Not being a great fan of comics, especially Japanese manga, I expected not to like 20th Century Boys. But, having read the mixed reactions of hardcore and casual fans alike on the net, I’m glad I’m not, because this live-action, comic-book adventure is just brilliant.
Based on a successful comic-book series, which has sold over 20 million copies and been translated into 12 languages, this big-budget film adaptation is part of a trilogy which attempt to cover all 24 volumes of the original manga series.
Our first adventure spans half-a-century, kicking off in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon. A group of school kids, headed by Kenji (Toshiaki Karasawa, who also starred in the superb Casshern), play together inside a secret base on a vacant lot and set to paper the Book of Prophecy, a comic-book style adventure in which they imagine themselves battling aliens bent on destroying mankind using a deadly virus, atomic bombs and a gigantic robot.
30 years later, Kenji and his school friends are just ordinary people, leading ordinary lives. But their lives are soon turned inside out when they become drawn into a mysterious conspiracy that could threaten the world. It seems a religious cult leader, who could be someone from their youth, is replicating the disasters in the Book of Prophecy to exact revenge on them. But who is he and why is he doing this?
Running over two-and-a-half hours, this ambitious fantasy from former pop video director Yukihiko Tsutsumi is a rollercoaster ride of excitement, which builds to a shattering climax as Kenji and his brave band of heroes try to take down the cult leader when he unleashes a gigantic robot on the streets of Tokyo.
While it does bare a certain similarity to the work of Stephen King, both Stand by Me and It centre on kids facing impossible dangers, and the TV show Heroes, 20th Century Boys stands apart with its startling visuals, tight script and clever casting (all the actors are well-know Japanese stars). What is more, the film has great sense of nostalgia, echoing the old days of Saturday morning TV shows like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and films like Godzilla (the original 1950s one, not the crappy American remake). As such, this epic adventure will really appeal to anyone who hankers for a world that is pre-digital, pre-mobile, pre-internet. A time when kids played together, and wrote and drew with their imaginations rather than rely on video games for their entertainment.
For pure escapism, 20th Century Boys is a hell of a ride and not just for manga fans. And I, for one, can’t wait for the next instalment. Do you want to play with me?
Released 20 February
If you want to have a look at the official trailer, just click on the pic below…