READERS’ FAVOURITES: 20th Century Boys

Film: 20th Century Boys

A live action adaptation of the legendary manga written by Naoki Urasawa, The 20th Century Boys trilogy is an epic achievement in filmmaking. Condensing the 24 volumes into three award-winning movies spanning a colossal 437 minutes of viewing pleasure, and featuring a cast of over 300 people.

The first instalment skips the timeline between an alternate future held under the rule of a religious cult that bans most forms of expression. So we moved between the late-60s, where a group of manga-crazed childhood friends - led by the rock‘n’roll obsessed Kenji - write a book of prophesies for fun, and 1997, when the gang is reformed at a school reunion, and are met with the shocking realisation that someone is making their predictions come true.

The story begins in 2015 in a Japanese prison with a mysterious man recounting the tale of a hero he once knew to an incarcerated manga artist. Back in 1997, mild-mannered shop worker Kenji Endo (Toshiaki Karasawa) is fighting to make ends meet, while juggling caring for his niece, his bossy mother and the running of his business, amidst rumours of a viral outbreak making it’s way across the globe. When the police turn up investigating the disappearance of one of his regular customers who is also renowned professor of robotics, the failed rock star Kenji goes to investigate and collect the debt owed to him. While at the professor’s house, he notices a strange symbol he remembers from his childhood. Meanwhile, the police continue to investigate what appear to be the first Japanese victims of the virus in Kenji’s hometown.

Kenji is roped into attending his school reunion, and decides it best to show his face, working his way through the jibes about his short comings as a rock star. The hot topic at the reunion is the rumours of the cult lurking in the area, and during a nostalgic conversation, the friends recall their secret base which served as their club house and refuge from the local bullies Yanbo and Mabo, also known as the terrible twins. Calling on a flashback to the ‘60s, the boys remember how they recruited Yukiji the tomboy (Takako Tokiwa) and toughest girl in school for protection, though she is missing from the reunion. The conversation gradually leads on to the cult and it’s mysterious leader, ‘Friend‘.

A classmate reveals the cult are not only using the same symbol the childhood gang created for their flag - the same symbol Kenji saw at the professors house - but that they are preaching the events mentioned in their book of prophecies, one of which was the rise of an evil villain who would spread a virus to destroy the world. This leads them to be suspicious of each other and their classmates, and they agree to stay in touch to figure out who may be involved - the difficulty being it is hard to remember exactly who did what twenty-odd years ago.

Things turn sour when an old friend turns up dead, the charming street urchin ‘Donkey‘. On the day of Donkey’s funeral, Kenji receives a letter dated just days before Donkey’s death, asking Kenji if he remembers the symbol. Things only get worse for Kenji as the cult take an interest in his young niece and attempt to kidnap her. He has to come to terms with the fact that even his own sister may have a deeper connection to Friend, and the guilt that he maybe somewhat responsible the terrible events unfolding as a result of his young imagination.

The gang eventually recover the book, as Friend embarks on a campaign for world domination, culminating in disaster fated for the 31st December 2000, the last day of the 20th century, and sparking the desperate struggle to discover Friend’s identity before it’s too late.

Beautifully imagined action scenes and a thick mythology makes for gripping viewing and inspires a thirst for the next instalment. Kenji and his friends piece together a mystery that encapsulates Japanese popular culture and ‘60s nostalgia effortlessly as they try to discover the truth behind Friend’s identity and where he will strike next. A rich variety of characters, all brilliantly cast, forces you to keep viewing and stick out the running time which seems to fly by regardless of its length. The excellent use of flashbacks gives the movies mythology a great depth and prepares you for the journey through the next two instalments. Secret cults, giant robot attacks and boarder line slapstick humour make this movie a ‘must see’, and rewards the viewer with everything you would expect from a live action manga adaptation. The DVD is packed with extras and new plot twists make it enjoyable even for those that know the story well.

Fan: Oliver Askew

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