Takeshi's K-20 Movie Review

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Great review Nighteyes! I tried not to read the details since I haven't been able to watch the movie myself but will be doing soon in a few weeks.

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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. Smile

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Hollywood has an abundance of superhero figures: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman… But, Japanese pop culture had no superhero icon until one finally emerges with the movie K-20: Legend of the Mask.

And to add onto the celebratory note, it’s none other than Asian heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro.

The plot deals with the efforts of elite detective Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura) in capturing a Robin Hood-like masked thief who steals from the rich effortlessly (with a Zorro-like entrance) and gets away in the nick of time. Thus, the phantom thief is known as K-20, that’s short for Kaijin Niju-Menso (The Fiend with 20 Faces).

Kaneshiro enters the story (in a much less fancier way than expected) as Heikichi Endo, a poor circus acrobat, who lives with the motto of “Stealing is wrong”. However, when he is employed by a mysterious stranger to photograph the detective and his fiancé Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu), he is mistaken for the thief and finds himself being tracked down by the detective.

The idea of proving his innocence compels him to learn the tricks of being a thief with the help of a “thief manual”, so he can wage war with the genuine masked thief. But, the fiend seems to be interested only in Yoko.

As a superhero movie, the plot is predictably evident: Superhero wants justice, fights for it, and in the midst of it all ends up saving the heroine.

The setting of K-20 creates an alternative-Japan history, set in a fictional city of Teito in 1949, where Japan avoided battling in World War II and the Japanese society continues with the strict class system.

Thus, expect the 1949 backdrop, fashion sense and music to complement the setting. Even the script follows suit as Yoko’s chambermaid exclaims in a scene, “For a woman, marriage is the only path to happiness.”

Despite the setting, Yoko turns out to be less demure, as she goes to great measures to help Heikichi, like flying a plane professionally down the side of a skyscraper.

What you might marvel at is the attempt of director and scriptwriter Shimako Sato in creating the Japanese version of Spider-Man-like thrill, in which Takeshi’s character zooms up and down buildings and flies from one to another at a vertiginous height, as he hones his parkour skills - a French-developed sport of overcoming obstacles with speed and strength. This was earlier seen in the Hollywood film Casino Royale.

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