20th Century Boys

20th Century Boys


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

When you were a child, how did you think the world might end? Were you into laser guns, bombs, secret societies, mysterious codes, deadly viruses and giant robots? Did disasters excite you, and did you talk about these things with your friends in your secret dens?

Kenji did. He hung onto that energy and spirit for a long time - long enough to have a successful career as a rock musician. But now he's nearing 40 and he's settled down to work in a convenience store, caring for the small child his sister mysteriously abandoned. But when people he knows start to join a mysterious cult and disappear, and when he sees reports on the news of a deadly virus making people bleed to death, he begins to suspect that the 'book of prophecies' he created as a child has inspired somebody to turn childish fantasy into deadly reality.

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Gathering together his old school friends, he becomes determined to find out who that somebody is, realising that he may be the only person now capable of saving the world.

It's rare to see a successful Manga effectively translated into live action, and 20th Century Boys will provide a real treat for fans. Right from the opening credits, it displays a willingness to play with visual information like comics do, and though this may seem like visual overload for some Japanese speakers (and others will miss out on some of the fun), it's stylistically highly satisfying. It has also made a considerable effort with special effects to create something that matches up to the original vision, and in this regard it succeeds wonderfully.

Unfortunately, where it has made a good job of translating the Manga's high points, this film has also inherited its weaknesses. It's episodic in a way that doesn't really work in the cinema, with far too many sudden revelations and plot twists. After a while, the number of times we almost find out what lies beneath the enemy's mask becomes annoying. There are also too many characters for a 140-minute film - despite the best efforts of the cast, we don't get to know them well enough, so it's harder to care about their fates. Whilst fans will be impressed by the faithfulness of this adaptation, newcomers will wish it had been reworked to make it more coherent and accessible.

However, even if you find trying to follow the plot frustrating, 20th Century Boys is a great piece of entertainment, full of spectacular scenes undercut with charmingly self-deprecating humour. It's a bit like a Kevin Smith version of Cloverfield, but in a good way. Airi Taira is ridiculously cute as the hero's niece, there are some great lines (Kenji is more angry over threats to his convenience store than the possible destruction of Osaka), and there are lots of impressive stunts, plus explosions galore. All in all a great Friday night out.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2009
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A former rock star now working in a convenience store discovers that his childhood stories have inspired a megalomaniac with apocalyptic visions.
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Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi

Writer: Yasushi Fukuda, Takashi Nagasaki, Naoki Urasawa and Yƻsuke Watanabe, based on the Manga by Naoki Urasawa.

Starring: Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Takako Tokiwa, Airi Taira

Year: 2008

Runtime: 142 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


Sci-Fi 2009

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