You've got to hand it to the folks at Discotek Media. They've been digging up some great forgotten titles and polishing them up good for domestic release. Their latest offering is Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy, the lone live action release in the long and storied history of the popular, long running manga and anime character with a murky relationship to the French character of the same name.
Arsene Lupin the Third is a third generation thief, a carefree, irreverent figure who takes what he wants with a smile on his face, always one step ahead of his enemies except when there's a woman involved. Filled with lurid colors, a never end stream of slapstick set pieces and a playful sexuality the 1974 production plays like a Japanese take on the Pink Panther films with perhaps the tiniest dash of Bond thrown in for good measure.
Strange Psychokinetic Strategy was clearly meant to be the launching point for a later series that never materialized – the lack of any further Lupin films is a mystery deserving of its own film, since this one is a total gas – and as such it serves as a handy primer and introduction to all of the characters. There's Lupin himself - dashing in his own mind, ridiculous to most others – raised in an orphanage following the destruction of his father's crime ring by a rival gang and ignorant of his family heritage. There's Jigen, the quick drawing, heavily armed lone survivor of Lupin the Second's gang, fiercely loyal and desperate to restore the family name to prominence. There's the obsessed police inspector Zenigata and the beautiful and manipulative Fujiko, the untrustworthy fellow thief and object of Lupin's affections, with a deck of deadly razor sharp playing cards kep tucked in her panties.
Though there is a larger plot device – it involves an ancient statue that may have supernatural powers – this is a film that lives and dies with the goofy interactions between its characters. There is no pratfall too obvious, no whim to silly to indulge. Undercranked cameras send characters zipping around at high speeds, Zenigata is constantly amassing new bandages and casts, Lupin is forever winking at the audience, and the constant stream of villains becomes continuously more camp until it climaxes with the inevitable – seriously – gang of singing and dancing, leather hot pant clad gang of female assassins disguised as nuns.
Though Discotek's DVD release is labeled as a special edition it is actually a fairly bare bones affair, including only the original trailer for the film. The film itself, however, is flawlessly presented with a beautifully restored anamorphic transfer and fantastic English subtitles. It also boasts an excellent written history of both the character and the film that sets the stage nicely and will prime newcomers to the quirks of the long running, popular character.
These days, with the benefit of cheap digital effects, it feels like it's relatively easy to make the transition from anime and manga to live action. But back in the seventies? It was well nigh impossible, and yet Lupin the Third perfectly captures the gravity defying physics and loopy energy that comes so easily to animation and so rarely to live action, improved effects or not. The film's success is partly due to the skill behind the camera to be sure, but mostly it proves that there's no substitute for talent in front of it. From top to bottom the entire cast is loaded with talented physical performers perfectly striking the balance between camp silliness and charm. Lupin is one of the most beloved characters of all time, the subject of lengthy runs in both anime and manga, so enduring that even Hayao Miyazaki took a run at him at one point, and this film is both a more than worthy addition to the Lupin canon and a near flawless example of how to adapt an anime to live action. Fluff of the very highest order and highly recommended.