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Sunday, March 08, 2009

20th Century Boys: Chapter 2 - The Last Hope 20世紀少年<第2章> 最後の希望

20th Century Boys: Chapter 2 - The Last Hope film poster

I made sure I was able to catch a film in Tokyo when I went back, and I ended up seeing 20TH CENTURY BOYS: CHAPTER 2 - THE LAST HOPE, the second film of the planned trilogy directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi. I saw the first film last September, which I rather enjoyed despite its flaws (read my review).

Set 15 years after the events in the first film, the protagonist of this film is the now-adult Kanna, played by Taira Airi, whose hairstyle in the film made me gape in awe.

I had wondered whether she was wearing a wig, or the hair stylists really spent hours styling her hair. Of course, aside from her hair, and her good looks, Taira Airi is quite decent as an actress, even though she spends most of the film angry, angsty and morose, all because of her missing uncle Kenji (Toshiaki Karasawa). She gave a solid performance, and I don't think she's acted off the screen by her much more-established and experienced co-stars. I'm actually quite surprised, considering the fact that she's relatively a newcomer. Jason Gray had predicted the birth of a star
, I might actually agree. (It's just a pity that she doesn't seem to be given much to do in the script)

The first film spent more time dwelling into the past, of Kenji and his gang of childhood friends. This film is more on a dystopic future where the all-powerful Tomodachi had became Japan's ruler and global hero after thwarting the evil terrorists (Kenji and gang), and the entire country has turned cult-like in their constant worshipping of Tomodachi. It's quite an interesting setting. Some questions from the previous film have been answered here, but more questions are raised as well.

This film, without the need of setting the stage and introducing the characters, moves in a brisker pace. The last third of the film is quite compelling, even though there's no major setpiece of mass destruction like the giant robots in the previous film. In many ways, the adaptation of the manga is quite ambitious, reminds me of the WATCHMEN adaptation. I thought it's appropriate that three films are made to adapt the whole series, instead of trying to cram everything into one film (pretty impossible). However, the problem I have with 20TH CENTURY BOYS: CHAPTER 2, is the same as what what I felt about the WATCHMEN film.

Having not read the original manga, I have no idea how faithful an adaptation this is, but I can definitely say that the weaker parts of the film are where the filmmakers try to be faithful to the source material (the script is, after all, written by the original manga author Naoki Urasawa). The tone of the film is a mixture of realism and cartoonish, realism in a sense that it's meant to be a satire of pop culture, cult worship etc. in a world similar to our own, but cartoonishly stylized because of the devotion to the text, so in the end, most characters seem to act more like manga archetype characters than real humans. The comic reliefs become much too over-the-top, the angsty characters are much too broody, when subtlety is conjured only by actors and not because of the script, it's hard to feel emotionally invested. An attempt to create a dystopic world similar to our own lacks emotional impact because of the glossiness.

This comes from a guy who grew up watching anime and J-dorama, reading manga, playing Japanese video games etc. But the actions displayed by the characters like Kanna's classmate (Haruka Kinami) or the young detective (Naohito Fujiki) are unnecessarily annoying! The characters in the DEATH NOTE live-action films almost seem realistic in comparison! Once again, I don't think the quality of a film should be judged by how faithful it is to the source material, when things that work on manga don't necessarily work well on film.

Even so, I'm still going to look forward to the next film.

Here's the trailer.

You can also check out Mark Schilling's film review on Japan Times.