Lupin the 3rd: Farewell to Nostradamus (1995)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (2.5/5)
January 19th, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Lupin's first theatrical adventure of the 1990's, Farewell to Nostradamus is sadly a fairly forgettable movie and a poor way to christen in voice actor Kanichi Kurita, who takes over as Lupin for the first time. It's not Kurita's talents that attract scorn in this movie, though, but instead the writing that features some pretty weak development of both the story and its cast of characters. The music and animation both fare much better, in fact the latter is quite impressive, but they are hardly enough to save the movie from its haphazard script that Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Toshiya Ito drafted.

For a quick summation of the plot, the movie opens with a nuclear submarine exploding in the middle of the ocean. News of the disaster quickly spreads while a new religious cult, dubbed the Nostradamus sect, announces that the event had been foretold by the 16th century prophet Michael Nostradamus. Shortly after this revelation, terrorists attack an airliner in route to the US. As it turns out, a small girl named Julia, who is the daughter of presidential candidate Douglas, is one of the passengers onboard, and under the watch of Fujiko. Coincidentally, also aboard the jet are master thieves Lupin and Jigen, both fresh from a recent heist. To complicate matters, the young girl manages to take a small doll that Lupin was carrying, which was being used to smuggle a diamond. Thankfully, it's not long before the terrorists are defeated by Lupin and Jigen, but Julia ends up getting kidnapped in the confusion while the airplane, now evacuated, explodes. Strangely enough, it later becomes clear that this was another prophecy that was related by the Nostradamus sect. Eager to get back his diamond and save Julia, who is worth 50 million dollars, Lupin once again joins forces with Fujiko and Goemon to try and rescue the girl and uncover what connection the Nostradamus sect might have with the recent events.

On paper the plot certainly looks promising, but in execution it quickly develops into a train wreck of underdeveloped concepts that hold little excitement due to predictability. The movie plays out like a mystery, as the audience tries to uncover what relation all of these events might have with each other. Unfortunately, the movie makes it overtly clear from nearly frame one that the Nostradamus sect are the ones fulfilling their own prophecies. Now normally this would seem like an early plot point that would lead up to a bigger reveal. Sadly, this larger plot point never comes, and for all intensive purposes the bulk of this “mystery” ends up going unanswered. Why does the Nostradamus sect want Douglas out of the presidential race? What is the cause of the breakup in the higher ranks of the sect? Why do they want Nostradamus' original book of prophecies, and for that matter why does Douglas have it? These questions, which seem like they should make up a large part of the story, go unaddressed without even a hint that the writing team felt they were important.

In fact, the writing in general feels sloppy and rushed, with odd things to note such as Lupin breaking out of his prison cell, when under capture from the Nostradamus sect, without any explanation about when or how he did it. To make matters worse, the writing team seems to struggle to even make the fight sequences enjoyable, let alone make sense. Jigen's gunfight with Chris, second in command of the Nostradamus sect, is a perfect example of the staff's ineptness in structuring an action sequence. Now I realize, as Jigen points out, that machine guns have low accuracy, but it's not bad enough to burn through an entire clip of bullets and not hit someone who is slowly advancing with their entire body exposed. The sequence is clearly intended to make Jigen look cool as he casually walks toward his opponent while bullets barely miss him, but the scene is so ludicrous that it's hard not to laugh. The ensuing showdown is also confusing as Jigen holds the unarmed Chris at gunpoint, not saying anything, for roughly 10 seconds (that seems like they stretch on forever) before a henchmen pops out of the nearby helicopter and throws a grenade. The sequence is unquestionably awkward, as if they had intended to write further dialogue for the face off or, if this were a live action movie, as if the henchmen missed his cue and come on too late.

That's probably enough dissecting of the more minute points in the movie, though, as the story does have one saving grace, which is the climax. It really is a spectacular sequence, as the giant tower collapses while Lupin and Chris fight inside. The following escape scene is also well done along with riveting. Does it save the story as a whole? Hardly, but at least it gives the movie a lengthy sequence that's worth looking forward to.

Still, strong characters can save a weak story, and there is likely a fair bit of interest in how the characters are handled in this Lupin outing, both familiar and new. Unfortunately, there isn't much praise to give to the feature in this area either. Of the recurring cast, most of them are treated well and act fairly in character, although there are still problems to be had. Overall, Lupin, Fujiko and Jigen are the three best represented, although they generally lack the level of chemistry displayed in the better Lupin movies. Sadly, the other two regulars don't fare nearly as well. Goemon, for example, feels very lazily worked into this film and doesn't do much of anything of interest. He just appears on cue in this movie, as he is spotted randomly wandering the streets of the US, looking for the Lost Prophecies of Nostradamus, while Lupin happens to drive by. Furthermore, why is Goemon even looking for the prophecies? What is his interest? It's something that's never touched on, or even questioned in the movie. Zenigata also doesn't fare much better here, only managing to act as the comic relief while having zero impact on the plot. He does invent a “Lupin Detector” in this movie, but it never really factors into the story in any significant way. In fact, the movie probably would have worked far better had he been written out altogether. Of course I wouldn't suggest it, after all what's a Lupin film without Zenigata? However, the writers should have at least put forth an effort to make his character work better in the movie without feeling tacked on as a “requirement”.

In terms of the new characters, there isn't much of interest here. Julia is probably the most notable in the film, but she is the stereotypical spoiled child character who turns around to be more appreciative by the movie's closure. It's predictable, to say the least, but she does end up being serviceable to the plot, even if the ending sequence, where Lupin asks her if she is might end up being “Lupin the 4th” after saving him the diamond, is a little hard to stomach. The Maria character is another of the new cast who sticks out, although for all the wrong reasons. By the movie's end she comes off as a fairly eccentric and poorly underdeveloped character. She goes from disagreeing with her husband over how to handle the kidnapping of their daughter, to publicly denouncing him to ruin his presidential dreams, to finally joining the Nostradamus sect, the latter of which seems completely random. Predictably, Maria's joining of the cult leads to her being used as a gun point hostage just before the climax. There also appears to be some desire on her part to run for president. I say this because she offered this idea when learning of the terrorists' demands, but becomes a very memorable point as the Nostradamus sect leader makes the same exact suggestion to her later in the film. It seems like it would be a very important plot point, considering that the writing made the effort to bring it up twice, yet it never goes anywhere. During my third viewing of the film, I drifted off in a parallel direction about how great it would have been had the sect and the kidnapping were actually something orchestrated by Maria in an effort to secure the presidency. It certainly would have given the film a more memorable villain, as opposed to the generic muscle-bound henchmen Chris and the head of the Sect: Rhisely; furthermore, the very slight foreshadowing would have made the sudden plot twist work, while also adding some needed replay value. But, alas, no such luck. In does bring to light that the actual villains here are very forgettable though, not to mention extremely underdeveloped. The movie plays them off as mysterious characters at first, but sadly it never goes in and explains them later as expected, and they only end up being hollow and stereotypical adversaries for everyone's favorite thief.

Of course, Farewell to Nostradamus is not the type of film that one can get away with not mentioning the voice acting, considering this was the first Lupin movie to feature Kanichi Kurita in the title role, after Yasuo Yamada had passed away. To his credit, Kurita does a fine job, and in fact it's fairly hard to distinguish him from the late Yamada, although there are still points during the film where he doesn't quite pull it off with as much enthusiasm as his predecessor. To that point, the entire cast sounds a little uninterested at some point during the movie, and their portrayal feels more forced than other films. Nothing specific to scorn, of course, but the casts' interaction amongst themselves no longer holds the same level of interest from the viewer as it had during Yamada's days, which could also be due to the fact that the writing isn't as creative as in earlier films either.

In regards to the film's score, it's conducted by longtime series veteran Yuji Ono, who does a decent job here. His soundtrack isn't something that makes a very good stand alone experience, nor does it muster up any noteworthy themes during the film itself (even the title song is completely unmemorable), but none of the themes stand out as being unpleasant or not fitting the scene either. Of course that's hardly much of a complement toward Ono's work, but it's really the strongest praise I can muster for a soundtrack that is mostly transparent during the movie itself.

On a final note, the animation displayed in Farewell to Nostradamus is, without doubt, one of the better aspects of the picture. The movie defiantly has a more US styled approach to the animation at times, although the overall look is still clearly Japanese. Some credit should be given for the level of detail placed into the drawings, though, particularly during the disaster sequence at the movie's climax. In fact, backgrounds in general are well designed, while the new characters are definitely distinct in terms of appearance. In fact, the only real blemish on the animation is some of the facial features, which occasionally get over exaggerated in a Tex Avery-ish style that seems out of place in the Lupin series.

All in all, the biggest praise one can give Farewell to Nostradamus is that it's not a film to evoke any strong dissent from the viewer. Most people, be them fans of the characters or newcomers to the series, will likely feel indifferent about the picture, while the movie itself is nothing more than a forgettable escapade for the world's “most famous thief.”