SciFi Japan

    Review: 20TH CENTURY BOYS -CHAPTER 2-

    NTV and Toho Score with Second Part of Their Sci-Fi Trilogy Author: Elliot Gay Source: NTV (Nippon Television Network) Official Movie Site: 20th Boys Special Thanks to Asuka Kimura, Tzeling Huang, and JM Shop

    Picking up where the first film dramatically left off, comes the second act of the trilogy, 20TH CENTURY BOYS -CHAPTER 2- (20-Seiki Shonen: Dai 2 Sho- Saigo no Kibo; lit. 20th Century Boys: Chapter Two - The Last Hope). Penned by original manga author Naoki Urasawa, and directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, CHAPTER 2, does what many manga adaptations wish they could do: grip an audience unfamiliar with the material. First however, a bit of back-story to refresh those who didn’t catch the first film, or don’t remember it as well. 20TH CENTURY BOYS follows a group of childhood friends, all adults living out their daily lives in monotony. One of them in particular, a convenience store worker named Kenji (Toshiaki Karasawa), spends his days regretting decisions he made in his past. Things grow interesting however, when one by one, disasters start to occur according to a book he and his friends wrote when they were younger, as part of a plan to save the Earth from the ‘bad guys’ so to speak. Friend (or Tomodachi in Japanese), appears to the people of the world, claiming that the terrorist Kenji is responsible for the recent attacks on the world. It becomes increasingly clear to Kenji and his friends, that Friend is someone from their past. But what is Friend`s goal? Why is he trying to lure Kenji out into the open? To try and sum up the plot of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is to do something that’s very close to impossible. The manga constantly curves and twists, throwing red herrings in all directions, but never leaving the reader dissatisfied. With a manga this complex however, the story would require more than one film. With that in mind, director Yukihiko Tsutsumi set out to make a trilogy of films, sticking as closely to the original material as possible. Think of it as a sort of LORD OF THE RINGS for a Japanese audience, at least as far as scope is concerned.

    This second film picks up directly following the end of the first, with Kenji having seemingly perished in the bomb that Friend set up as a trap. The year is now 2015, and Friend has essentially become an ally to the world, and is considered to be the man that saved the Earth from the Kenji terrorists. Enter Kenji’s niece, Kanna (played by relative newcomer, Airi Taira). Still holding onto Kenji’s hat that he passed onto her before confronting the robot on the Bloody New Years Eve, she continues the fight against Friend that all of Kenji’s allies seem to have given up on. Yukiji (still played by Takako Tokiwa), tries to watch over Kanna in place of Kenji, but is finding it increasingly difficult to keep her safe when Kanna holds the same rebellious and just mind as her uncle. Meanwhile, incarcerated since the events of that New Years Eve, Otcho (the returning Etsushi Toyokawa), breaks out of prison with a fellow prisoner, and heads out to go find Kanna after discovering that she’s been targeted for assassination by Friend’s organization. Things only go from bad to worse however, when Yukiji and the others discover The New Book of Prophecy. In it resides plans that function as the continuation of events depicted in the original Book of Prophecy. Who exactly has written this new book? What are Friend`s true plans? Who is Friend? As all the major players head toward one final confrontation, only one thing remains truly uncertain: Where is Kenji? The story is, of course, far more in-depth as detailed above, but with a cast numbering in the triple digits (nearly 300 people were cast for the trilogy), it is very difficult to give a review without throwing in a great deal of spoilers, which this writer is going to try as hard as possible to do. 20TH CENTURY BOYS -CHAPTER 2- is a film meant to be seen without knowing what to expect going into it. Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi does a spectacular job with the written material, weaving a story that is wonderfully tied to the original work, without being exactly the same thing. Make no mistake about it: Director Tsutsumi makes some major changes to the original story. The difference from the average adaptation though is that the changes made are so that the work can function in film form, while maintaining the same general emotions that made the manga such a success in the first place. One instance that stands out in my mind is the climax of the film. In the manga, it revolved around a grand assassination plot to kill the Pope in front of the world, resulting in one of the biggest reveals of the series. In -CHAPTER 2- however, the event is made even more powerful via the actions taken prior to the scene. The music also contributes a great deal to the raw power of the sequence.

    Casting-wise, very little has changed from the first film. Perhaps this is why connections made with characters in Part 1 stay even after fifteen years within the films have passed. One of the newcomers however, is Kanna, played by the young Airi Taira. Prior to 20TH CENTURY BOYS -CHAPTER 2-, her acting credits have been few and far between. Here though, she proves to be a solid young actress, bringing the exuberant and rebellious Kanna to life via impressive physical acting (action sequences), and through her strong handling of the material given to her. It’s fairly easy to identify with her cause, even early on in the film as she unites the warring Chinese Triads and Thai Mafia. Much credit should also be given to Etsushi Toyokawa who once again plays the battle hardened Otcho. After the 1st act of the manga series, Otcho becomes an increasingly important character to the story. The reader constantly follows his tracks, and in the films it appears to be no different. We’re finally given a piece of his backstory into why he became such a cold distant man, and Toyokawa plays it wonderfully straight. Looking forward to what he does with the character in the next film. Kudos to the rest of the cast as well, returning players and new ones. Everyone once again fits into their roles naturally, and watching this sequel feels like being reunited with old friends who have been through a lot. Needless to say director Tsutsumi and his casting supervisors nailed things. Another aspect which serves to draw the viewer into the film is the wonderful score by Ryumei Shirai. At times haunting, others exciting, Shirai has composed a great variety of music for 20TH CENTURY BOYS -CHAPTER 2-. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that the music is never overbearing, nor does it ever try to force the viewer into feeling a certain emotion like many films in this day and age oft do. One of the greatest compliments one can give to the score, is that there is many a moment where it’s easy to forget it’s even there, because the viewer is so drawn into the scene.

    Visually, the film is once again a stunner. Creating a vision of the future that is all at once subtle and breathtaking, Tsutsumi uses CGI to make small alternations to the environment. One of the most surprising elements for this writer, was a short sequence of Kanna in the classroom as her fellow classmates played with some sort of digital string while the teacher was speaking. Small? Certainly; but it helped to create a very convincing world. There aren’t any huge CGI set pieces like from the first film, but what is there is quite good. Also worthy of mention is the fantastic camera work. Smart zooms, close ups, and beautifully cramped and uncomfortable camera angles dominate the film. If anything, my one issue would be that at times, the camera shakes far too much. Not in the way that one might connect to an American action film: it’s more of a stylistic element designed to draw attention to an important decision. It only ever happens about twice, but the first time was more than enough. Again though, not enough to detract from the overall quality. Honestly, if nothing else the main complaint directed toward the film is perhaps that it is too big. A lot of viewers in this age can’t sit through a film an hour and a half long, never-mind a film nearly twice that. -CHAPTER 2- is the sort of film that you can’t get up to go the bathroom for, lest you miss out on important details that you need to understand for the various pay offs to mean anything. In my opinion, 20TH CENTURY BOYS -CHAPTER 2- is a fantastic way to start off the new year, a fantastic sequel, and a hell of a film altogether. If you manage to catch the film in theaters, I recommend waiting until the end of the credits, so you can catch the trailer to the concluding film. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ For more information on 20TH CENTURY BOYS please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:


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