© 1999, 2006 Naoki Urasawa, Studio Nuts / Shogakukan
© 2008 “20th Century Boys” Film Partners
Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Japan, 2008, 142 min.
20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End, the first film in a trilogy based on Naoki Urasawa's hugely popular manga, is due out on DVD this Tuesday, December 15th from VIZ Pictures, the live-action division of VIZ Media. Both this film and its immediate sequel 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope had their New York premieres at this past summer's New York Asian Film Festival. I was unable to go to a screening of either of them, so I was glad to get an advance screener of this upcoming release.
The film begins in 2015 in the Disciplinary Cells of Umihotaru Prison, a clearly high-security lock-up on a barge located in a bay, presumably Tokyo's. Two prisoners who can't see one another are talking, one of them recounting the story of a hero to the other, a hapless manga artist.
That story, and the bulk of the film, is set in the late 1990s. It concerns several individuals, roughly in their late twenties, who were close friends in their youth. Kenji Endo (Toshiaki Karasawa) was the leader of the group in 1969. He later went on to play guitar in a rock band, but now (late '90s) manages a convenience store and takes care of his young niece, whose mother, Kenji's sister, disappeared sometime ago. Among his friends are long-haired Otcho (Etsuishi Toyokawa) and Yukiki Setoguchi (Takako Tokiwa), a lovely female police officer.
The group comes together again as a mysterious cult led by a man who wears a mask and is known only as "Friend" has emerged. Numerous individuals have disappeared, just like Kenji's sister, and one of their friends has met an untimely and bizarre death. At the same time, catastrophic events have begun occurring around the world, events that seem to be replicating fantasies in Kenji's "The Book of Prophecy" which he wrote years earlier to entertain his young friends. As the new millennium approached, is the world heading towards the apocalypse he predicted? And who is this "Friend" and what role, if any does he have in these strange occurrences?
Intercut within the general "flashback" to the late 1990s are further flashbacks to 1969, when Kenji and his friends hung out in a "clubhouse" fashioned from tall grass and when he wrote "The Book of Prophecy." One of the very nice touches here is the expert casting of the younger counterparts of the various characters. Each really bears a strong resemblance to their grown-up personage, which aids in reinforcing their individual characteristics.
20th Century Boys 1 is blessed with an intriguing story line, solid directing, and fine acting. My only regret was that I didn't have the next two volumes available to pop into my DVD. I can't wait to see the two remaining films and find out what happens.
ACF rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars (very good, highly recommended).
The 20th Century Boys 1 DVD will have an M.S.R.P. of $24.92 US and $35.99 CAN. Sorry, but I don't have any info at this time about special features on the DVD.
But I have been informed that 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope is scheduled to be released in February, 2010, also by VIZ Pictures. No word yet on when 20th Century Boys 3: Redemption, which premiered in Japan in August, 2009, will be out, but I expect it to be sometime later next year.