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The Curator of Schlock #58 by Jeff Shuster

Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive

Not to be confused with DOA: Dead or Alive

Lupin III DoA Poster

Who is Lupin the 3rd? Is he a villainous criminal mastermind or a heroic kind-hearted thief? The latter of course! He’s not even remotely villainous.  He rescues princesses from evil counts. He steals million dollar diamonds only to give the money away to some poor orphan whose parents were killed by the Nostradamus Sect. These week’s movie, Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive, starts out in a nasty prison where the warden will let a few prisoners escape just so the guards can have some target practice. Then the warden lights a cigar that explodes. It turns out the warden was Lupin the 3rd in disguise. He drives the prisoners away in a jeep while Apache helicopters fire missiles at him. That’s just the first five minutes of the movie.

I think it’s fitting that Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive came out in 1996. That was the first year I discovered Lupin the 3rd when I bought that VHS copy of The Mystery of Mamo. I do find myself waxing nostalgic when I write about these films. It wouldn’t be long before I started studying film at Manatee Community College, watching such classics as The 400 Blows and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaasssss Song. It helped that film critics of the 90s such as Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were very receptive to Japanese animation. A movie’s merit wasn’t judged based on what genre it came from. This made me more open-minded when it came to exploring films outside the mainstream whether they belonged to the French New Wave or those exotic animated features coming from Japan.

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I was once asked if I thought that Japanese animation was better than American animation. I said no. You can’t really compare the two. The one distinction of note I’ve observed over the years is that Japanese animation tends to focus on detail whereas American animation tends to focus on fluidity of movement. I also feel that more inventive storytelling occurs in Japanese animation simply because they produce far more of it than we do.

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If we take Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive as an example, one might be tempted to write it off as a typical adventure movie. We have Lupin and company visiting the island paradise of Zufu in search of treasure. Unfortunately, a brutal dictator named General Headhunter rules Zufu. He lives up to that name whenever he chops the heads off of useless people or foolish subordinates. General Headhunter had also managed to execute the King of Zufu, but couldn’t disable able the defense mechanism guarding the nation’s treasure.

It’s the defense mechanism that sets this movie apart. The treasure is contained on an island where an aircraft carrier must have shipwrecked. When Lupin and company set foot inside, the computer on board reads them as intruders and employs nanotechnology against them. Knives and axes attached to tentacles form out of the dirt on the floor of the vessel and out of the sand outside. Microscopic robots are making all of this possible, and it will take a computer program to make the dirt inert. And when the dirt is rendered harmless, it’s revealed to be gold dust. I’m used to deadly traps guarding the treasure in adventure movies, but this is the first instance I’ve ever seen of the treasure being the deadly trap.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed Lupin the 3rd month. Like James Bond, he will return to The Museum of Schlock someday.

Five Things I Learned from Lupin the 3rd Dead or Alive

  1. There’s no point in trying to arrest Lupin the 3rd. He’ll break out of jail in three days tops.
  2. Exploding cigars come in handy during car chases.
  3. Evil dictators will only hire you as their secretary after you have a bout of mortal combat with another candidate.
  4. Having a one million dollar bounty on your head sure brings out the bounty hunters.
  5. If your evil boss always kills the messenger, don’t be the one to deliver the message.

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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.

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