K-20: Legend of the Mask (K-20: Kaijin nijû mensô den) (2008)

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Released 4-May-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 137:14
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Shimako Sato
Studio
Distributor
NTV
Gryphon Entertainment
Starring Takeshi Kaneshiro
Takako Matsu
Tôru Nakamura
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music Naoki Sato


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese dts 5.1
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Japan 1949. World War II has been avoided and the Japanese have settled into a feudal society where the nobility have all the wealth and power, while the lower classes live in slums in poverty. Intermarriage between the classes is unlawful, the path to advancement barred for the poor. In this fixed society one black caped and masked phantom known as K-20, aka “the fiend (the Japanese is “kaijin”) with twenty faces”, steals priceless objects from the rich in daring robberies. But he is no Robin Hood, distributing wealth to the poor; the loot he keeps for himself. Hot on K-20’s heals is celebrity Police Detective Baron Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura) and his assistant Inspector Namikoshi (Toru Masuoka). Akechi is betrothed to Duchess Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu), the wealthy heiress to the giant Hashiba industrial group.

     The film starts with a demonstration within Hashiba Industries of a small prototype of an energy transmitting device, the full version (hidden elsewhere) having the destructive potential of an atom bomb. During the demonstration the device is stolen by K-20. He later sends a note to the police, promising to steal a famous painting, Brueghel’s The Tower of Babel, owned by Hashiba Industries during Akechi and Yoko’s very public betrothal ceremony. Meanwhile, circus acrobat Heikichi Edo (Takeshi Kaneshiro recently in John Woo’s Red Cliff) has been hired by a news magazine to take unauthorised pictures of the betrothal. Of course, he has been set up, and when explosions occur the police arrest Heikichi and believe they have captured K-20, a conclusion supported by some planted diamonds planted in his room at the circus. However, Heikichi escapes with the help of a gang of low class thieves led by some time inventor Genji (Jun Kunimura) and vows to catch the real K-20 to prove his innocence. He commences training in K-20’s techniques so as to have the ability to stand up to K-20 in a fight.

     Uptown, Yoko is having serious doubts about getting married, believing there should be more to life. When K-20 attempts to abduct her during a fitting of her bridal gown, believing that she knows the whereabouts of the full size energy emitting device, she is saved by Heikichi, and she willingly escapes with him to the slums of the city. It soon appears that the Brueghel painting holds the key to the mystery of the hidden destructive device. Can Heikichi find and destroy the device, avoid capture by the police and unmask K-20 before K-20 finds the device and unleashes its destructive power?

     K-20: Legend of the Mask also known in the USA as K-20: The Fiend With 20 Faces (Japanese title: K-20: Kaijin niju menso den) is a wonderful yarn and a rollicking adventure romance. It features a charismatic action man lead performance by Takeshi Kaneshiro, a beautiful feisty heroine in Takako Matsu who is no wilting heroine waiting to be saved but gives as much as she gets, great set design, energetic stunts and fight sequences and a rousing, bombastic, over the top orchestral score from Naoki Sato that sounds very much like a John Williams effort, and would not be out of place in an Indiana Jones film! K-20: Legend of the Mask is also very funny in places and elsewhere moving, there is good rapport between the stars, and if the plot is a bit predictable and we know we are being manipulated by the film makers and the composer, K-20: Legend of the Mask is such great entertainment we just don’t care!

     Minor criticisms include that the film is a bit long and that some of the CGI effects are not up to the best Hollywood standards. But these are indeed minor points. If you like superhero movies, think Spiderman meets Indiana Jones. I loved this – K-20: Legend of the Mask is one of the most rousing, entertaining fun films I have seen for a long, long time.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     K-20: Legend of the Mask is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, but unfortunately is not 16x9 enhanced. This does affect the sharpness and clarity of the film. Blacks are mostly not too bad, but the major loss is in shadow detail where a number of scenes are distinctly murky. Otherwise close ups on faces and still daylight shots were very good.

     The colour palate for the film features deliberately dull, muted colours, especially browns and yellows, enlivened by the occasional red of the street lanterns or the brighter yellow of women’s shawls. Within this colour range, brightness, contrast and skin tones are fine. The opening titles, in red text sometimes over a blue background, were however difficult to read.

     I did not notice any artefacts.

     Lip synchronisation is fine.

     The English subtitles are in a white font in American English. Other than American spelling, and some grating abbreviations such as “bro” and “ya”, I did not notice any errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The DVD case states that the audio is Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1. This is not correct. What is present is a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded track at 192 Kpbs (the default) plus a Japanese dts 5.1 track. There is no set up menu as such (only chapter stops – of which there are only 6 for a film over 2 hours long – and subtitle options) but the dts can be selected from the remote. I listened to the dts and sampled the Dolby Digital.

     The dts presented a good surround experience without being overwhelming. Dialogue was clear, the surrounds were used for the occasional directional pan, such as overhead helicopters, but mostly for ambient sounds and the score. The sub woofer supported the explosions, other noises and the music. The Dolby Digital 2.0 was recorded at a slightly higher level; it does not give the same channel separation, not surprisingly, but still does a good, effective job.

     As noted, the John Williams sound alike music score by Naoki Sato provided rousing support for the film. There is also an Oasis song The Shock of the Lightning playing over the end credits.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There are no extras at all. None.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     K-20: Legend of the Mask has been released in Region 3 (a Hong Kong version and Singapore version), a Region 0 Malaysian version and a Region 1 US version. The Hong Kong and Malaysian versions are 16x9 enhanced, include the Japanese dts and have no extras. The Singapore version is also 16x9 enhanced, has only Japanese 2.0 audio but does have a stills gallery and trailers. All Asian releases do have English subtitles; I am unable to find as yet any review of the quality of the video.

     Reports of the Region 1 I have read suggest it is in a cropped ratio of 1.77:1 and is probably not 16x9 enhanced. It has trailers as an extra.

     This is a tough call. Probably Region 3 on the basis of the 16x9 enhancement.

Summary

     K-20: Legend of the Mask is fantastic entertainment. The film is funny and moving, has likeable stars, a great set design, energetic stunts and fight sequences and a rousing, bombastic, over the top orchestral score. The video is non-16x9 enhanced and suffers for it, the audio is fine and there are no extras.

     However, K-20: Legend of the Mask is one of the most entertaining films I have seen for a long, long time and is highly recommended on the basis of the film itself.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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