I must confess, even as an ardent fan, that once you’ve seen a dozen or more Lupin the 3rd films many of them begin to blend together. That’s not to say Lupin‘s highly entertaining formula of priceless historical treasures, nefarious schemes, and goofy slapstick is a bad thing, just that like the Bond franchise it leaves little room for experimentation. However, the smashing Missed by a Dollar makes perhaps the most drastic departure from formula by putting its hero six feet under.
Before spoiler-phobes cry foul, the fact that this is far from the final Lupin film should make it obvious that his “death” is not of a permanent nature. Nevertheless, his demise puts a very interesting twist on the usual proceedings, forcing other characters into the forefront and nemesis Inspector Zenigata into retirement. Longtime fans may wish to interject that Lupin was previously “killed” in The Secret of Mamo, but that was almost instantly revealed to be a clone.
Although not quite in the same league as Tokyo Crisis, Missed is definitely one of the franchise’s more amusing entries. The story’s references to oil market speculation and terrorism are very topical, and I appreciated that the villain’s scheme was something more complex than just harnessing the magical powers of the treasure in question.
Admittedly the thrilling narrative takes a rather long and confusing timeout in the middle while the villains and heroes set up their less than clearly explained schemes and counter-schemes. Furthermore everything wraps up in what seems like an extremely coincidental manner on a small South Pacific island. Still, the film is fun enough that one needn’t sweat the details, and the unusual focus on American settings is refreshing.
This time Lupin is after a legendary broach, previously possessed by the likes of Hitler and Napoleon, which gives one the power to rule the world. At a New York auction he attempts to acquire a ring containing a clue to the broach’s whereabouts, but narrowly loses the bidding to Bank of the World (BOW) president Cynthia Craymov when Zenigata chases him off. Lupin’s crew is less than enthusiastic about his latest obsession: right hand gunman Jigen grudgingly goes along, but the samurai Goemon and femme fatale Fujiko claim they have given up crime, the former seeking peace in religion and the latter considering the movie business more lucrative. When Lupin and Jigen break into the BOW’s vault to steal the ring, Craymov henchman Nabikov, jealous of his employer’s more than professional interest in the thief, sends Lupin plunging to his apparent death. Jigen, Goemon, and eventually Fujiko set out to avenge him.
Craymov is slightly more complex and sympathetic than the typical power hungry Lupin villain. She is motivated not solely by greed, but out of a desire to succeed where her father failed. It’s interesting to watch her manipulate the lovestruck Nabikov, while at the same time reluctantly falling for Lupin’s charms.
As for the regulars, Lupin’s powers of disguise feature prominently in this adventure, deceiving nearly every cast member at some point. Jigen is heartbroken over the loss of his trusty Magnum, and grumbles about having to borrow Lupin’s Walther. Goemon, in an unusually jokey mood, keeps trying to solicit donations for his cult. Zenigata, his purpose in life stolen from him, is a tearful wreck following Lupin’s death.
Although she’s always been selfish, Fujiko is less likable than ever. She is barely moved by Lupin’s funeral, and has no interest in getting revenge. She only agrees to assist when she discovers that the BOW swindled her out of her savings.
Missed reminded me once again of the utter pointlessness of dubbing Lupin. The voice actors are fairly good, but cannot hold a candle to the originals, nor overcome the bland dub script that inexplicably removes much of the humor. This is a very curious practice, especially since most of the jokes aren’t that difficult to translate.
Although the film predates the recent Iraq business, the apparently American Craymov’s plan to profit from rising oil prices via political instability certainly brings Haliburton to mind. Americans aren’t the only target though, for former Soviet commando Nabikov is a vicious murderer and a huge group of Japanese investors all carry cameras. Goemon’s money hungry evangelist friends may be a shot at the Aum Shinrikyo cult that plagued Japan in the mid-1990s.
Speaking of which, Goemon gets one of the best laughs when he urges Jigen to seek salvation, which turns out to come in the form of a $100 pamphlet. Hardly bothering to wait for an answer, Goemon deftly swipes said bill from Jigen’s jacket with his sword and runs off.
Not to be outdone, a completely drunk Zenigata accidentally knocks out a bystander instead of Lupin, and is arrested. Put on the spot, he indignantly attempts to slur his way through a hysterically incoherent explanation before collapsing unconscious in mid-sentence.
The film concludes with a delightfully off the wall chase in which Lupin and Jigen flee the military on an improbably fast hospital gurney. On their wild ride they giddily swipe some lingerie from a room of screaming nurses and give an astonished Zenigata a brief lift when they crash through his jail cell.
The animation is typical of recent Lupin films, not great but plenty good enough. Several jazzy lounge numbers from Lupin’s quasi-girlfriend Sandy give the soundtrack an extra touch of class, although mileage for her accented delivery may vary.
There aren’t any features I’d consider “special,” just the usual redundant character profiles and a very brief still gallery. Appearing yet again is the amusing Mr. Stain on Junk Alley CGI short “Cassette Tape,” previously reviewed for Burst Angel Volume 6.
Missed by a Dollar is a strong and quite funny Lupin film, definitely a step up from the uneven Columbus Files. Fans should seek it out immediately. I do have to say though that there’s something wrong with a Lupin who’s confronted with three beautiful women and attempts little more than a single kiss. Perhaps his next heist ought to be at the local pharmacy.