20th Century Boys Review
Like most Japanese science-fiction disaster movies, anime and manga series, there are traces of a deeper collective subconscious concern with apocalyptic events in the nation’s recent history of major earthquakes, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the war and the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo underground by the Aum cult. These certainly feed into the conspiracy-heavy plot of 20th Century Boys, but the film makes no real attempt to explore the background or psychology of those themes, juggling the apocalyptic elements rather as a means of delivering a hugely entertaining adventure of global scale.
The hints of the social background are there also in the character of Kenji, who as a young man has ambitions of making the world a better place, principally through rock music, but has ended up working in a convenience store as a shopkeeper. Kenji has started to notice the mysterious disappearance of several customers and even some members of his own family, noting their connection to a strange new cult with its leader Friend that has arisen in Japan, but whose influence is growing worldwide. At the same time a dangerous virus that drains its victims of blood has been affecting diverse parts of the world to shocking effect. Is there some kind of connection? What is more worrying to Kenji is that the cult’s symbol and the escalating series of events approaching a turn of the millennium doomsday seem to be following The Book of Prophesies manga comic that he wrote and drew with his friends at school some twenty years previously.
Coming across as a kind of cross between Stephen King’s It and the TV series Millennium, with a group of childhood friends regrouping together against a dangerous menace as nine unlikely heroes, the emphasis in 20th Century Boys is very definitely on pure pulp adventure. Adapted from a popular manga comic, the storyline is correspondingly overheated and exaggerated, but terrific fun with a strong ensemble cast, an over-the-top doomsday plot and even giant monster robots rampaging through Tokyo. The lack of resolution after two and a quarter hours – the film is part of a trilogy to be continued in part 2 coming to DVD in September – is the only thing that disappoints.
The Disc: Presented as a two disc set, the film is given a good DVD presentation, with an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. Colouration is a little warm but there’s nothing here that causes any issues, the image clear, stable and free from any marks or digital flaws. Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks are included, and are both relatively strong. A second disc of extra features add up to little more than the usual lightweight overlong Japanese series of bland interviews, Q&As and puffed-up promotional pieces, imparting little of real value, though the sight of a press conference beside the Mona Lisa in the Louvre for the French premiere is quite unique, and there is endorsement of the films from the original manga creators.