Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kenji-kun, Asobimassho?

21st October 2008, Tuesday

Being a well-professed fan of akihabara@deep dorama, I had always kept tabs of the various characters Daruma had cosplayed.
Most are pretty recognizable including Maetel and Tetsuro from "Galaxy Express 999", Cobra from the "Space Adventure Cobra" and even Nobita from "Doraemon" (though we needed a strong hint from the man himself).
One character stood up with him in a grey suit with his head covered with a T-shirt with a logo of a hand within an eye.
Everyone was puzzled by the exact identity of that specific character, and perhaps you need to be a walking manga encyclopedia to know.
However all was unveiled when I was surfing for upcoming movies for the year 2008.... and "20th Century Boys" stood out.

Based on the manga series by Urasawa Naoki, who did the highly-rated "Monster" together with this series; it tells a tale which span a good 60 years or so, starting from 1969 or the booming Showa era where the protaganist of the story Kenji formed a clique with his buddies from school, creating their own grassy hut base, reading soft porn publications, and burying their own time capsule.
The group headed by the typical hot-headed shounen, Kenji and was assisted by the imaginative Otcho. They created their own book of prophecy which foretold what would happen to Japan and the world in the future. Otcho even created their eye-catching emblem (which Daruma proudly displayed) and that logo would haunt you throughout the tale for sure.
Like many kids who grew out their age, they buried their memories in their playground and fast forward 2 decades later, we saw Kenji a reformed rocker who had to shoulder the burden as the breadwinner of the family after inherited a liqour retailing shop which he converted into a konbini (convenience shop...naturally) and had to look after his niece, left to her tenure mysteriously one day by his elder sister.
What was to be unraveled was a deadly viral plague which hit various locations of the earth.... More and more people joining a cult headed by a masked dubious leader, Friend... and seemingly it all linked to that book of prophecy they wrote when they were young...which also led to the death of a childhood friend Donkey, bombing of Haneda airport and a giant robot romping the street of Tokyo with dealy viral spray on the final day of the 20th century.
Kenji who suffered alot of personal setbacks because of the cult was tagged a notorious terrorist in Japan since 1997 when the Friend cult infiltrated into the politics world; decided to enlist help from his childhood friends to undo those innocent prophecies he had coined as well as unveiling the true identity of Friend...

The director of the film was Tsutsumi Yukihiko who gave us the Trick series as well as other dorama I have watched like I.W.G.P. and Stand Up!
He tried to stick very closely to how Urasawa had envisioned in his manga.
I especially love the showa scenes which I believe older audience, even though not living in Japan, should have a good nostalgic tiime.
Various important events during that time like Armstrong landed on the moon and Expo 70 in Osaka were highlighted.
However a general viewer might find the constant switching of era to be a be overbearing..started with 2015 with the imprisoned mangaka to 1997 with the present Kenji with some flashes of the past then forward to 2000 where armaggeddon awaits.
There was a strong overtone of heroism which I felt was a bit cheesy and I highly doubt anyone really associate with Kenji as the leader of the pack.
In the end there were only 7 of them which seems like the magic number in Japanese heroic legends (i.e. Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai").
There was pretty little characterization of the rest of the gang and Otcho who was first suspected to be Friend only appeared suddenly halfway through the movie, fighting drug cartels in Thailand.
Others like Fukebe and Mon-chan whom we saw in the early part of the movie at the school reunion, were supposedly aloof to Kenji but agreed to join his heroic quest too easily.
I do like the mystery shrouding Friend and his brain-washing cult with the eerie screeching BGM worked perfectly everytime the cult were in the scene.

This movie was supposed to be part of a trilogy with the 2nd part coming early next year and part 3 late next year.
It boasts an ensemble cast of 300 actors, unrivaled in other productions seen before.
If you are an avid viewer of Japanese dorama and had a think for colorful background characters, you shouldn't had problem identifying most of the cast.
The clas reunion scene was really very much who's who in the Japan acting world... especially when ex-Checkers leader Fuji Fumiya was a charismatic student, Ikekami who was well received by the ladies in the reunion.
Versatile actor Karasawa Toshiaki did a great reprise of the unwilling hero Kenji, though his hard rocking days need a bit more of convincing.
It's been a while since we saw Tokiwa Takako, and like Karasawa oozes her years of experience as the no-nonsense narcotics polic inspector, Yujiki.
The other male lead Otcho was portrayed by Toyokawa Etsusuhi, a smileless hardman perhaps should be more well-known as Nakayama Miho's lover in "Love Letter".
Of the star-studded co-cast, those that really perked my interest due to their former stellar performances elsewhere were either dead or so transient....
Namese Katsuhisa, the toupee-wearing inspector in Trick was the tragic character Donkey, and somehow Tsutsumi managed to unearth a kid who looked exactly like him.
Takenaka Naoto aka the most flair uncle in the J entertainment scene or simply the eccentric maestro Franz von Stresemann in "Nodame Cantabile" was up to his antics for almost 10 seconds as a rival spiritual leader to Friend before assasinated by one of Friend's disciple.
Flamboyant singer/actor, Oikawa Mitsuhiro (or more affectionately known to us as Michi) was the lead vocal of a rock band in a cult concert with popular visual kei band, Nightmare as his backup; before Kenji came to hold them hostage with a prototype laser beam gun.
One of my favorite comedian, Fujii Takashi appeared for like 3 seconds as the emcee of a show promoting the political group linked with the cult with usual partner in crime, Yamada Hanako.
Last but not least ageless beauty (with Takarazuka broadway in her CV), Kuroki Hitomi was Kenji's elder sister who holds the key to unravel the true identity of Friend.
The actor that plays Friend is unknown constantly hiding under his masked disguise or under a mask of Ninja Hattori-kun, with doctored voice and famous line include "Kenji-kun, assobimassho? (Shall we play, Kenji?)".

The ending has a link to the next part of the trilogy...although the poster seen here in several MRT stations months before the movie was shown billed it as the next biggest manga-based film after "Death Note", I think this film didn't received that much affection compared to the popular Shounen Jump series.
When I watched with EK and Tay-chan at 12 pm showing at Bishan Junction 8, there were merely 20 odd audience on show...but I did heard near full house from others who had watched it.
Despite not in the same wavelength of a trilogy as "Lord of the Rings" or "Matrix", I think I am still hype enough for the 2nd part come next year...

Japanese word of the day: 洗脳 (Brain wash) Well people tend to be brain wash or merely jumping on the bandwagon..especially us naive Singaporean

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