20th Century Boys: Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End (2008) Review

"20th Century Boys: Chapter 1" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"20th Century Boys: Chapter 1" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Producer: Nobuyuki Iinuma
Cast: Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Takako Tokiwa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Takashi Ukaji, Kuranosuke Sasaki
Running Time: 142 min.

By HKFanatic

20th Century Boys is a live-action film based off the immensely popular and award-winning manga by Naoki Urasawa, who also created Monster. I’m not familiar with the source material but it must be pretty damn epic – it’s taken three movies, each over 2 hours long, just to complete the 20th Century Boys saga. I imagine this will be the biggest stumbling block for viewers looking to get into the series: Chapter 1, the first film, is 142 minutes long and you don’t even get the complete story.

Regardless, this is a movie worth looking into. It starts in a familiar way, not unlike Shaun of the Dead or even The Matrix, with an assuming everyman stuck in a job that’s going nowhere until he receives a call to action and must embark on a hero’s journey. The main character, Kenji, is an ex-rock guitar player now nearing his 40’s who runs a convenience store with his mom and looks after his vanished sister’s baby. He’s a good-hearted guy who’s resigned himself to a middle of the road kind of existence. Then one day the apocalyptic prophecies that he and some childhood friends dreamed up when they were kids, prophecies involving a cult and a deadly virus, actually start coming true. Now it’s up to Kenji to reunite with his old pals, figure out who’s behind the conspiracy, and save Tokyo before it’s destroyed.

At 142 minutes, you better believe this movie takes the time to set up the plot and introduce the characters. Without a doubt you get to know everyone in the film, even though the cast is quite large. It can be a bit confusing to keep track of everyone and the film jumps around in time from the past in the 1970’s to the “present” of the story in 2000 and even to the future in 2015. Stay focused and you’ll find that the characters are quirky and endearing, and you’ll be dying to learn just who the mysterious Friend – the masked foe out to destroy humanity – really is.

If I have one complaint about the film, it’s that despite the long runtime and measured pace the ending feels rushed.  Once you do get to the climactic final 20 minutes of the film, featuring a giant robot stomping on Tokyo and spraying a deadly mist that causes people’s heads to explode, the action sequence doesn’t have time to develop. It’s kind of like if they had tried to shoehorn the Battle at Helm’s Deep into the last 20 minutes of Fellowship of the Ring. Granted, it probably wasn’t an option to end the film earlier since Chapter 2 takes place in the future and with a mostly new set of characters (I told you this thing was epic), but the finale just didn’t carry the impact I wanted. The special effects are certainly remarkably impressive, though – and who doesn’t love giant robots tearing shit up?

The 20th Century Boys trilogy is one of Japan’s largest cinematic undertakings, with a budget of 6 billon yen ($77 million) and a cast of hundreds across the entire series. Committing to watch all three films is certainly a large investment of time, seeing as how altogether they run about 7 and a 1/2 hours. But after watching and enjoying Chapter 1, I feel confident that the rest of the series is worth looking into.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10

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2 Responses to 20th Century Boys: Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End (2008) Review

  1. Kyle Warner says:

    Solid review. I liked this one a lot, too, and it’s probably my favorite of the trilogy. 20th Century Boys is a strange epic, mainly because it tries to fit so much into the story (past/future, tragedy/comedy, giant robots/religious cults, and lots of rock & roll). And like you said, it’s a big cast of characters, but they’re all likable and fairly complex so one doesn’t mind spending 7+ hours with them. It’s a cool trilogy.

  2. Pingback: Friend Robot - Kaijumatic

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