Wolf and Cub” and “Lady Snowblood”), but I do finally realize why the character remains fairly popular. There may be a Hollywood version of this someday, too (I suggest Jackie Chan as the lead), but I somehow doubt it will even be close to this one in terms of freshness and chaos, so see the original and see it soon before the suits ruin another franchise.