Sunday, February 22, 2009

20th Century Boys Movie Rocks and the Sunday Times is Clueless.

Let me explain, the Sunday Times has, in the last two weeks, published two tiny reviews of 20th Century Boys and both reviews rubbished the movie; proving only that the Sunday Times critics' Damascene conversion to fans of graphic novels, manga, and all things cartoon is just a further example of grandad trying to dance.

To be fair, the Sunday Times is a serial offender with its reviewers declaring themselves fans of "graphic novels" because they watched Persepolis, and creating lists of "must have" graphic novels with no mention of Shaun Tan's Arrival, in the year that it swept all before it. In fact, this week's Sunday Times Culture section must have proved deeply embarrassing to the paper's TV reviewer A.A. Gill, because it featured Tina Fey on the cover and a large article on Fey and her brilliantly funny creation, 30 Rock. It's embarrassing for Gill because he rubbished 30 Rock and heaped praise on the much inferior Mathew Perry vehicle, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; which had actually already been cancelled when Gill lauded its superiority.

So anyway, I digress, back to comics, sort of, the first Times review of 20th Century Boys was by far the funniest of the two reviews because apparently the reviewer was bewildered by the flashbacks in the movie - honestly, the thing opens at a future date with a man jailed for drawing a cartoon; the movie pleasingly ends back in that time in that cell. The flashbacks back briefly to the release of T.Rex's 20th Century Boy, and then back to the major kernel of the story, Kenji's childhood, are not just not bewildering, but pretty darned straight forward and expertly handled. As for the reviewer's belief that the acting in this adaptation of Urasawa's hugely popular award-winning manga is sometimes "over the top" well that must have floored fans of Japanese cinema. Honestly, where do they get these people?

Okay, for the benefit of people like Cosmo Landsman, the chaps in the poster up top, were once the children in the picture above, and the story actually begins here, and using kinematographic effects, we are miraculously transported back to that time as an illustration of the central character's memory - this is actually a fairly common technique.

The "bewildering" jump forward at the opening of the movie, where a cartoonist has been imprisoned for drawing an innapropriate cartoon, clearly drawing parallels with contemporary matters and hinting at an authoritarian regime, is pleasing cleared up when the movie ends, sometime in the future, in that same prison. So that's so not "bewildering" is it, unless you didn't actually watch the entire movie?

This page, from the manga the movie was based on, and the subsequent pages below, show how the story moves backwards and forwards in time as the plot is revealed over several volumes, and in the case of the movies, over the trilogy.


In my opinion, Urasawa's legion of fans will love this movie, and like me they will be astonished at how like the illustrations a lot of the characters are, and how faithful most of the story and sets are to the original story which ran in Shogakukan's Weekly Big Comic Spirits magazine. I can't recommend it highly enough. But I don't think you need to be familiar with the manga to enjoy the movie, as long as you are not as easily bewildered as the Sunday Times reviewer that is, and as long as you like Japanese movies, comic books, sci-fi, mysteries and a rollicking good adventure. I'm pretty sure also, that the non-linear nature of the plot will not cause nearly as much confusion as it apparently did for the critic concerned.

Not that the movie would struggle if the easily bewildered stayed away, and the only people who placed their bums on the seats where those who bought the 20 million copies of the 20th Century Boys manga that have been sold in Japan, and the many people in the West who have read the scanlations, and have gone on to pick up the newly translated manga. Urasawa's fans alone will surely bring the movie, and the subsequent DVDs, a level of financial success few movies attain these days.

I can hardly contain my excitement, the trailer for 20th Century Boys 2 is out, and it's tacked on to the end of the trailer for 20th Century Boys, below. Unlike the Sunday Times reviewers, I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy - bring it on.

20th Century Boys (part 1 of 3)
Certificate 15
Toshiaki Karasawa
Etsushi Toyokawa
Takako Tokiwa
Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Yasushi Fukuda
Takashi Nagasaki
Naoki Urasawa
Yƻsuke Watanabe


Sean Michael Wilson said...

Hi Rod,

I just saw your comment on my blog notice about my 'Once upon a time in morningside' book. cheers for that.

Stovies forever!

You been to Japan yet?

Rod McKie said...

Hey Sean,

Heck no, not yet. I am on a promise though.

Stovies, antiques, pinballs, Itchychoo Park on the jukebox and don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Mike Lynch said...

I like your blog because you're deeper into manga than I am, so I rely on your expert advice. I'll have to seek out the 20th CENTURY BOYS manga and wait to see if the movie makes it to the States. It premiered last month at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, so I'm hopeful.

Rod McKie said...

Hey Mike,

it's great fun. Imagine anyone expecting the acting in a Japanese sci-fi/horrorish manga-adaptation with a giant robot not to be OTT!

word verification is: sumstier. Now that looks like a real word.