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20th Century Boys: Chapter Two - The Last Hope
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by Jay Seaver

"In which the stakes are raised."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: So, how about that ending for part one? Crazy, huh? Going to be hard to top. Hard enough, in fact, that the filmmakers don't quite manage it in the second chapter, although they certainly do an entertaining job of getting to the next phase of The Friend's plan and whetting our appetite for the forthcoming Chapter Three. (Note: Do not click through to the rest of the review unless you're okay with knowing how Chapter One ends. I mean it. It'll still be here later.)

It's 2015. The Friend has been the de facto ruler of Japan and tremendously popular around the world since defeating "terrorist" Kenji Endo on Bloody New Year's Eve fifteen years earlier. Kanna Endo (Airi Taira), now 18, knows the truth about Friend and her uncle (but not that Friend claims to be her father), but there is not much she and her uncle's friends can do about it, especially with "Shogun" (Etushi Toyokawa) locked up and Yukiji (Takako Tokiwa) focused on Kanna's safety. What none of them know about is that there's a "New Book of Prophecy", which lays out Friend's plan to "destroy humanity and become god". Are Kanna, her classmate Kyoko (Haruka Kinami), and Detective Chono (Naohito Fujiki), the grandson of a legendary cop killed for getting too close to the truth back in Chapter One, ready to follow in their predecessors' footsteps?

Although the first part made it clear that baby Kanna was going to be a big deal, it's still a bit of a surprise to see the spotlight switch to her so suddenly; imagine if the Star Wars movies had come out in chronological order and Obi-Wan Kenobi had been built up as the series' hero. Kanna is the Luke Skywalker of this series, though, and it's clear from the start that she's no ordinary teenager; when she throws herself in the middle of a gang war that threatens to destroy her favorite noodle shop, one of the gangsters comments that bullets dodge her. As smart and fearless as she is, she's also angry and the sort of stubborn that could get her killed even if Friend does order her taken alive.

Airi Taira takes all of this and makes Kanna a bit more than a stock "chosen one". She's a more intense lead than Toshiaki Karasawa was in the first, but she also lets us see that Kanna has inherited her uncle's empathy. She makes for a fine action hero, handling all the physical tasks set in front of her with aplomb and still coming out of them not looking like a complete machine. Haruka Kinami is a nice contrast to her as Kyoko - that schoolgirl is perpetually late and not close to brimming with the skills and confidence of Kanna, but she's quite likable, and a fun sidekick to her tough new friend. Also amusing on sidekick duty is Mirai Moriyama, playing a manga artist imprisoned alongside Shogun for publishing a comic that ended with the revelation that its hero was actually the villain. The returnees from the first film, particularly Tokiwa, Toyokawa, and Teruyuki Kagawa, all do a fine job of making their characters worn down but still defiant.

As the middle film of the trilogy, Chapter Two does have some issues with having to serve as the connective tissue opening with a bang and the big finale. 20th Century Boys is a complex work - indeed, part of its appeal is its scope - and the filmmakers sometimes walk an uneven path between presenting that complexity and simplifying it enough for a 139-minute movie. There's also some shaky plot devices used to get Kanna and Kyoko information in 2015 that is really only available in 1971 (since the North American printings of the manga have only reached about halfway through the first movie, it's hard to tell whether this is an issue in the source or in translation), and like in the first film, there are spots that would have been a break in the serial that seem odd pressed together.

The movie also does quite a bit well. Its 2015 Tokyo is well-realized, with candy-coated fascism existing side by side with ugly gang wars. The technology of the period also looks just right, just far enough advanced to be futuristic without being unreasonably so, given that the year isn't quite that far off. Tsutsumi wrangles an extremely large cast without characters getting lost too often, and though there isn't a set piece as big as the first film's finale, the action scenes often seem more personally dangerous.

As with the first film, this one ends with a jump in time and a countdown to the next film's trailer. And as with the first film, while this one may not be perfect, it's a very good telling of an excellent story, one whose conclusion I can't wait to see.

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originally posted: 07/21/09 02:46:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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