(Viz Media, 142 minutes)
BY CHRIS ZIMMERMAN
In 1969 Kenji Endo spent his childhood days dreaming of
changing the world through Rock and Roll. Jump to 1997 and his aspirations of
becoming a rock star have all but faded. Instead, he has decided to take over
his family’s work running a liquor store that is soon to be a franchise
convenience store all the while looking after his niece who was left in his
care by his sister before she vanished. Soon his world is rocked when the
police drop by to question him about the disappearance of family and the suicide
of a friend. During a class reunion, Kenji learns of a mysterious cult that
appears to be behind the disappearances with a symbol that was created by Kenji
and his friends when they were children. Even worse, a virus has broken out
threatening to wipe out all of Japan.
Everything appears to be linked to “the Book of Prophecy”, a story Kenji wrote
when he was a child. So goes the story of 20th Century Boys, a sprawling epic about childhood dreams and the consequences
that must be dealt with for having them.
Based on the manga by Naoki Urasawa, 20th Century Boys is the first of a trilogy of films to
be released that deal with a boy’s comic and the apocalyptic future it
prophesizes. This first film is an adaption of the first six volumes in the
series, compressing around 1200 pages of story into roughly two and a half
hours of screen time. Having read both the original comic and now seen the
movie, I can confidently say that the filmmakers handled the transition
The trilogy on the whole is one of the biggest in Japanese
history with a budget of 6 billion yen( roughly 55.68 million US dollars) and a
cast of 300 actors. With a cast that large it’s impossible to get to know every
character but the film makers do an impressive job of sneaking small bits into
the film that return later to provide a massive payoff. There are a few actions
scenes spread thinly throughout but when they do occur they are suspenseful and
executed wonderfully though the special effects can be considered small
potatoes when compared to American cinema.
For all its strengths, 20th Century Boys truly stands on the performance of the lead Toshiaki Karasawa
as Kenji. His portrayal of a nice guy trying to do right by everyone brings a
character that most of us can relate to. As the movie progresses so does his
character’s growth, becoming more determined to discover the meaning behind the
events transpiring around him.
It’s because of all these things that 20th Century Boys: Beginning of the End manages to
provide an exciting on its own rather than falling into the trappings of page
for page adaptations. From the very start of the movie, a sense of intrigue is
introduced that lingers right until the end. If this first offering and the
accompanying trailer at the end of the credits is any indication, this may be
trilogy that may prove to rank amongst the best in cinema.