Judge Joel Pearce strokes his long, white beard and offers a few quatrains predicting you'll enjoy this mindless anime actioner.
Will the prophecy be fulfilled?
We have pretty much seen the death of serial-style Hollywood entertainment. I grew up with the Indiana Jones trilogy, and loved Romancing the Stone and other such mindless, action-packed entertainment. Something has happened to adventure films since then. They have gradually turned into bland fare like Gone in 60 Seconds and Tomb Raider. The new adventure film is high on plot and character development, and surprisingly low on action. Where can we go to get our mindless, exciting, fun action fix?
Lupin the 3rd may just be the answer. For the uninitiated, Lupin is a skilled master thief whose animated adventures have spawned several long-running television series, dozens of feature films, and numerous television features in Japan. The most famous Lupin film is The Castle of Cagliostro, one of Hayao Miyazaki's earliest films. While Farewell to Nostradamus isn't quite as good, it's still a blast to watch.
It really is pure fun. There are about three minutes of exposition at the beginning in which we learn that there's a sect following the prophecies of Nostradamus. A newly-discovered prophecy involves an American businessman named Douglas (obviously modeled after Richard Nixon) who is about to run for president. After Lupin steals a valuable diamond, he runs into Douglas's daughter Julia, who takes the diamond. Coincidentally, Julia is being cared for by Lupin's sometimes-partner Fujiko, who has plans to break into the vault of the Douglas skyscraper. Her plan goes sour when Julia is kidnapped. Lupin enlists the help of longtime partner Jigen and lone swordsman Goemon to help break into the vault and maybe rescue the girl, if everything else goes well.
Pretty soon, none of that matters as the gang is hurled into near-constant action sequences. There are kidnappings, betrayals, shoot-outs, prison breaks, chase sequences, and globetrotting.Shady religious groups abound, and it never gets dull for a second. The relationships between the regular characters are explained enough that Farewell to Nostradamus won't be confusing to new viewers, but anyone familiar with the series will immediately feel right at home. The action sequences are inventive and slick, with each of the characters using his or her usual repertoire of skills to get out of tight spots.
Many of these sequences are quite funny as well. Lupin the 3rd is a perfect parody of the spy genre. It pokes fun at all of the conventions (consider the tenacity of Lupin's nemesis, Inspector Zenigata), but is a great example of the genre as well. The near-impenetrable vault pokes fun at shows like Mission: Impossible, but also proves to be a clever and unique design. The interactions between the characters are hilarious, and the animation lends itself to the silly, over-the-top antics of the series. None of it is plausible, but it has a great sense of humor. Particular to this film is the portrayal of American culture, which is thoroughly amusing. The corporate skyscraper is a metaphor for the Tower of Babel, and Douglas's response to his daughter's kidnapping is fascinating. It nails the parody of our culture as well: familiar enough to ring true, but exaggerated enough to be funny.
There are a few very minor complaints I have with Farewell to Nostradamus. It's not a film that lends itself particularly well to deep, meaningful criticism. In fact, half of the time it doesn't even really make much sense. Things happen for the sake of the action, and the plot is flimsy at best. Of course, viewers won't notice this while being swept along by the adventure, but snobby, elitist viewers will complain that it's juvenile and silly. They are right, of course, but the rest of us are having more fun in life than they are.
The DVD does little to enhance the experience of Farewell to Nostradamus. The video transfer is, in a word, ugly. Edge enhancement, ghosting, and jagged lines are all crammed into a letterboxed widescreen image. The animation itself is serviceable but rough. It was clearly made on a low budget, though it never feels shoddy or cheap. Even so, the film deserves a better transfer. The audio is stronger, including the original mono Japanese soundtrack and both stereo and 5.1 English dubs. The English dub is decent, though I tend to prefer the voice work of the Japanese actors. The subtitles are well translated and easy to read.
There are few extras on the disc, although Funimation was kind enough to include character profiles for the major players. It might be worth a quick glance if this is your first Lupin film, though anyone who has seen his other films won't learn anything new. There is also a text FAQ about Nostradamus, which is useful for people curious about the mythology behind the story (not that the real prophecies of Nostradamus have any bearing on the plot).
In the end, Farewell to Nostradamus is not a great cinematic experience. It's a low-budget anime adventure flick with few surprises. If you have seen any of the other Lupin films, you will see plot developments coming from a mile away. If you haven't, you probably still will. And yet, it's somehow the most fun I've had watching a movie in the past few weeks. I watched it with three other people, and they all had fun, too. There's something about Lupin that's infectious and infinitely likable. Maybe it's because we don't get many true serial adventures from Hollywood anymore. Lupin the 3rd fills an important gap, and it does a fine job.
Against all odds, this one is not guilty.
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• Who was Nostradamus?
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