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20th Century Boys Part 1 (2008) March 4, 2009

Posted by ayasawada in Film, Manga.
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20thcenturyboys

Twentieth Century Boys is perhaps one of the most famous manga, if not literature, in Japan. Widely praised and penned by the ‘master of the thriller’ Naoki Urasawa (who wrote Monster amongst other titles) it is now the biggest budget movie in Japanese cinema history, with the story being adapted into a trilogy of films, each released over a 12 month period.

The story revolves around a group of old school friends who discover that an apocalyptic scenario they wrote as children seems to be coming true. The scenario features everything from bombings and killer viruses to laser guns and giant robots. All the while, Japan comes under the grip of a mysterious cult led by ‘Friend’, a masked man who uses the same symbol the kids once adopted. And at the centre is Kenji, a washed out wannabe rock-star, who may be world’s only hope.

It’s a densely plotted, multi-stranded, multi-flashback, multi-character thicket of a thriller spanning some 22 volumes. Quite how that’s going to pan into nine hours of cinema will be interesting to see, but it seems to be going well so far.

(WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead)

I saw the first movie for the first time at the ICA back in November, but watched it again recently when it received a general release here in the UK. Here’s the trailer:

Second time round, it’s still hard to follow (the reunion still had me struggling to keep up with the sheer number of characters introduced at the same time). And the fact that it is multi-stranded with weaving timelines doesn’t make it any easier. Still, this is par for the course in most modern day movies and it will be interesting to compare what director Yukihiko Tsutsumi has done with Zack Snyder’s effort on the similarly dense Watchmen movie.

Confusing or not, nevertheless, it’s still an awesome movie: intriguing, endlessly captivating and full of good performances. It also does a fairly good job of building up to a reasonable finale, even though you’re fully aware that this is just the beginning of an epic. I also defy anyone to not get a tingle up their spine as the first bars of T-Rex‘s 20th Century Boys play over the opening title (or indeed in the last scene: “Our hope is….. Kanna!!!”).

Clearly this trilogy will benefit from repeat viewing, with the significance of many of the characters not revealed until the end of the film, if not the trilogy. It would be easy to forget many of them by the time the second part finally gets released over here (though in fairness, British distributors have been much faster at getting the latest Japanese hits, and one company has committed to releasing all three movies on DVD). Watching it for a second time, I’ve got my theories about who ‘friend’ may be (the look of the ears from the back and subsequent developments in the final showdown made me link a couple of the characters, but maybe that’s just coincidence).

The second movie came out in Japan just in January and the final part is due in August. Excitingly, Viz has also started releasing the manga at last, after delaying it at Urasawa’s request until Monster completed its run.

All in all its an exciting 20th Century year ahead for manga fans. けんじくん、 遊びましょ?

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