Under the art deco ceiling of the Egyptian Theatre patrons experience a slew of movie selections during the fourth annual LA EigaFest. The festival seeks to showcase more Japanese movies to a broader audience. Anyone who is a fan of Japanese cinema or looking for just something new to experience, the Eigafest is a good place to be; especially when it’s a nicely cooled theater in a soul shattering heat wave.
Opening night featured the international premiere of Lupin III; a live action movie based on a popular manga dating from the sixties (so many cool things happened in the sixties didn’t they? Like a certain series involving a police box). The manga centers around a thief who is the grandson of a master thief named Arsine Lupin. Arsine Lupin was originally created by a french author named Maurice LeBlanc. The manga follows Lupin III and his friends through crazy action packed stories.
The guests of honor to the opening night were Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of the movie, along with the producer Mataichiro Yamamoto. The person who made the crowd swell around me and break through the red carpet carrier was the leading actress Meisa Kuroki; she plays Fujito Mine.
After the red carpet event, much confusion due to duplicate ticketing, and other small bouts of random chaos, the premiere was preceded by two special performances. The first was a dance performance by Kenichi Ebina, winner of America’s Got Talent.
This was phenomenal. I had the pleasure (and later displeasure) of sitting in the front row so I watched every crazy movement he did. For those in Southern California, he will be performing for two nights at El Camino College September 20 and 21. Information for the event can be found here.
The second performance was a taiko performance by the L.A. Matsuri Taiko group. The power of a taiko drum performance is pretty powerful. To have it less than a foot away from me, I swear I could feel my kidneys shaking. It definitely got my adrenaline pumping for the movie.
The series is extremely popular and well known but this was the first time I heard of it. The director gave a small speech mentioning that the intent of the premiere was to introduce the movie to an international audience. I would then represent a good portion of the population who would be watching this without any prior knowledge or expectation.
What better way to introduce a tight-knit high class thieves than to open the movie with all of their skills The goal is obtain an Egyptian necklace called the “The Crimson Heart”? Timing is tricky; the museum is heavily guarded so how will the item be obtained? The femme fatale known as Fujito Mine (played by Meisa Kuroki) uses extreme flexibility and agility. Then there’s the gunman extraordinaire, Jigen (played by Tetsuji Tamayama). Gadgetry was handled by Jiro (played by Shunichi Yamaguchi). They all used precised timing, stealth, and skills to try to obtain the necklace. Lupin the Third (played by Shun Oguri) just plants an explosive and the necklace falls right into his hands (very much like The Italian Job). He would have made a quick get-a-away if it wasn’t for Michael Lee (played Jerry) who takes advantage of Lupin’s weakness to nab the necklace away.
The whole group are part of an underground criminal ring called The Works headed by Dawson. Dawson is a beloved patriarchal leader of the Works.Through heartbreaking betrayal and utter violent chaos, the “Crimson Heart” is stolen. This begins the unraveling of past betrayals, vengeance, and loads of secrets.
In and around the scheming of the parties, there are fight scenes and a really amazing car chases (mini cooper versus hummer, who do you think wins?). Later we are introduced to Goemon (played by Go Ayanoa) the master swordsman. Goemon was easily the fan favorite (I am including myself) in the theater. He had some amazing lines and comedy sequences.
There was a pretty balanced mix of action, suspense, comedy, and serious moments. A key portion of the movie is also devoted to paying homage to manga.The way the actors postured and exaggerated their speech was a a constant reminder that this is still a comedy-action manga material being dealt here. The one major drawback to the movie is how the action sequences are filmed. All of the moves were really fast and intricate but it was too close to the camera so many times. It was hard to differentiate what was going on through the blur of movement.
This movie would still do a good job of translating to a new and broader audience. It did inspire me to borrow some of the manga and read up on the material. For fans of the series, it does capture the sense of fun and adventure of the manga. A big disappointment may be that the movie is set in modern times not the bright sixties. Since the manga was marketed towards a male demographics, Fujito’s breast are not emphasized. Her skills and overall sex appeal is. There is a crazy fight scene where she just fights in a towel after taking a bubble bath.
What I really appreciated the most in the movie was the use and portrayal of Thailand. For once it wasn’t focused on drugs or the nightlife. The police chief of Thailand and Inspector Zenigata of Interpol work together to help bring down the biggest crime leader known.
Interesting tidbit: Hayao Miyazaki did an animated adventure movie of Lupin III, titled Il Castello Di Cagliostro.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Lupin III. It was a multi-faceted movie that never lost it’s fun and action.
Thank you to the Eigafest organizers for inviting me to attend the opening night event.