Whether you are a former child of the distant 1970s like yours indeed or a youngster still discovering cinema today, however, we all know Lupin the Third, the lovable shameless thief from an animated series that finally became a movie in 1979.
Right from the start, old Lupin does not betray his origins, since after robbing the Monte Carlo Casino, we see him in a spectacular escape with his trusty gun-slinging partner, Jigen.
It’s too bad the huge sum of money is counterfeit. To make up for the defeat, the two friends set out to find the counterfeiters printing the bills, which appear to come from the domain of Count Lazare de Cagliostro.
The reception in the count’s kingdom is not the best, as, from the very first night, a bunch of assassins attack them after they rescue a young stranger, Clarisse.
Indeed, she is no ordinary girl, but no less than the betrothed of Cagliostro; first, a prisoner in a convent where she lived her entire childhood and now again locked up in the impenetrable fortress of the Cagliostro dynasty.
Legend has always circulated that the castle hides immense treasure somewhere in its many walls and secret passages, and that is precisely what the count, thirsty for power and wealth, is looking for.
Where there is so much wealth to steal, moreover, there is not only the cunning Lupin but also always comes the beautiful Fujiko, the thief’s forbidden love, who so many times, however, fools him with her sensuality to carry out her heist.
So Lupin has no choice but to call in reinforcements, bringing in both his infallible swordsman friend Goemon and his arch-rival Inspector Zenigata, who will have to choose whether to try to stop him or join him against the most evil Count Cagliostro.
The flawless debut of a cinematic legend
Hayao Miyazaki is not sacrificing his romantic and adventurous style, adapting it perfectly to the mythical Monkey Punch characters, namely Kazuhiko Katō, creator of the original Lupin III manga.
In this sense, we see the majestic magnitude of each location portrayed in the unmistakable stroke of Eastern brushstrokes, which are unique compared to Western rivals such as Disney or Pixar.
This time, it is a production with TMS Entertainment, rather than the famous Studio Ghibli that he would find only nearly ten years later.
Lupin the Third is a 1979 animated movie that is brilliant in every narrative idea and how the great director brings it to life in his first picture, where the attention to detail elevates it above the typical average animation standard in cinema, wisely interspersing calm and peaceful scenes to balance the frenetic action and tension scenes.
It is a gentle, eventful tale still as entertaining today as it was yesterday and the launching pad for the career of the great Miyazaki, who would continue to improve from movie to movie, becoming one of the most fabulous kings among the many Japanese animation masters.
Compared to other first works, sometimes as exciting as full of flaws due to inexperience, here, by contrast, we already see him perfectly mixing comedy with action, as well as a pure, childlike romanticism that counterbalances the cruel darkness of some characters, such as the mad Count Lazare de Cagliostro.
However, in this appreciable first cinematic step, we can already see some insights and recurring themes we will see again in his future movies, such as the funny flying vehicles or the almost fantasy style of architecture and natural landscapes, combined, of course with his poetics full of love towards youth’s enthusiasm and innocence against the cynical and ruthless adult world.
The most friendly thieves in cinema history
Monkey Punch’s reinterpretation of the French thief Arsenio Lupin, created by writer Maurice Blanc, exaggerates his boyish side with manga-like colors and features, emphasizing the joy and fun of carrying out robberies worldwide.
The character becomes charming and likable, sometimes silly and naive, while in other situations, his complicatedly ingenious plans become completely unpredictable.
These plans come to life with the associates he always has by his side, two distinguishable characters essential to the completion of an infallible band of thieves.
On the one hand, there is the mysterious Daisuke Jigen, a mixture of a noir detective with his hat always pulled down over his head (whose face is practically never visible) and a gunslinger with a Western soul who never wastes a bullet.
On the other hand, in a different but complementary way, there is Goemon Ishikawa, a swift and deadly samurai with a sharp sword whose attitude is rigidly tied to honor and respect, seems as different as possible from the cheerful and uncontrollable Lupin.
The gang cannot fail to include the sexy femme fatale Fujiko Mine, sometimes a thief but more often a con artist, whose victims repeatedly include Lupin himself, who cannot help but love her irresistible charm.
Attempting to arrest all but constantly failing is the hilarious Inspector Koichi Zenigata, somewhat unlucky to have such a brilliant opponent, for the inspector is not stupid, but Lupin and his associates are simply too clever for anyone.
Finally, completing the picture are Count Lazare de Cagliostro, a relentless tyrant never satiated with power and money (real or fake), and the beautiful and innocent Clarisse, both characters who come (and we will see again) directly from the creative style of Hayao Miyazaki.