Lupin the Third is beloved both in its native Japan and abroad, but I consider myself to be a casual fan of the series at best. Between the recent death of original manga creator Kazuhiko Kato (a.k.a. Monkey Punch) and the upcoming release of a CG-animated reboot (which looks fantastic, by the way), however, I figured that it was about time I finally got around to popping in my battered DVD copy of the legendary thief’s big screen debut, Strange Psychokinetic Strategy.
Although it’s one of the few live-action installments in the long-running franchise, the movie still operates on pure cartoon logic: our amorous antihero is capable of literally leaping straight out of his pants, a character is flattened like a pancake without any lasting consequences (beyond an absurdly oversized bandage in subsequent scenes), and there are two variations on the classic Scooby-Doo hallway gag. Indeed, in terms of its tone, it more closely resembles Austin Powers, ZAZ comedies, and old Three Stooges shorts than it does a traditional heist flick; Lupin himself would rather get lucky (especially with the wily femme fatale Fujiko Mine) than control a criminal empire, much to the dismay of his sole underling, Daisuke Jigen (a perfectly-cast Kunie Tanaka). While this raunchy sense of humor may come as a shock to viewers that are only familiar with the comparatively wholesome interpretation of the protagonist in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro, it is, in many respects, actually more faithful to the spirit of the source material.
Personally, I greatly admired the film for its unpredictability: a musical number might abruptly transition into a fight sequence, for example, and the fourth wall barely even exists. It’s consistently imaginative, constantly surprising, and a whole lot of fun. Maybe it’s occasionally a bit campy and nonsensical… but at least it’s never boring!