20th Century Boys Movie 3: Redemption (Starring: Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Airi Taira, Teruya Kagawa, Takako Tokiwa)
Synopsis (Spoiler Free):
In the Friend Era Year 3 (2017), a lethal virus has wiped out a large portion of the world's population and Tokyo has been closed off from the rest of Japan with a wall around the city. Otcho (Tokoyawa) manages to climb over to search for Kanna (Taira). He finds that both Kanna and Yoshitsune (Kagawa) have groups rebelling against Friend, but Kanna's is more hardcore. Friend, meanwhile, plans his final push to complete his goals, which might mean the end of humanity itself. However, Kanna's long-lost uncle Kenji (Karasawa) reappears, determined to set things right again.,
***** SPOILERS *****
Synopsis (Spoiler Version):
In Friend Era Year 3 (2017), there's a wall around Tokyo, which Otcho (Tokoyawa) and manga artist Kakuta (Mirai Moriyama) climb over, while pursued by authorities. The two split up and Otcho finds refuge with two children whose parents were taken for voicing suspicions about Friend. At their home, they listen to a message on the television calling for an armed rebellion. Then they play Kenji's song for Otcho, but this time it has a different ending. Otcho meets up with Father Nintani, Koizumi, and Kami-sama (Katsuo Nakamura) at a bowling alley, where Otcho suggests that the identity of Friend could be Yoshitsune.
Meanwhile, Yoshitsune (Kagawa) meets with Yukiji (Tokiwa), hoping to meet with Kanna's rebel group, as the two had parted ways. Yoshitsune says that Friend may be the result of what their group of friends did in the past. Maruo (Hidehiko Ishizuka), tracks down Kenji's sister, Kiriko (Hitomi Kuroki), who is testing a vaccine for Friend's virus on herself. She sets the timer and sprays the virus in a room with her, hoping to survive twelve hours. She succeeds.
Otcho meets Kanna (Taira) at her group's hideout, but finds that she's become cold and has lost hope in her uncle's surivival. Otcho tunes into a radio and they hear the new verse of Kenji's song, convincing Kanna that he's still alive. Kenji arrives in a small village near the gate and plays his song. He convinces two manga artists to make him a fake identification to get through the gate, which surprisingly works. He then heads into the guard tower to investigate.
At the guard tower, Kenji finds Manjoume (Renji Ishibashi), now a depressed drunk, in charge. He admits to his part in Friend's schemes, and talks of Friend's rise in power and how he's been cast aside. Kenji relays his own story, of how after surviving the blast on New Year's Bloody Eve, he lost his memory. But suddenly remembering who he was years later, he decided to make things right. Back in the present, Kenji prevents Manjoume from killing himself.
Friend's troops storm Kanna's hideout and takes her and Otcho to his headquarters. Kanna is taken to the top of the tower to meet with Friend. Otcho is taken underground where he meets with Yukiji, as well as former bullies Yanbo and Mabo, who reveal that Friend plans to use flying saucers to spread a new virus and a walking robot with a neutron bomb in it to finish off humanity. Kanna refuses to warm up to Friend, even rejecting him as a Father. She pulls a gun on him and he admits that the virus may not spray the World Expo grounds. Kanna runs off when she discovers the gun is unloaded. Yanbo and Mabo unveil a special rocket launcher that will destroy the saucers that they want Otcho to use.
Friend remembers that, as a child, children crowded around him to learn about what he knew about the Expo in Osaka. However, he was unable to attend himself, and told Sadikiyo to let him use his mask to wander around so he wouldn't be spotted. Back in the present, Friend finally reveals to the world that his prophecies were all lies and that he plans to finish off humanity. Meanwhile, another childhood friend of Kenji's, Konchi, meets Prisoner 13, Masao Tamura, and they fly towards Tokyo with a helicopter.
Kanna instructs her group to prepare for a giant music festival at the Expo grounds instead of the planned armed coup. She hopes that Kenji will appear to sing his song. Maruo and Keroyon head off to Tokyo with Kiriko's' vaccines. At the grounds on the day of Friend's planned attack, hundreds show up at the concert grounds. Friend uses a remote to launch the flying saucers as Konchi hosts the festival. Outside the festival grounds, people die from the virus. Yoshitsune's group, lead by Yukiji, takes control of Friend's headquarters after the troops refuse to resist. Otcho destroys one of the saucers and Masao rams his helicopter in another. Then the robot appears.
Spotting the robot on his way into town, Kenji races after it. He climbs into it, finding somebody with a Friend mask in it, who gets knocked out. Kenji turns on the manual control, hoping to tip over the robot. Otcho helps with this, and the robot falls over on its side. The man in the Friend mask tumbles out and Otcho removes the mask, revealing Yoshitsune. But Kenji climbs out and explains that Yoshitsune isn't Friend. Yoshitsune explains that he went to confront Friend himself and was drugged and put in a suit and Friend mask and placed in the robot. The real friend shows up and reveals himself: Fukube (Kuranosuke Sasaki)
Fukube explains that he faked his death on Bloody New Year's Eve and what Kenji saw on top of the Friend robot was a projection of him. Fukube reactivates the robot, but Kenji tells him to stop. He reveals that the man is only pretending to be Fukube and apologizes to him. Friend tries to get the robot up again, but before Otcho can stop him, Friend is shot by Manjoume. The robot falls on Manjoume. As Kenji, Otcho, and Yoshitsune look on, Friend dies.
Kenji arrives at the concert and with his former bandmates performs his song, "Bob Lennon".
After the credits, Kenji uses the virtual reality game to travel to the past and tell his past self to apologize to the child that took the blame for stealing a plastic badge from the candy store. He also appears later on during junior high, to apologize to "Friend": really Katsumata, the child everyone thought had died. Katsumata talks to teenage Kenji and they become friends.
Finishing the movie trilogy, the third movie based on Naoki Urasawa's 22-volume manga, 20th Century Boys reveals to us the identity of the main villain and his motivation, and returns to the fold the hero of the first chapter, Kenji Endo, who's long journey dealing with his past and others' comes to an end. Now, while it wraps up the manga's story, it also incorporates elements of the manga's sequel, 21st Century Boys, which was intended as an epilogue to the story. There are even some elements that are just for the movies. What we get is a climax of both action and emotional reinforcement of the themes of the tale in a very satisfying manner.
The first and second movies left a lot of unanswered questions, and introduced a new mystery every time one was put to bed. In this chapter, we get a lot of revelations, and it can be a little heavy, with the first half of the movie being, at times, very exposition-heavy, or rather, explanation-heavy. The mediums for these info dumps are Kenji's sister, Kiriko, explaining to Maruo and Keroyon how she first came into contact with Friend, and Manjoume, explaining how he became a part of Friend's rise to fame. Then we hear from Kenji about how he survived after the events of the first movie. It can be a little much to take all within the first hour and a half of the movie, and is one of the film's few flaws.
One of the things the movie adds to the experience of the story is the speculation that one particular friend of Kenji is the Friend, but that gets quickly dismissed by a flashback, only to be reintroduced and dismissed again immediately. It seems like such an unnecessary tease in the big picture, especially if you've read the manga, but if you're just watching the movies, I can see how it might add to the experience. Then again, perhaps it was for the manga readers, to keep us guessing. It just irritated me.
However, all the performances remain fairly solid, if not a little over-the-top at times. In the first half of the movie, Airi Taira's Kanna just seems to sleepwalk her way through her scenes, but by the time she's in a scene with Friend at his headquarters, she's back at full power. Given her character's change to a more cold person, it can be understood, but that she seems to so quickly changes back shows the inexperience of the actress. Tokoyawa's remains the anchor in the cast, as his grizzled, but mournful baddass Otcho is ever the more the character to watch, both due to the wriitng and his flawless performance. Teruya Kagawa's Yoshitsune was probably even better, though, and is my favorite performance in the trilogy. He just gets the character so perfectly and really makes you sympathize with him. It's a shame that Tokiwa's Yukiji and Moriyama's Kakuta had so little to do, as did the characters of Kamisama, Father Nintani, and my favorite character, Kyoko Koizumi (Haruka Kinami).
The child acting is as good as before, with us getting even more flashbacks to Kenji and the gang in their past, via real flashbacks and the virtual game towards the end. When we find out why Friend blames Kenji, it does seem a little petty to hold a grudge for so long over something so petty, but the viewer has to keep in mind that a lot of his mindset is due to his rejection by his classmates. In the manga, there are two Friends, and they have different motivations, where one is more grandious and arrogant and the other is very psychotic, a darker version of Sadikiyo. Here they attempt to combine the two, and it works. I really like the denouement when the preteen Kenji sits with Friend on the roof of the school. The genuineness of the acting in that part is touching.
It's that same genuine feeling, that wanting of resolution of the past of these characters that makes 20th Century Boys a good story, and it's felt throughout this movie for sure. The direction is a little amateurish at times, and the CGI robot seems almost entirely out of place until Kenji's already climbed into it, but even in some of the dryer moments, you can feel how much heart the story has, especially in the end, where if anything, they improved the ending from the manga's, which dragged its feet a bit.
I think what I like the most about 20th Century Boys is that sense of "Is there something I forgot?". It explores the effect time has on our memories, how we remember events differently, people differently, or not at all. The reader of the manga or watcher of the movies is actually rewarded for remembering details some may forget, and the characters themselves can't quite solve the mysteries as individuals, it takes pieces of their recollections to piece it all together. That's clearly one of the messages of the films, that memories are a funny thing, but the strongest bonds of friendship can overcome, or at least endure, harships.
Now, the big question, would I recommend the movie trilogy? Well, the real question is, who would I recommend it to? For readers of the manga it's a good alternate take and they're likely to get the most out of it because there are things in the trilogy that outsiders wouldn't get. On the other hand, they're good movies on their own. So, yeah, I'd recommend it. It's not quite as fulfilling as the manga, perhaps, but it does the job.
Watch these movies with a friend.
Overall Score: 4 out of 5
20th Century Boys: Redemption is available on DVD by Viz Media