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Monday, December 15, 2014

05:39:00 pm , 1092 words, 36216 views     Categories: Movie, Lupin III, Studio: Telecom, Studio: Tokyo Movie

Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone

The news came out a few months back that Tomonaga Kazuhide heads a new Lupin III TV series starting this spring. The show seems poised to be a return to the sensibility of Cagliostro-era Lupin, with its breathless car chases, lighthearted atmosphere, good-guy Lupin and caper-centric stories. Visually, too, as the Japanese like to word it, it's monkey-headed Lupin (Fuma Clan) rather than horse-head Lupin (Part III).

Acting as a kind of bridge between the Takeshi Koike-designed Fujiko Mine TV show of a few years back and the upcoming reboot is a recent movie entitled Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone. In two 30-minute parts, it feels less like a movie and more like an OVA, or two gussied up TV episodes. The story feels lifted straight out of the second TV series in sensibility. It feels much closer to the Lupin of old than Fujiko Mine, feeling like a lead-in to the upcoming TV series, yet finally does justice to Takeshi Koike's unique interpretation of the characters thanks to some truly excellent animation quality, which the previous TV show was lacking due presumably to bad scheduling.

Telecom handles the animation, so it can be assumed to be a preview of what's to come from the TV series, in terms of the animation if not the designs. It's an odd pairing: Takeshi Koike and Telecom. But it works great. We finally get to see Koike's designs animated properly. I'm not sure what happened between Fujiko Mine and this movie in terms of Takeshi Koike's involvement, but it feels like he wanted to make this movie so that he could vindicate himself and show how his Lupin should have looked. Because here he's involved full-bore, in classic Koike style, handling character design, storyboarding, directing and even sakkaning (with no assistance).

The animation pops thanks to some very talented folks, both in-house and outside animators. Hisao Yokobori and Kazuhide Tomonaga head the animator list as the star in-house animators, while presumably Takeshi Koike brought in folks like Takefumi Hori, Kanako Maru, Satoru Utsunomiya, Hiroshi Shimizu, Kenichi Shimizu and Toshiaki Hontani. I was surprised to see such faces in a Telecom production, but I hope that the upcoming TV show will continue to use talented outsiders, because otherwise I don't see how they can fill the show with good animation just with in-house staff.

The car action in episode 1 was spectacular, if slightly different in feeling from the classic car chases. Takeshi Koike's genius shines through in this spot, whereas otherwise the show felt pretty restrained for him - less him showboating than doing the material justice. The Telecom chases favored long shots regaling you with characters plowing through scenery, whereas here it's all fast cutting and dynamic camera angles. It would be pretty cool if Tomonaga Kazuhide animated a car chase storyboarded by Takeshi Koike. I couldn't identify who did what, except for Satoru Utsunomiya's scene, but the whole episode felt tight animation-wise, with Takeshi Koike's drawings filling in the more quiet scenes nicely. Incidentally, great to see Satoru Utsunomiya. He always seems on the verge of disappearing and then shows up in some random show. Hard to believe that in the 10 years since I started this blog he never had an opportunity to helm a big project. But that goes for a lot of talented people (e.g. Yasuhiro Aoki)...

In sensibility the two episodes felt like they could have been taken straight out of the early Lupin (perhaps why the new jacket is a color that seems midway between blue and green), from the way Fujiko shows up and interacts with the Lupin gang to the combination of assassin bad guy and international intrigue and fanciful spy tech. The bad guy assembling the gun was animated in loving detail as befitting classic Lupin, and Lupin's car this time around was different from any before but also a charming but punchy mid-range classic car - the Alfa Romeo GTV? The only thing that felt a little uncomfortably weird and closer to Fujiko in spirit was the bizarro sexbot scene with Fujiko scampering around completely naked avoiding an enormous drillbit penis. It's like they want to have the sex aspect in the show, but they've divorced it from the character of Lupin and pinned it on the bad guys. The juvenile bit between Lupin and Fujiko on the motorcycle captured Monkey Punch's jokey attitude towards matters sexual, but even then it still feels toned down, albeit still farther than they'd go in the early shows.

The scriptwriter Yuuya Takahashi did a good job recreating the spirit of the old Lupin, although his experience predominantly as a mystery screenplay writer comes through in the somewhat excessively expository denouement, which consists of about 10 minutes straight of 'tane-akashi' explanation. Even the way it was obvious that there's no way Jigen was dead felt true to the transparent ploys of early Lupin. My favorite bit in the movie may have been the part where Lupin walks off screen from his table and then, after a pause, drops some coins on the table. Now that's the classy wit I like to see in Lupin. I liked the Broadway joke - perhaps it's a stretch to imagine this as a reference to the Yoshio Urasawa Broadway series in red jacket Lupin. Also true to old Lupin is the fact that there's no unnecessary killing. Even the assassin gets off with just a shot to the arm. And the Lupin gang comes away empty-handed save for the satisfaction of having done the right thing according to their rules.

The only problem was the complete omission of Goemon and Zenigata. Is it because they didn't know whether to go with the new personalities or the old? Or to save the trouble of writing them into the story? Seems a bit lazy. They even credited Zenigata's voice actor in the credits even though he doesn't have any role, much less dialogue.

SPOILERS: But the ultimate kicker of the movie was the last sequence, which had my jaw dropped. Is this setting things up for Mamo to be a player in the TV series? Or just a treat for fans of the first movie? (considered by many to be the best of the bunch) It seems a bit capricious and random to be the latter, so I'm guessing the former. I can't get enough of Mamo, so I'm all for more. But if you bring Mamo back, come on, you've got to bring back either Yuzo Aoki or Yoshio Kabashima, or preferably both. You want to see a grown man beg?



tamerlane [Visitor]

I think the Mamo tease might be setting up another Koike special, maybe character specific for Goemon or Zenigata like this one was for Jigen. Purely speculative but it would be great if Koike could revive the Lupin special like Dezaki did in the late 80s.

You probably caught this but the weird sex cult thing with Fujiko was a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, complete with repetitive piano music and red interiors.

12/15/14 @ 18:37
Aaron Long
Aaron Long [Visitor]

Wow I can’t wait to watch this, based on your response to it! I had no idea it was even out. Between this and the upcoming series, it seems like it’s a good time to be a Lupin fan. I completely agree with your request to bring back Aoki and Kabashima, while they’re at it. I’m not sure how old they are or if they’re still active in the industry, but how cool would it be to have them back at work on Lupin again?

12/15/14 @ 21:10
Ben [Member]  

Tamerlane - True, Koike is one of the few directors since Dezaki who’s seemed to be a good fit with the special format. (this doesn’t feel like a movie to me) You could be right about the Kubrick reference, though this is actually a setup that’s occurred a few times in Lupin - he runs across a secret society of rich men who gather in an underground lair to gamble or buy women or whatever.

Aaron - I hope you enjoy it. It does still retain a bit of the stylish moodiness of Fujiko due to the designs, and the drawings aren’t by any stretch loose and playful like Part III or anything, but it was pretty enjoyable, far more so than the previous show. The needless hatching is thankfully gone. I have to admit that the weird proportions of Koike’s designs kind of annoy me with some of the characters though. (the broad shoulders, narrow waist, super long arms that taper out to huge hands) It would indeed be great to get Aoki and Kabashima back. Kabashima actually now runs his own studio called Mugenkan ( so it wouldn’t be inconceivable for him to get back into the action, but I haven’t seen Aoki’s name anywhere lately.

12/16/14 @ 11:08
Muffin [Visitor]

Actually, Zenigata appears briefly after the end credits. And he looks all mean and moody…

12/17/14 @ 07:47
Ben [Member]  

Thanks. That’s what I get for not watching until the end of the credits. That coda even more strongly implies that this is a lead-in.

12/17/14 @ 12:47
Aaron Long
Aaron Long [Visitor]

I watched the film and overall I felt similarly to what you wrote, Ben. The sequences with Fujiko in the “perverts’ club” were my only real complaint - they felt like leftovers from the 2012 Fujiko series. Unpleasantly exploitative, in-your-face prolonged nudity for no good reason.

There was more comedy, luckily - the tone did feel very reminiscent of the early Lupin shows. I still wish the animation was a bit more exaggerated and stylized, but it was very well well-done anyway.

I’m not sure what to make of that Mamo cameo at the end… I prefer seeing new stories and characters to rehashing old ones, but Mamo was a pretty interesting villain.

There are a few quotes from the makers of the upcoming Lupin TV series regarding the tone and art style which sound very promising - from Tomonoga: ““I want to make a Lupin where the hardboiled, comical, cool and nonsensical all work together.”

And from the director Yano:
“The characters in this series will move around speedily. I want to draw the characters with a mischievous, fiery passion. We want to combine old and new techniques to make a interesting hybrid mix, like combining the rough, powerful thick lines of old with thin, detailed lines in other parts.”

12/17/14 @ 20:55
tamerlane [Visitor]

Hey Ben: I don’t know if this is the right place to ask but have you seen the new Shin-chan film (the 22nd)? I recently watched it and was blown away, it felt like the best entry since Keiichi Hara’s days. It has an interesting script by Kazuki Nakashima and the director, Wataru Takahashi, was apparently taught by Tsutomu Mizushima. The storyboarding was quite strong throughout and I wouldn’t be surprised if Takahashi ends up as the next success story from the studio a la Ayumu Watanabe/Keiichi Hara.

The animation had the cinematic polish you’d expect but there was something weird about the finale. It looked like it was done in flash by a webgen animator but no-one on the KA list stuck out to me as such. There’s the usual Sueyoshi, Hayashi, Otsuka, Takakura cuts, and even a few by Michio Mihara, but I can’t for the life of me figure out who did the big ending fight and I was wondering if you knew.

12/31/14 @ 14:16
Rubin [Visitor]  

Could someone explain to me what “sakkaning” is?
I googled it and still did not find a good answer.

01/03/15 @ 00:45
Ben [Member]  

Aaron - Those comments are very encouraging. I’m looking forward to this even more now. I hope they can manage to bring back ye olde Telecom vibe.

tamerlane - I haven’t seen a Shin-chan movie in years, but I’ll check it out and let you know. Sounds great. It’s nice how they’re continually switching up the staff to try out different things with the movies rather than letting them stagnate.

Rubin - Sakkaning is a word I just made up in an attempt to produce a verb for what the animation director or “sakkan” does. It’s basically drawing correction.

01/03/15 @ 12:38
Ben [Member]  

tamerlane -

Just watched it. It looked like Yuasa to me when I first saw it, and indeed there’s a section in the credits that reads “Giant Hiroshi Robo Battle: Science Saru” with design by Yuasa and animation by Yuasa, Abel Gongora, Juan Manuel Laguna and Eunyoung Choi. And Yuasa receives a storyboard credit so he also storyboarded this section.

01/04/15 @ 14:01
tamerlane [Visitor]

Thank you for the info!

How did you end up liking the film overall?

01/04/15 @ 18:51
Ben [Member]  

I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I didn’t feel the film surpassed Mitsuru Hongo’s or Keiichi Hara’s entries. It was around the time of the Muto Yuji era (2005-2007) that I thought the Shin-chan films were losing the cinematic appeal of the Keiichi Hara days, but this film felt cinematic and had a social theme reminiscent of Adult Empire, so it was a good balance and return to the feeling of the older movies. Kazuki Nakashima wrote some clever lines, and the animation was pretty strong, as usual. I’m not familiar with Ayumu Takahashi (or any of the recent directors) but he’s done a nice job, though there were a bunch of storyboarders and I don’t know how it was broken down so it’s hard to really get a sense of his style just from this.

01/05/15 @ 15:51
tamerlane [Visitor]

You might be interested in this interview with Takahashi about the film:

In any case, I hope Takahashi and Nakashima return next year. It’d be great if the Shin-chan films could regain some of their former glory.

01/06/15 @ 15:04
Alex [Visitor]

I’m sorry to leave an off-topic comment,
but I need help:
I’m not permitted to comment anymore with my Anipages account. Can this be solved ?
Did I do anything wrong ? Can I fix it ?

Turning on topic,
I’m glad you enjoyed this sort of movie:
I think it may be the best Lupin offspring
in last years (I still have to see the entire
Fukiko series before I can hold an opinion )

01/25/15 @ 10:24
Steven [Visitor]  

Hey Ben, heard you were hoping the new blue jacket Lupin would return to the loose, expressive animation style of the early series. If this clip is any indication, I’d say your wish was granted! (URL for the clip)

04/18/15 @ 21:11