October 20, 2008

My Thoughts On Japanese Movie 20th Century Boys Part 1

Finally got to watch the the first part of the highly anticipated live-action movie adaptation of Naoki Urasawa 's hit manga 20th Century Boys (20世紀少年) over the weekend. Costing US$60 million and starring Toshiaki Karasawa, Tokiwa Takako, Etsushi Toyokawa and other top names in the Japanese entertainment industry, it's no wonder that I had sky-high expectations of this movie. And the film does not disappoint, the acting was generally superb, many of the characters looked exactly like their manga counterparts and the special FX was good (not Hollywood standard yet but at least I thought that it was better than the special effects in Death Note). However, I felt that something was missing from the movie... Not sure what that "something" was but somehow I just could not become fully absorbed in the story that was unfolding before me on the big screen...

And after thinking about why I have this feeling, I have come up with two possible reasons:

1. Not reading the manga first. The storyline is very complex, no mistake about that, and like a good whodunnit, there were little hints here and there of who the dastardly villain a.k.a Friend is, but to catch these hints, I think one has to be somewhat familiar with the plot first. I did not read the manga from beginning to end, only bits and pieces after I found out that there was going to be a movie adaptation. This could have affected my ability to fully appreciate what was going on. Perhaps, if I had finished reading the whole manga series before watching the movie, I would have had a greater appreciation for the film...

2. Not enough time to flesh out the characters. As they had to squeeze the long and highly complicated plot (22 volumes of manga in total and a timeline that spans from 1969 to 2015) into three 2-hour plus movies, it is understandable that some parts of the story had to be sacrificed... This may have affected the flow of the plot to a certain extent. Also, because of the sheer multitude of characters in the story, many key characters appear for far too short a time to allow the audience to have the chance to understand what motivates them and to feel for them. Without this emotional attachment to the characters, it is hard to become all that interested in what happens to them in the film...

But that is not to say that the characters were not memorable, in fact, some of them (especially the minor ones) have so much character and their personality and quirks were so vividly brought to life that you will remember them even if they just appear for a mere few minutes. Case in point is Naoto Takenaka's short 3(?) minute appearance.

The parts I liked the most were the scenes of Kenji and friends as kids, as these scenes evoked a feeling of sweetness and nostalgia. Also, the scenes between Kenji and his niece Kanna (who will play a leading role in the 2nd and 3rd instalments of the trilogy) were especially touching.

But all in all, for all its faults, this is the best Japanese movie that I have seen this year. and I will be eagerly looking forward to Part 2 early next year. But I think I will go read the manga first hehheh.

And here is the trailer for Part II on YouTube, looks pretty exciting to me! Btw, can't help but notice that 'Friend' sure has a wide variety of masks, he could consider setting up a retail outlet selling masks when he retires from his business of terrorisng his childhood pals and world domination ;-P

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