Lupin III: The First is finally coming to Western shores, giving fans outside of Japan the chance to officially see the beloved thief complete his greatest heist yet: stealing our hearts and minds as he takes the leap to sumptuous 3D animation. But it’s not the only major first that, well, The First has for Monkey Punch’s iconic creation.
To celebrate GKids’ release of the movie in theatres this week — and on-demand later this year — Gizmodo recently sat down with The First’s director, Takashi Yamazaki, to ask him about the challenges of bringing a traditionally animated character to a new medium, and why that change brought with it some bold new ground for Lupin III to tread on. Check out our interview below!
James Whitbrook, Gizmodo: What’s it like, being on the precipice of introducing the film to a Western audience for the first time?
Takashi Yamazaki: So, when you do a movie in Japan if it’s live-action, it really, rarely has a chance to get outside of Japan. You know, people might watch as maybe an “artsy” film, but not really for entertainment. But for CG animation, this is something we can get over. A CG film could get out of Japan. And I really think it’s a good opportunity for us as animators and filmmakers. I really want as many people to watch it and to for them to see what we perceive as entertaining and what we can do.
Gizmodo: It’s been a few years since the last Lupin animated series — even longer since we’ve seen him on the big screen. Why do you think now is the right time to do a new Lupin movie, and why do you think moving to 3D CG animation with this character was the next big step for him?
Yamazaki: So, you’re right. It’s been a long time since Lupin was in a film. They’re more like TV specials nowadays. What I felt, I wanted people to see it now because I’ve been watching this as a kid and I wanted to have a next generation see it. And I thought having it a new medium — CG — would be interesting. And maybe a little bit easier for the new generation to go watch and accept it, and I think with the flashy new medium, it would be really fun. And because I think Lupin has characteristics that appeal to every generation, so I wanted everyone who knows Lupin to come in and say, “Yeah, that was really good.” Lupin was always really awesome to watch.
Gizmodo: This has come in pretty recently with your project in the Dragon Quest franchise, Your Story movie. You were adapting another beloved art style there with Akira Toriyama’s famous aesthetic. What did you learn from that process that you brought over to adapting Monkey Punch’s look for The First?
Yamazaki: Actually, like, production-wise, Lupin and Dragon Quest, they were almost around the same time I was working on it. Dragon Quest was done at my studio and Lupin was done at another studio so it’s not like I learned something from Dragon Quest and incorporated it into Lupin. Actually, we approached the two projects completely differently. For Dragon Quest, we have different animators drawing different forms of the original Toriyama designs, but with Lupin, we really tried to make it look like the Lupin everyone loves, so, we really wanted to focus on how much we could make it — even though it’s CG — 2D Lupin. So, it was a challenge for both of them. But it was a completely separate way of approaching it.
Gizmodo: Lupin in his field as a thief has always dealt with people in positions of power and a criminal element, but very specifically in The First, he is dealing with a group of Nazis — people who are trying to revive the Third Reich. Why do you think that was an important story to be telling in our current moment to have Lupin and his team to go fight some Nazis?
Yamazaki: Yeah, I really think the people in the far-right have been making it hard for everyone else to live these days. When we started working on this project that wasn’t really a big thing but it was sort of in the back of our heads. And I wanted to do something like, people — I don’t want to say the name, because spoilers — but if someone like that bad guy [had] power again, what kind of fearful world would it be? That’s something I wanted to explore.
Gizmodo: The key thing that Lupin and his friends are after in this movie has something that borders on more supernatural and science-fiction elements, which is not something we’ve really seen Lupin explore that much before. How did you come to that decision, to bring more science-fiction elements to it?
Yamazaki: Yeah, since it’s a movie, I really wanted to go big. That’s the first thing. But because I like a lot of the blockbusters from the ‘80s — something like Indiana Jones — you would think “Oh, it’s something like archeology/historical artefact” but at the end, it was this sci-fi-ish weapon. When I saw that it was really exciting, I really wanted to incorporate that excitement into my film.
Gizmodo: Now that you’re looking back on it and audiences are getting to see it, what do you hope fans take from the mark that you have left on Lupin and this specific group of characters?
Yamazaki: Yes, I would like them to think of something like, “Don’t give up on something you love.” If it helps someone, if they’re trying to achieve something they might want…and also, support the young generation’s dreams. The girl, she wants to go into that school, and Lupin, in the end, helps with that dream. And also, Lupin and his gang really feel the importance of being free. Having free will. And if the fans feel that again, that’d be great.
Lupin III: The First is receiving a limited-run theatrical release this week, before releasing on-demand digitally December 16.