SciFi Japan

    K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES Begins Theatrical Run in San Francisco

    Now Playing at VIZ Cinema in Japantown Author: Dan Ross Source: VIZ Pictures Official Movie Site: k20themovie (US), K-20 (Japanese)

    In the 1920s eminent horror and detective fiction author Edogawa Rampo began writing a series of short stories that would go on to become a household name in Japan. Though inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle`s Sherlock Holmes, the case files of Kogoro Akechi followed the Tokyo detective down paths of a more fantastic and even occult nature. The exploits of Rampo`s most famous character have been adapted in comics, movies, television and has made guest appearances in other famous series such as LUPIN III. And like Holmes, Akechi had his own "Moriarty", an arch nemesis known only as Kaijin Niju Menso "The Fiend with 20 Faces". But in truth the character of Kaijin Niju Menso was more in the style of Maurice LeBlanc`s Arsene Lupin, a master of disguise and gentleman thief who only stole from those who may deserve it and never from the struggling, working class everyman. The ongoing battle of wits between detective and thief cultivated a grudging admiration between the two. This clash was adapted most famously in the 1968 film BLACK LIZARD (Kurotokage) with the screenplay written by one of Japan`s most popular writers, Yukio Mishima. In 1989 writer Soh Kitamura wrote a controversial book called The Story of Nijumenso (aka The Fiend With 20 Faces) which takes a rather different view of the world of Rampo`s Akechi mythos. Kaijin Niju Menso himself is humanized, sympathetic and even heroic, while Kogoro Akechi comes off somewhat less well. Rampo scholars and fans were not happy with Kitamura`s take on these legendary characters and it caused quite a stir. Though the novel takes place in our reality, it is from this book that the alternate universe, steampunk movie K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES is based.

    K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES takes place in Teito, an alternate reality version of Tokyo where World War II never happened, and where the class structure of the 1800`s Meiji Era Japan still survives. Where the few who are rich are extremely rich and the working class is extremely poor. Though it is the year 1949, this is a world with Jules Vernian styled machinery and Victorian looking, fantastical flying ships. The plot follows happy go lucky circus acrobat Heikichi Endo charmingly played by Pacific rim superstar Takeshi Kaneshiro of RETURNER (Ritana, 2002), HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (Shi Mian Mai Fu, 2004), THE WARLORDS (Tau Ming Chong, 2007) and (Chi Bi, 2008). While he entertains the masses in the outskirt slums of Teito, the game is afoot between old enemies Kaijin Niju Menso and Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura). K-20 has threatened to ruin Akechi`s impending marriage to Duchess Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu). On the day of their engagement ceremony, acrobat Endo has been fooled into taking candid photos of the couple but at the ceremony is framed as being K-20 himself. He is immediately imprisoned.

    On the way to jail he is freed from a prison transport by a host of ingenious poverty row misfits lead by Master prop maker Genji (veteran character actor Jun Kunimura). To get revenge and unmask K-20, Endo himself takes on the guise of K-20. As K-20, Endo is helped along the way with Genji`s makeshift gadgets and tutoring in acrobatics and athletic skills. K-20 becomes a Japanese Batman, fully adorned in a cool mask, slouch hat and utility belt. Along the way Endo discovers the real K-20`s ultimate goal is to capture a massive electric energy weapon designed by Nikola Tesla in order to rule the world. Endo works with a reticent Detective Akechi to foil K-20`s plot, with fiance Duchess Hashiba spearheading their cooperation. Hashiba really becomes the focal point for making the whole story work by befriending Endo who is "from the wrong side of the tracks" and getting Akechi to believe Endo is not actually the real K-20. There is a lot of character growth for all the leads, but mainly with Duchess Hashiba who goes from a clueless, crystal palace-dwelling princess to seeing and being deeply moved by the poverty and strife of Endo`s people, the lower classes. Endo also grows from a day to day happy just to work acrobat to a super heroic avenger who must rally his troops, scheme against the police state-like government and build his own physical and moral strengths in order to survive. K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES is a fun romp that is reminiscent of the 1930`s American pulp adventures such as Doc Savage and The Shadow. It is easily in the same genre as other retro hero movies of a similar vein such as THE SHADOW (1994), THE PHANTOM (1996), THE ROCKETEER (1991) and SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (2004). The action is fast paced with many scenes inspired by parkour acrobatic wall-climbing ala CASINO ROYALE (2006) with some great fight choreography by AAC Stunts who were responsible for the incredible action in MASKED RIDER THE FIRST (Kamen Raidaa Za Faasuto), MASKED RIDER THE NEXT (Kamen Raidaa Za Nekusuto, 2007), GARO (2005-2006) and CUTIE HONEY THE LIVE (Kutei Hanii Za Raibu, 2007).

    Visually there is a lot to enjoy in the richly tinted color pallett of Kôzô Shibasaki`s cinematography, giving everything a look of timelessness and antiquity at the same time. The visual effects by Takashi Yamazaki, director of RETURNER (2002), ALWAYS- SUNSET ON 3RD STREET pts 1 & 2 (2005, 2007), hold up very well under the strain of a lot of fantastical cityscapes and imaginative machinery. K-20 runs maybe 10 to 15 minutes too long and could use some tightening in the editing department. The beginning of the second act focuses a little too much on some character development that could have easily been encapsulated in just a few minutes. Character development is always good, but this was more than needed to move the story along. But besides this one dragging point the movie sped along at a comic book pace and filled the screen with a lot of beautiful and fantastical imagery. The characters are deep and interesting, with only a few speeches that tend toward the overly bubbly optimistic side (A trait that is fairly common in Japanese fantasy films now).

    I left the movie feeling that I wanted to see more of K-20`s adventures and will hope this will grow into a franchise. The regional premiere of K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES starts Friday, 10/2/2009 and runs through Thursday, 10/15/2009 at San Francisco`s NEW PEOPLE complex in Japantown at the VIZ Cinema. The theater is located at 1746 Post Street. Ticket information and additional details are available at K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES (K-20: Kaijin Nijumenso Den) Regional Premiere 2009, 137 min., With English Subtitles, Directed by Shimako Sato Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Takako Matsu, Toru Nakamura Screening Schedule: 10/2 (Fri) 6:00pm, 8:50pm 10/3 (Sat) & 10/4 (Sun) (12:20pm), 3:10pm, 6:00pm, 8:50pm 10/5 (Mon) (3:10pm), 6:00pm, 8:50pm 10/6 (Tue) & 10/7 (Wed) (2:10pm) only! 10/8 (Thu) & 10/9 (Fri) (3:10pm), 6:00pm, 8:50pm 10/10 (Sat) & 10/11 (Sun) (12:20pm), 3:10pm, 6:00pm, 8:50pm 10/12(Mon) – 10/15 (Thu) (3:10pm), 6:00pm, 8:50pm

    For more information on K-20: THE FIEND WITH TWENTY FACES please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:

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