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20th Century Boys: Chapter 1 -
The Beginning of the End
20th Century Boys

It's coming: a not-so-nice childhood fantasy is made reality in 20th Century Boys.
Japanese: 20世紀少年 <第1章> 終わりの始まり  
Year: 2008
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi  
Writer: Yasushi Fukuda, Takashi Nagasaki, Naoki Urasawa, Yusuke Watanabe
Cast: Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Takako Tokiwa, Airi Taira, Fujiki Naohito, Arata, Bengal, Yoriko Douguchi, Kenichi Endo, Fumiya Fujii, Takashi Fujii, Toshikazu Fukawa, Chizuru Ikewaki, Masato Irie, Renji Ishibashi, Tamotsu Ishibashi, Hidehiko Ishizuka, Teruyuki Kagawa, Nana Katase, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hitomi Kuroki, Ken Mitsuishi, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Mirai Moriyama, Katsuo Nakamura, Katsuhisa Namase, Raita Ryu, Shiro Sano, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Naoto Takenaka, Miyako Takeuchi, Ryushin Tei, Yu Tokui, Takashi Ukaji, Hanako Yamada
The Skinny:

20th Century Boys channels the original manga's intriguing storyline and ideas, but the film's watered-down details and commercial sensibilities render it somewhat unconvincing. The first of three films, so it's difficult to judge the first one right away. Anyway, the movies have zero chance of being better than the manga.

by Kozo:
Another manga to movie adaptation? Hollywood produced half-a-dozen hit comic book movies in 2008, but in terms of quantity they've got nothing on Japan, which seems to be churning out manga movies every other week. There are now so many manga movies being made that the words "based on a manga" have lost their pop entertainment luster.

20th Century Boys, however, is a doozy. Created by acclaimed manga creator Naoki Urasawa 20th Century Boys is not only a popular manga - it's a complete, generations-spanning epic that's so dense and complex that it simply cannot be told in a single film. So, instead of one movie, the filmmakers are giving us three, all being released over a period of twelve months.

An ensemble cast of stars and character actors populate the first of director Yukihiko Tsutsumi's three 20th Century Boys films, which is initially set in 1997. Toshiaki Karasawa (Goodbye Mr. McDonald) stars as Kenji, a thirtysomething convenience store owner who learns of a religious cult led by a mysterious masked man known only as "Friend". Simultaneously, people worldwide begin dropping dead from a mysterious virus that makes their blood burst from their veins. Though he's not directly affected by these events, something about the whole thing strikes Kenji as familiar.

Things get stranger when Kenji realizes that the logo for Friend's cult - an eye drawn inside a pointing hand - is the same logo used by Kenji and his gang of childhood pals back in 1969. During that summer, Kenji and his friends built a secret fort and spent their time fighting bullies, reading manga, and dreaming up fanciful plans to destroy and also save the world. Those plans are now coming true; Kenji and his pals dreamt up the deadly virus, and it's now being unleashed in the exact locations described in their childish "Book of Prophecy". Kenji soon realizes that he can predict the next tragedies because he planned them when he was a kid.

Since Kenji is the creator, he's also the one who can stop it - at least, that seems to be the role assigned to him by Friend, who taunts Kenji with playground-worthy fervor. All signs point to Friend being a kid from Kenji's past, leading Kenji and his old pals to reunite as Friend's childish plot begins to take shape. However, there are lives and even nations at stake, and Friend's people are everywhere. Are these former childish dreamers up to a challenge so epic in scope? And which one of their former friends is "Friend"?

The concept behind 20th Century Boys is immediately entertaining, as the idea of an unending children's game makes for wonderful fiction. Urasawa uses real pop culture and history to add depth and color to his story. The film's title comes from a rock song by British band T.Rex, with its usage reflecting the disconnect between childish dreams and ego-crushing adulthood. The song was beloved by the teenage Kenji, who failed in his dream of becoming a rockstar. However, now that he's being asked to "save the world", can he get his youthful swagger back? Urasawa's original manga mixed intricate details, sentimental themes, and creepy conspiracy theories into a single compelling whole, and director Tsutsumi doesn't mess that up.

However, Tsutsumi can't really do justice to the story either, because it's just too big. Manga can be cinematic, but the depth and rich detail contained in Urasawa's work is impossible to translate with even 9 hours of screen time. Urasawa's manga is filled with deliberate suspense, non-linear storytelling, and some rather outlandish concepts, but he had plenty of time to involve readers in his story - and even then, the whole thing bordered on ridiculous. 20th Century Boys is terrific fiction, but that judgement is more of a testament to Urasawa's detailed vision and storytelling abilities than the work's actual coherence. The manga gets really out there, but it works largely because readers become invested in Urasawa's sprawling, intricately-plotted narrative and well-defined characters.

Yukihiko Tsutsumi's film version earns goodwill largely due to audience familiarity. Anyone who read the manga should want to see how this plays out onscreen - though if one steps back, the cracks in the paint are apparent. The whole story is rather far-fetched, and the commercial tone, obvious acting, and semi-chintzy CGI make the film seem fake and unconvincing. 20th Century Boys was a tough sell as a manga, but it's an even tougher sell as a live-action film. Still, Tsutsumi has two more installments to deliver, and it's only fair to withhold complete judgement until they're all done. Regardless of the first film's success, the filmmakers still tried, so the least we can do is applaud their ambition and keep watching to see if they can pull it off. (Kozo 2008)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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