In a world where World War II did not happen for Japan, one man finds himself in a class battle as he's forced into the outside.
What They Say
It is 1949 in Japan, in a world where World War II never happened and the nobility system established in the Meiji Era is still in place. An extreme divide exists between the upper and lower classes, with 90 percent of the country's wealth being held by the upper class. The capital of Teito is in crisis with the emergence of a phantom thief known as "The Fiend (Kaijin) with Twenty Faces," or simply, "K-20."
Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a circus acrobat who is deceived by K-20 and is set up to take the fall for the phantom thief. Using his incredible physical dexterity, Heikichi wages war against K-20 in order to clear his name, fighting alongside K-20's next wealthy target, Duchess Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu), and her fiancee, brilliant detective Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura). But what is the ultimate decision Heikichi has to make?
The feature contains a pair of Japanese audio tracks with a 5.1 mix and a 2.0 mix which has both of them surprisingly encoded at 448kbps. The 5.1 track has a bit more impact to it but it's not a mix which utilizes the rear speakers all that much. There's some music and effects going to it but it's very weak and almost diluted. The stereo mix is a surprise as it's very quiet compared to the 5.1 mix where you have to turn up the volume a fair bit to hear the same dialogue. Both tracks have a solid forward soundstage design to them with dialogue well placed and some good directionality to it, but it's not a standout film when it comes to the audio design overall.
Originally in theaters at the end of 2008, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.:35:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The film has a good look to it with only the usual amount of standard film grain to it which is rather minimal overall. There's a lot of murky colors here and a lot of interior pieces which have a dark look owing to the nature of the setting and they come across well. Detail is decent and shadows are nicely defined for the most part. The feature isn't a striking production for the most part but during the key scenes with the action and CG effects, it has a smooth look that works well.
The cover design for the film will get some easy comparisons to V for Vendetta as it has K-20 swinging on a rope with his pistol out as the flames swirl in the background. K-20 has the big hat and mask while wearing lots of black and a flowing cape so there's a definite dark look to it and the details are obscured here with the design of it. The logo along the bottom is decent but overall this isn't a cover that's going to sell the show easily since it's not exactly clear about it in a quick glance. The back cover has some good shots from the film with headshots of the three leads and several action style shots below that. The summary does a decent job of covering the basics of what it's about and it finishes it off with a large chunk of production credits for both the Japanese side of it and the US release. Add in a very small technical grid and you've got the standards here intact and clear to read.
The menu design uses the material from the front cover, flipped though, and has K-20 swinging back and forth on a loop. The flames in the background are static and it has much the same feel with the murky look to it. The navigation is kept simple but they do offer language navigation so you can select the track and turn subtitles on and off. The submenus load quickly and it's a very easy menu to navigate and it looks decent, if unexceptional overall. It's a functional menu with a bit of style and design put into it and it does set the mood fairly well.
The only extras included are the Japanese and English release trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a background in filmmaking from London, Shimako Sato's adaptation of the novel "The Story of Nuyumenso" has a decidedly Western feeling to it with some solid Asian style action. The film, clocking in a bit under two and a half hours, takes us to an alternate world where World War II did not occur as Japan signed a treaty with England and the US. Because of that, the country progressed for the next ten years in the same manner with the "new nobility" ruling elite gaining even more ground and turn the country into a more blatant class layout. The wealthy and well off live in a world where there isn't much that bothers them while everyone else ekes out a living, much as we've seen in numerous historical films about the way people have lived in Japan for centuries.
Taking place in 1949, we're introduced to a society that is dazzled by the action of a man known as K-20, the fiend of many faces (with fiend being said as kaijin in Japanese). K-20 has been spending his time stealing precious works of art and jewelry, giving notice to the police of where he intends to steal things first and then swiping it from under their noses in order to embarrass them even more. The elite aren't all that thrilled with it and a lot of police effort is after him though their traps never manage to catch him. The rabble live vicariously through him and see the kind of chaos he causes. In the midst of this, the story adds the backdrop of how Tesla energy is being developed potentially in Japan with the ability to send electricity anywhere they need to because of the method that has been put together. But the real unit, the big unit, is hidden away and hard to find because of the mystery the owner of it has created, the man behind the large Hashiba corporation.
Into this world we meet Heikichi Endo, a young man who performs as an acrobat for a circus and he's been approached by a man who wants him to photograph the engagement ceremony of the famous K-20 hunting detective Akechi and his fiance, the wealthy daughter of Hashiba, Yoko. Because of his fantastic acrobatic skills, he's the only one that can make the shot happen. Unfortunately, it's all a ruse used to steal something from Yoko that may have clue about the Tesla devices that could revolutionize the world with how electricity is managed. And Heikichi, a generally likable guy, finds himself accused of being K-20 and he ends up on the run after escaping from prison with a bit of help. This starts him down the path of becoming a new K-20 so he can go up against the original and try to clear his name.
K-20 follows a fairly standard plot formula as Heikichi goes through his training period and then makes contact with the original, does some good, finds romance and sets the stage for a final confrontation that will reveal what it's all really about with K-20's plans. That said, it's a very well done film that hits all the right notes, if a touch long. Heikichi's period of training is pretty exhilarating as it feels like a combination of Batman and Spider-man moments as the low-tech nature of it is very appealing. Heikichi is a very likable character in that he's a good guy, not the swiftest one out there, but one who does the right thing and finds a lot to like as he discovers this new life.
The film is rather simplistic in its approach to the class side and it plays it rather blandly. The differences in the two is simple but it carries through with what we've seen in how society was prior to this and the way it could go if the nobility continued to rule. There are some nice basic moments with it, such as Yoko learning the way the real world works and how she tries to change things, but it's just a little subplot to the larger storyline. And with that, it's pretty well done. The action has some good movement to it, there's a really good sense of choreography to it that shows us the action rather than continual quick cuts and edits, and it has a bit of impact as well. Heikichi's learning of movement in this new way and how he deals with escapes are thrilling to watch, and that becomes the main reason to really enjoy the show.
When I first saw the trailer for this film, I just felt like I really wanted to see it. It worked well in showcasing an interesting setting with its alternate world, it has a great sense of action to it with the escapes and it has a lot of familiar things to anime fans when it comes to storytelling. But it all translates well to a very Hollywood friend style of design and pacing, if just a touch too long, and it has a great sense of fun along the way. A lot of that is owed to the man playing Heikichi who makes you enjoy his exploits once he takes control of his life and decides what he wants to do. There's a lot to like here and it's one of the few Japanese films I've seen from the action side that holds its own well, even if some of the CG work is at a TV level sometimes. It's definitely worth checking out if this kind of material is up your alley.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Trailers
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.