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"Stolen Lupin": Lupin’s Better Half

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There are some iconic fictional characters that we unquestioningly come to accept as the best in their fields. Nobody throws a punch like Rocky, nobody swings a lightsaber like Darth Vader, and James Bond, well, nobody does it better. Until now the same could be said for Lupin the Third’s amazing aptitude for thievery. However, in Stolen Lupin not only does Lupin meet his match, but it’s (gasp!) a girl. Admittedly, it’s a very beautiful girl. I tell you, this guy’s life has more silver linings than a Macy’s wedding registry.

A gun in the hand and a gal, uh, somewhere else.

Aired in summer 2004, this is the sixteenth annual TV special and ties Lupin with the Bond franchise for number of films when you add in the theatrical releases. One might think the series would start to get a little tired, but if a 58-year-old Roger Moore could still get kinky in the hot tub then Lupin’s still got plenty of life left in him. Indeed, the first half of Stolen is full of neat plot twists, most notably the rival thief. Fujiko fans may be disappointed to see her displaced as the world’s greatest female thief, but she remains unrivaled in other areas of, er, expertise. Unfortunately the film’s intriguingly mysterious nature gives way in the third act to one of the most conventional Lupin climaxes I’ve ever seen. Next to the nailbiting thrills of Island of Assassins, I’d almost even call the ending dull.

We open in Paris with Inspector Zenigata pursuing a jewel-laden truck he is sure was stolen by Lupin, only to discover to his amazement that the driver is a young woman. Soon enough Lupin does arrive to take a shot at the cargo, but he finds himself instead kidnapped by an unknown force. His captor, the Mafioso-like Malkovich, orders him to steal the priceless bull’s eye jewel in 24 hours, or he will kill the also captive Fujiko. Without revealing his motivation Lupin recruits the reluctant Jigen and Goemon, and they steal the jewel from its heavily guarded island museum home. Lupin escapes by helicopter, leaving his incensed friends to fend for themselves. However, before he can deliver the bull’s eye it is stolen by Becky, the woman seen earlier. She is the ward of Lupin’s old friend and equipment supplier Lumberjack, and eager to prove herself the world’s greatest thief by besting Lupin at every turn. Moreover, the bull’s eye holds a very personal significance for her. Lupin finds Becky at a casino, where she has had the jewel placed in the safe to secure her bets. She quickly proposes they see who can steal the safe first, and both race to do so. To their great surprise Zenigata is waiting in ambush, but Jigen and Goemon grudgingly show up in the nick of time to spring Lupin. Eventually Lupin discovers why everyone who steals the bull’s eye is killed, and finds his friends and fortune in great jeopardy.

Lupin is his usual mischievous self here, although his early betrayal of Jigen and Goemon is a rarity. That business aside, those two perform their usual trusty sidekick roles, and Goemon gets a good bit of screen time as he battles Malkovich’s formidable ninja assassin. He becomes oddly loquacious when he pauses the fighting to lecture his opponent on samurai ethics or some such thing. If anyone has been missing the wily Fujiko of old, she’s back in full force, tempting and deceiving Lupin and Malkovich as it suits her. Good old Zenigata is mostly sidelined, but we do get a rare look at his office work at Interpol headquarters. Becky is cute, willful, predictably enamored with Lupin, and a real tough cookie. It’s not hard to imagine her launching a spin-off series for a slightly more female audience, perhaps with guest appearances from the gang. Malkovich is a very typical Lupin villain, who has one effectively menacing speech and is otherwise quite forgettable. No, he doesn’t look like the more famous Malkovich, but he is rather bald and pompous.

Although it pains me to say it, this film is a bit low on highlights. Most of the humor is quite bland, including some corny slapstick by Zenigata in which he slams his hand inside his laptop. The one moment that brought a smile to my face was when the gang is on the run from dozens of guards and Lupin tells Jigen and Goemon that he’ll bring up the rear, to which a nearly teary-eyed Goemon admiringly responds that Lupin might just understand the code of the samurai after all. Lupin then promptly sets the guards on his friends’ trail so he can make his getaway.

The boys go shopping.

Things are a little better in the action department. The opening truck chase, involving a skydiving Lupin and inflatable Lupin decoys, is quite exciting, and both Goemon and Becky have very slick duels with Malkovich’s assassins. Goemon crosses swords on top of a double-decker bus, while Becky pulls off some Matrix-worthy acrobatics in a subway station. The ninja’s secret weapon appears to be ball bearings, which he flicks with his thumbs with the speed and force of an M16 (!). If anyone cares to explain how that works, I’m all ears. It’s too bad the film’s big climactic battle turns out to be a letdown. It seems like they were going for High Noon, but what we get is closer to Wild Wild West.

This is the first Lupin special in which I can recall any notable use of CGI, although that may reflect more on my memory. There’s only a little of it, and it works well except for the tacky opening credits. Overall the animation is typical TV special quality, good but maybe a slight step down from a few of its predecessors.

Since this was the Japanese VHS version there were no special features, and research on the Region 2 DVD released in November 2004 reveals that it didn’t contain any either apart from an optional soundtrack CD. I would have expected more from the land of Lupin. Maybe we have it pretty good over here after all.

Lupin fans will want to check out Stolen Lupin when it gets its eventual stateside release in a year or so. There’s no need to count the days, however. Though entertaining, it doesn’t rank among his top adventures. Neophytes will do better with the suspenseful recent release Island of Assassins (1997) or the hilarious upcoming Crisis in Tokyo (1998). But wait; did I forget to mention the Fujiko bedroom scene? Maybe you should keep an eye on that calendar.

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