Lupin the Third: Is Lupin Still Burning? (2018)

aka Rupan sansei: Rupan wa imamo moeteiruka?

Jun Kawagoe & Monkey Punch | 27 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | Japan / Japanese | 15

Lupin the Third: Is Lupin Still Burning?

Whether you want to call this a short film or a TV special or something else entirely (it was originally released straight to DVD as a special feature in Japan) is little more than a technicality, really. It’s a sub-40-minute standalone piece, and therefore I’m counting it as a short film (it also has been screened theatrically, so it’s not a totally ridiculous classification).

What it definitely is is a 50th anniversary special for the Lupin the Third franchise. Best known in the West thanks to Hayao Miyazaki’s debut feature, The Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin III is actually a sprawling franchise. Beginning life in 1967 as a manga written and illustrated by a chap called Monkey Punch (I suspect not his birth name), an anime TV series followed in 1971, since when there have been multiple further series, dozens of films (both theatrical and TV specials), plus a couple of attempts at live-action movies, and a bunch of video games and stuff too.

Although this short was produced to mark the birthdate of the comics, it takes its cue from the anime series, the first episode of which was called Is Lupin Burning…?! and had the same setup: Lupin is to take part in a car race, but it’s actually a lethal trap set by his enemies. But from there, this version spins off into some wacky time-travel shenanigans — a way to send our hero back into key adventures and moments from his history, handily.

50 years in the crosshairs

Appropriately for a 50th anniversary special, Is Lupin Still Burning is loaded with references (both major and minor) for diehard fans to enjoy. As someone who has enjoyed a couple of Lupin’s adventures but is a long way from being well-versed in his world, I could tell a load of stuff was flying over my head — almost everything, in fact — which was unfortunate, but understandable. This is clearly a celebration that’s primarily aimed at dyed-in-the-wool fans rather than pleasing or initiating newcomers. That said, it still just about works as a madcap one-off adventure. It’s particularly enjoyable in the kinetic action sequences, like a destructive car race — being held in Nomaco (work out the ‘pun’ for yourself) — that plays out during the opening credits.

The franchise’s only regular female cast member, Fujiko Mine, spends most of the film captured by the villains, strapped to a torture table with her clothing mostly torn off, being tickled by robot hands and stuff like that. Your feelings about all this are your own; I describe it merely for context. Put another way, not all of the “fan service” requires prior knowledge to be, er, serviceable.

I expect if you’re a long-term fan of Lupin III, this fan-service-filled short is deserving of at least 4 stars. As someone without that depth of knowledge, it’s unmistakeable that you’re missing out on plenty. The callbacks aren’t little asides or background nods, but fundamental to the plot of the piece. Nonetheless, I’m giving it a positive score, because it is still enjoyable, even if it’s clearly not really made for the likes of me.

3 out of 5

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