It’s interesting that most reviewers when writing about K-20 stick to retelling the plot, stating the film budget figures, and saying that TK was “superb” as Heikichi Endo. Right, but nobody says why it is so.
I know I’ll be boring, but I’d like to be more articulate while analyzing the film.
First of all, it’s the “atmosphere” of the city noticeable from the start. Frankly speaking, as an ordinary cinema-goer I don’t care about how much went into special effects, or what computer software helped “build” this or that house or city district. What is more important for me is the colour pattern, the “technological style”, the feeling the landscape gives. Teito as shown in the film is plausible and reminds me of the “Stalin empire” architectural style, heavy, domineering, inhuman almost in its power, but grand, and, strange as it may seem, fraught with change, waiting for the sun. Its sandy gamut seems to be emotionally “tuning the viewer in” to the story that is to develop. The allusions and ties that keep cropping up are “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K.Dick and “Jin-Ro”. By the way, I don’t know why I get the feeling of a series of comics, but if a comics it's a stylish one. I wonder whether this similarity of graphic style was intentional. Anyway, well done.
Now to the plot. Well, comic strips will be comic strips. This one is at least humane, but sorry, very predictable. Nevertheless, it has its strong points " the three main characters and that of the gadget man Genji leave space for real acting. What I liked was that none of them was one-dimensional. Takako Matsu as Yoko Hashiba really revealed different traits of character " she first appeared as an etiquette “mannequin”, but then showed everybody that there are a lot of surprises and a lively human heart behind the expressionless “façade” of a high-born aristocrat “with a strait upper lip”. Tôru Nakamura as Kogoro Akechi also wasn’t a customary “bad and ugly” scoundrel. Look at his hand touching the waist of Yoko when he’s disguised as a tailor (it’s a caring touch), look at his painfully trying to stop the Tesla machine from self-destruction " one really believes that he DID want change though he chose the wrong method. Look at his “samurai façade” and bearing " and later we get to know it was all a pretence, he also is a low-born like Heikichi! Genji is also far from being a primitive thief " all that intellect, hard work, inventiveness, knowledge, and a heart of gold.
I also liked the trick part. The tricks performed by Russian tracers look very true to life (what I mean is the “ropes and props” are not obvious), they really look as if a parcour addict could cope with them, they are within human powers. As for me, “the ropes and props” when visible on the screen spoil the whole impression and make me laugh in the most inappropriate places. So a heroic deed may make me double up in a fit of laughter. Not this time, though. Good.
Unfortunately, some threads of the plot are broken " I’d like to know what happened to the sick master of the circus, how come the assistant of Kogoro Akechi looks like a teenager of 15-16 (what’s the story behind that?) Why is Heikichi so attached to pigeons, and why can’t he say a simple “thank you”? From where did the pigeon in the prison cell come, if all the pigeons had been killed by the irate crowd? How could it find Heikichi in prison, as carrier pigeons can only return to a place they have been taken from? How can an aristocrat openly state that a public enemy like K-20 is helping her? How is K-20 fostering the change in the Japanese society? On the whole, the story smells of Zorro stories without our actually following the further escapades of the Japanese Robin Hood.
The love story. Fabulous-looking lovers. Yes, Heikichi doesn’t dare put Yoko’s life at risk, as he’s an outcast. Noble, isn’t it? Logical, isn’t it? But speaking about breaking the “caste” society, a peasant still doesn’t make love to an aristocrat. Unthinkable and VERY wrong! Peter has been paid without robbing Paul.
Now, to TK as Heikichi Endo. His character is vulnerable, but strong, clever, but trusting, daring, but shy, rude, but tender, and so on. This makes him seem alive, as, like a living man (not a comic strips character), he’s a tangle of contradictions. Frankly speaking, it’s an acting job honestly done, and the character of Heikichi Endo is on his list of successfully portrayed characters, and I should say that it’s something to write home about, as there’s a tendency to … typecast him as an eye-candy lover with a tender and broken heart. I’ve read somewhere that he hates being typecast. This time it’s not only the drama of the heart, it’s the drama of fighting circumstances, physical suffering, hunger, despair, responsibility (remember all those children!), helplessness, the anguish of an honest name wronged. It somehow brings the whole story nearer to an ordinary person’s heart. Though this part is not the best in his career, it’s definitely a step in a new direction, which may be a right one. At least, the drama of an ordinary human life is a new avenue to explore for the actor.
SPOILER. Nikola Tesla ISN’T a Russian scientist (some of the reviews contain this statement). I wish he were, but he is a Serb.