20th Century Boys (20-seiki shônen: Honkaku kagaku bôken eiga) (2008)

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Released 1-Sep-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Featurette-Making Of
Theatrical Trailer-x 2
TV Spots-x 5
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 136:25
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Toshiaki Karasawa
Etsushi Toyokawa
Takako Tokiwa
Teruyuki Kagawa
Hidehiko Ishizuka
Takashi Ukaji
Hiroyuki Miyasako
Katsuhisa Namase
Fumiyo Kohinata
Kuranosuke Sasaki
Shirô Sano
Mirai Moriyama
Kanji Tsuda
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI Box Music Ryomei Shirai


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, after the credits

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Plot Synopsis

     20th Century Boys is an epic trilogy based on the hugely popular manga by writer Naoki Urasawa consisting of 22 graphic novels. Condensing such a mass of material, even into the 7 hour trilogy running time, would not have been simple but generally fans of the manga seem to have been positive about the trilogy, helped no doubt by Urasawa’s involvement as screenwriter in the film project. I have not read the manga, so it was sometimes hard to keep up with the multitude of characters but mostly I had no problem in enjoying these films, starting with 20th Century Boys: Chapter 1 - Beginning of the End (20-seiki shonen: Honkaku kagaku boken eiga ).

     In 1969 a group of school children create their own hidden world, physically and mentally, in a field. They build a grass hideout where they shelter from the world and the terrible twins and they construct an imaginary world in which an evil person seeking to control the world is unleashing a deadly virus on specific cities. This story is chronicled in a Book of Prophecy drawn by Kenji and his best friend Otcho, who also creates their secret “hand” symbol. Their last prophecy is that at the end of the century, on the 31st of December 2000, a massive robot will attempt to destroy Tokyo.

     In 1997 a virus is causing deaths in cities around the world, the bodies being drained of blood. In Japan a cult led by a man known only as “Friend” is attracting adherents from a wide range of society. Kenji (Toshiaki Karasawa), a failed rock performer, now works in a convenience store with his mother and looks after his baby niece Kanna while Otcho has disappeared in Thailand. At a school reunion Kenji meets again some of his boyhood friends, including Maruo (Hidehiko Ishizuka), Yoshitsune (Teruyuki Kagawa), Mon-chan (Takashi Ukaji), Keroyon (Hiroyuki Miyasako) and Fukube (Kuranosuke Sasaki). They realise that there is a disturbing correspondence between their imaginary Book of Prophecy and the events taking place in the world, and that the Friend Cult is using their secret hand symbol as their banner. Both the prophecies and symbol are only known to about 12 school classmates, and they start to believe that Friend is someone from their school class.

     As deaths start to mount and more of their prophecies, such as explosions at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, come true Kenji receives information that Kanna is at risk and that it is he, Kenji, who must save mankind. However, things continue to deteriorate as Friend’s cult contests the elections and Kenji is framed and becomes wanted as a terrorist by the police, now increasingly controlled by Friend. As the prophesised Doomsday of 31st December 2000 nears, Kenji reforms the childhood group and reunites with Otcho (Etsushi Toyokawa) and Yukiji (Takako Tokiwa), the only female group member. On New Year’s eve, 31st December 2000, they set out to stop the destruction of Tokyo by the giant, virus spewing robot and so avert Doomsday.

     As the first part of a trilogy 20th Century Boys: Chapter 1 - Beginning of the End quite rightly takes its time to set up the plot and to introduce the characters. And there are indeed a large number of characters which, together with the different time periods the film shifts between, 2015, 1969, 1997 and 2000, could have been confusing for those not familiar with the manga. However, while it does take a bit of attention, especially for minor players who appear briefly and may have roles later in the trilogy, Kenji, Otcho, Yoshitsune, Yukiji and Maruo are easily identified and Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi keeps a firm grip on proceedings. Indeed, for non-manga readers following the story is helped by the fact that the film focuses primarily on Kenji. This, however, was a problem for a couple of reasons. First is that Kenji as reluctant hero is rather a wimp and inept to boot, and as Toshiaki Karasawa is also fairly bland it is hard to be fully involved in his character and his story. Second is that nearly all of the back stories of the other members of the group are absent or sketchy, so that their motivation for joining the “resistance” against Friend is missing. This effects them all, even the only female Yukiji and Otcho (who is absent for the first two-thirds of this part) although Etsushi Toyokawa as Otcho does look to have the goods. Apparently one whole novel in the series was about his adventures in Thailand, of which we get only one brief action sequence.

     First films in epic trilogies are difficult to pull off. They need to introduce the characters and the plot, make sense and have enough interest and / or action to get the viewer involved. Although the action in Chapter 1 - Beginning of the End is limited and the CGI effects, especially the giant robot, are not up to the standard of recent Hollywood films (or indeed other recent Japanese films such as Gnomon), Chapter 1: Beginning of the End does succeed in setting up the characters and intriguing premise while moving into the story. The film is not complete in itself, and ends with a cliff hanging sequence that makes you eager to know what comes next. And I guess that is all one can reasonably ask. Oh, and make sure you watch until the end of the credits.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Chapter 1 - Beginning of the End is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, close to the original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     There is nothing wrong with the print, although some scenes were not as sharp as I would have expected. Colours are muted, yet natural, blacks and shadow detail are fine, brightness, contrast, skin tones good. I saw no film artefacts.

     The English subtitles are in a yellow font and I did not notice any spelling or grammatical errors. Captions translating Japanese signs are in white.

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

Audio

     Audio is a choice between Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 Kbps. I listened to the 5.1 and sampled the 2.0 audio.

     The 5.1 was a good enveloping track. Dialogue was clear, there was good separation, the rears are used for music and effects and the subwoofer supported the crashes and thumbs of the robot and the music. The 2.0 is surround encoded but sounded quite tiny by comparison.

     Lip synchronisation is fine.

     The score by Ryomei Shirai used both electronic and orchestral music and added some Japanese and Western pop songs including 20th Century Boy by T-Rex and Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. It was an effective support for the film.

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

Extras

Making of 20th Century Boys (Part I) (57:59)

     This is basically an on-set behind the scenes video diary shot during the making of Part 1 and Part 2 of 20th Century Boys; it has a linking voiceover and includes short comments from cast and crew. This is an informative and interesting look at the locations, casting, blue and green screen, computer effects, stunts and some of the sequences where up to 2,000 extras were on set. This part ends with the premier event for Part 1 of the trilogy in Paris.

     Both video and audio is of variable quality but acceptable although I had a problem with some of the subtitles, which were difficult to read for two reasons. The first is that some go past very quickly, but the more frequent issue is that the English subtitles in a yellow font are placed on top of white Japanese subtitles making them hard to read. On other occasions, the question being asked of the cast or crew member is placed in white on the screen actually overlapping the white Japanese title. Despite this issue, this extra is an excellent look at the production and is well worth watching.

Trailers

     Two Original trailers (1:08) and (1:36).

TV Spots

     Five TV Spots (0:18), (0:36), (0:21), (0:36) and (0:32).

R4 vs R1

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

     The three 20th Century Boys films have been released separately in Region 1 US, Region 2 Japan, Region 2 UK and elsewhere. The Region 1 discs are single discs which seem to have similar video and audio to ours and only trailers as extras.

     The Region 2 Japanese individual release of 20th Century Boys – Chapter 1: Beginning of the End contains trailers, plus a guitar pick and Friend Flag. In Region 2 UK there are two disc editions of the three films. The Chapter 1 Beginning of the End includes a 24 page booklet (made up like the Book of Prophecy) but does not seem to have any extras that we don’t have in Region 4.

     The complete trilogy is also available in Region 2 Japan and Region 2 UK. The UK version seems the best as they have a 4 disc edition with the booklet and all the extras on the fourth disc. Here in Region 4 Madman has spread these same extras across the 3 discs. The Region 2 Japanese release is a 3 disc set which does not seem to have any extra features that are not on the Region 4; for example, there is no audio commentary.

     I did not notice any compression issues in the Region 4 disc, but clearly having the extras on one disc would free up space. That and the booklet would give the Region 2 UK individual version and the trilogy the win.

Summary

     20th Century Boys is an epic trilogy based on the hugely popular manga by writer Naoki Urasawa. 20th Century Boys: Chapter 1 - Beginning of the End as the first part of the trilogy takes its time to set up the plot and to introduce the characters but it does succeed in setting up the characters and the intriguing premise and moving into the story. The video and audio are good, the “Making of” is an excellent extra.

     In Region 4 Madman have released the three 20th Century Boys films as one box set containing all the extras on the three discs, unlike the Region 2 UK release that has the extras on a 4th disc.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, October 22, 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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