Lupin III: Green Vs. Red

I love the concept of meta-narrative. Give me a grand, overarching concept that ties together a world (or at least a movie franchise) and I'm there. I would stand for a week in line to see a film that brings all the guys who've played James Bond together and explains how there are so many 007s. As a pastor, I realize that I am keen on meta-narrative for a reason; I see it in my own faith system. But even if I were to set that aside for a moment, I think meta-narrative is cool. Films like Adaptation and Inception and Magnolia are like my own personal drug of choice.

Lupin III: Green vs. Red is just such a meta-narrative film. I've loved many of the different iterations of the character, from the gentleman thief with a heart of gold in The Castle of Cagliostro to the silly Lupin of The Mystery of Mamo to the darker but wildly entertaining Lupin of First Contact. Over the past forty years, Lupin has had more than a few different looks and adventures...and even his solid coat has gone through a variety of colors, most notably red and green but even white and pink! So here's the it possible that all of these differences can be attributed to the fact that there's more than one Lupin III? Green vs. Red says yes. Had they truly run with the scenario, it had the potential to be the best Lupin ever. Sadly, the concept isn't employed to its best, and enough confusion sets in that it winds up being a second-tier film in the canon...but it's definitely interesting enough to warrant a look-see.

A guy posing as Lupin in Japan gets himself caught...shoplifting. Outraged by the ridiculousness, Lupins from around the world put a hold on their own escapades and head to Japan in order to rescue their comrade. Enter Yasuo, a down-on-his-luck pickpocket with girlfriend problems who thinks he might benefit from becoming Lupin himself. In the midst of all the Lupin confusion, Yasuo manages to get involved in the "real" Lupin's heist of the Ice Cube, supposedly a diamond of the highest order. Problem is, it's not a gem at all but an item dangerous enough that governments are willing to kill in order to protect it. As all but a few Lupins wind up behind bars, the few remaining ones - including Yasuo - are lured into the Ice Cube job. As the film ends with a Lupin showdown, we are left to there a new "true" Lupin?

Is that description a bit vague? Confusing? That's exactly what you'll feel when you watch Green vs. Red. I've pieced together what's going on the best I can, but the film veers off-course badly after the first half-hour. The opening salvo is really nice, what with a few dozen Lupins in mini-cars driving through the streets of Japan and so forth, but from there the plot goes nowhere. It's strange to have a movie that's really about Yasuo, not Lupin. It's particularly odd because it's impossible to get a handle on who the real Lupin is, and that creates a situation where we don't actually care what's going to happen next. What does it matter? On top of that, there's no tension to the heist at all and no central bad guy. There is a bizarro plot about this guy who puts his brain into his kid, but it goes absolutely nowhere and is totally unnecessary. And frankly, the final Lupin showdown is much the same.

That isn't to say that there aren't scattered clues for the faithful. When I was looking to get a screenshot for my review, I started the show again on high speed. Suddenly, elements that were on screen for maybe a second in the first five minutes made sense in context. It was just that over the course of the hour and a half running time, I had completely lost them - I had no idea that they were important. That means that Green vs. Red may play better the second time through when you can look for the hints. In retrospect, I realized a couple of bits I'd dismissed as red herrings might have more purpose than I gave them credit for. That said, I'm not impressed when a movie deliberately makes it difficult for the audience to follow or care about the storyline.

Moreover, I kept imagining during the last hour all the possibilities that weren't used. With all those Lupins around, wouldn't it have been great to see them display the different personalities Lupin has had throughout the decades? I would have loved a segment where the Lupins had to work together to get Ice Cube out of the lair, or maybe a bit where multiple Lupins snatched it from one another. If I can come up with these off the top of my head, why couldn't the screenwriter? By abandoning that conceit less than halfway through, a lot of potential was squandered.

But in spite of those issues, I'm still going to give this film a very low recommendation. Why? For one, it's gorgeous to watch - being an OVA created for the 40th anniversary celebration meant that the budget was lavish. There's still plenty of fun to be had, particularly at the beginning, and some of the in-jokes are priceless (not to mention the hysterical if unintentional Engrish). And while I was frustrated by the narrative problems of the movie, I can't help but want to go back and catch all the stuff I missed. I think that this movie just might make sense; you just have to see it again to do so. I think that if I watched it again, realizing it was Yasuo's story, I might really like it. Many Lupin adventures go out of my head the minute after I've seen them. This one is still bumping around my brain several days later.

In my head, Lupin III: Green vs. Red is a noble failure, an attempt to handle the franchise in a new and fresh way that doesn't achieve the heights it intended. Nevertheless, it's worth seeing if you're a Lupin fan who will appreciate the various concepts bandied about. However, if you aren't already a Lupin devotee, this isn't going to make you one.

Lupin III: Green Vs. Red -- brief mild profanity, violence -- B-