20th Century Boys Movie 2: The Last Hope
(Starring: Airi Taira, Haruka Kinami, Etsushi Toyokawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Naohito Fujiki, Takako Tokiwa, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hitomi Kuroki, Yusuke Santamaria, Mirai Moriyama)
Synopsis (Spoiler Free):
In 2015, the Friend cult has largely taken control of Japan, and controls nearly every facet of society. Kanna Endo (Taira), neice of Kenji Endo (Toshiaki Karasawa) has to endure a society that blames her uncle and his friends for the attack on New Year's Bloody Eve. At the same time, Kenji's best friend Otcho (Toyokawa) and a manga artist (Moriyama) break out of prison to stop Kanna from being drawn into the Friends' clutches. After a series of events involving the Friends-controlled police force, Kanna and another classmate, Kyoko Koizumi (Kinami) search for clues on Friend's identity at his brainwashing theme park, and encounter Yoshitsune (Kagawa) and a terrifying secret involving Kenji's group's childhood. Kanna enlists the help of the Thai and Chinese gangs, as well as others, to try to stop Friend from plunging the world into further darkness.
***** SPOILERS *****
Synopsis (Spoiler Version): In 1969, a masked boy comes upon another boy reading Kenji's "Book of Prophecies" in the grass clubhouse. The unmasked boy shows the masked boy something he wrote called "The New Book of Prophecies", which states that in 2015, a hero will rise but be assassinated in a church. It also praises the World Expo. In 2015, in prison, a man named #13 visits Otcho (#3) in his cell and tells him that he has to go out on a mission that may involve Otcho's "last hope". When he leaves, Otcho yells Kanna's name. In a different part of Tokyo, the Thai and Chinese mafia are warring. During their exchange of gunfire, somebody witnesses a man talking about friend being killed with a shotgun. Kanna Endo (Taira) works at a restaurant, near where the Thai and Chinese mafia are fighting, and decides to break up their fight. Sitting at a different restaurant, Kanna orders the noodles she loved as a child, that she ate with her uncle. When the Thai and Chinese leaders enter, she has them join her. At Kanna's school, Kanna argues with the teacher over the events of New Year's Bloody Eve, which have been blamed on Kenji and his friends, with Friend as the hero who saved the world.
Another student, the flakey Kyoko Koizumi (Kinami) sneaks into class and ends up inadvertently disagreeing with the teacher as well, which results in her having to write an essay on Kenji. Kanna gets into a fight with a boy who badmouths Kenji and has to be restrained. At Kanna's apartment, she is scolded by Yukiji (Setoguchi), who has been appointed her legal guardian by her grandmother, but lets her live on her own. Playing her music loudly upsets the neighbors, two manga artists who want to revive the art of the romantic comedy story, and with ink as opposed to digital work. Upon reading their work, however, Yukiji expresses her preference for a story about a man fighting evil to save the world. Friend preaches to the citizens that the end of mankind is near. In his office, Friend tells his advisor, Inshu Manjoume (Renji Ishibashi) his plans to visit a church in Kabuki-cho, which Manjoume advises against. But Friend says it will be okay.
Father Nintani from the same church Friend plans to visit arrives at the crime scene where the man had been shot by a shotgun. The victim was a gangster who had gone straight, and Nintani believes that it wasn't the work of the mafia. Also at the scene is young officer named Chono (Fujiki). Kyoko goes to the memorial for New Year's Bloody Eve to do research. There she meets with the homeless man, Kami-sama (God) (Katsuo Nakamura). He tells her that her classmate Kanna is the niece of Kenji and warns her off digging any deeper into things, which scares her. The police, including Chono, take part in a raid on Kabuki-cho in preparation for Friend's visit, and arrest many people, including Kanna's boss. Kanna punches Chono in the face and is arrested, but later let go. Chono visits the memorial, where Kanna shows up, and he tells her about his grandfather, the great detective "Cho-san" (who died in the previous movie). She admits to him her relation to Kenji and tells him the truth about New Year's Bloody Eve.
At school, Kyoko is told that instead of writing an essay, she will be sent to Tomodachi Land (Friend Land) to take part in a "program", along with Kanna. This frightens Kyoko even further. A transvestite friend of Kanna's takes her to a warehouse where another transvestite is hiding. This one, named Brittany, was taken to Friendland and witnesses something horrible, but escaped. Then she witnessed the death of the man in Kabuki-cho. Kanna thinks they should go to the police, hoping to trust Chono, but when they arrive at the station, Brittany identifies the killer as a police officer who often visited the place where Kanna works. Later, Chono encounters Kanna outside Brittany's home and she tells him she knows who killed the man in the alley. He follows her back to the warehouse where he convinces them to trust him. At the Kabuki-cho church, Kanna meets with Father Nintani, as she is protected by the mafia there. She asks him what he thinks of Friend, but he says he's too far removed from the ordinary world to give an opinion. Chono visits Yama, his grandfather's old partner, and tells him of the situation. After he leaves, Yama orders the officer who killed the man to "reject" Chono as well. Later at the warehouse, Chono tells the group that he has the authority to protect them. At school the next day, Kanna notices something strange about one of the good luck charms she took from Chono and rushes to the warehouse. Brittany is shot dead while in Chono's custody and Kanna arrives in time to save the others, but the assassin disappears.
Kanna tells Yukiji that she plans to go to Friend Land to see if she can find what Brittany had seen. Yukiji doesn't want her to go, but she's made up her mind. In prison, Otcho starts to break out with the help of manga artist Kakuta (Moriyama). They tunnel out of the cells, and make their way to the sea, swimming to the mainland, where Otcho is shocked to find a replica of the 1970 World's Fair which was put there by the Friends. In 1970, Kenji and his friends plan out their visit to the World's Fair in Osaka. Kenji wants to visit both the American and Soviet pavillions, but Otcho warns them that the lines will be too long to do anything else there and they only have two days. Somtime later, Otcho sees a dejected Kenji on a swing and asks him what's wrong. Kenji tells him that his family has planned a beach vacation for the days of the fair, so he can't go.
Back in 2015, Kanna and Kyoko take the bus to Friend Land, where the guide, "dream navigator" Takasu (Eiko Koike) tries to get the passengers to bend a spoon with their mind. Nobody seems able to do this, with the exception of Kanna, much to Kyoko's shock. At Friend Land, Yoshitsune works as a janitor and monitors Kanna. The park presents propaganda that blames Kenji and his group for the biological attacks around the world. Kanna and Kyoko are given a video game to play where they fight Kenji's group, but while Kyoko scores high, Kanna refuses to take part in shooting any of them. Takasu praises Kyoko and tells Kanna to do better. After discovering she's being watched by the dream navigators, Kyoko tries escaping from her hotel room, but runs into Yoshitsune, who knocks her out and drags her towards his hideout. Kanna confronts him there, but he refuses to admit who he is until she points out his pictures of Mauro, Mon-chan, and Fukube. It turns out that Yoshitsune has an underground group that works out of Friend Land. He explains to the two about the virtual reality "Bonus Stage" of Friend Land, the only way to graduate out of the program, but warns them that people who've been in it become docile. However, Kanna is determined to get there and with Kyoko, they earn the right to by scoring the highest in the video game. Takasu sends the two girls into the Bonus Stage. The two girls end up in different parts of a simulated past of Kenji and his friends. Kyoko ends up in the daytime where she finds out it's 1971. Kanna ends up in a younger Kenji's room, where half-asleep, he tells her about Donkey going to turn on the pump in the aquarium in the school science lab. He says that he's too sick to, and goes back to sleep. Kyoko finds a younger version of Yoshitsune at the grass fort and asks where she can find "a boy in a mask". Yoshitsune takes her to the roof of the school where a boy in a mask is trying to communicate with aliens. Kyoko unmasks the boy. Back where Kanna is, she goes into the school, where a boy named Yamane watches a masked child hanging himself, but still alive. This causes Donkey to jump from the second story window. Kanna unmasks the child, but then Friend arrives and tells her that he's her father. Outside of the Bonus Stage, Yoshitsune and his group have hacked into the system and force a shut down."God" meets with Otcho and Kakuta at a shanty town, telling them that now he's wealthy, having made money on a company that produced vaccines for the virus spread around the world. The CEO of the company is Yamane, who Otcho recalls was very smart and one day, in their childhood, told Otcho that there was a New Book of Prophecies.
At Yoshitsune's base, he asks if either Kanna or Kyoko saw Friend's face in the Bonus Stage. Kyoko is too tramatized by what she saw to talk about it. Kanna didn't get a good look. Kanna informs them that Yamane was with Friend, along with "The New Book of Prophecies". Yukiji admits that she visited Mon-chan in the hospital sometime after New Year's Bloody Eve and he showed her copies of that book that were sent to him in an anonymous letter. Kanna is angry that she kept this from her. At school, there's a substitute teacher for Kyoko and Koizumi's class. Upon seeing his face, however, Kyoko faints and Kanna takes her to the nurse's office. There, Kyoko regains consicousness and tells Kanna that the face she saw in the Bonus Stage was the face of their new teacher. The new teacher who introduces himself to Kyoko later as Sada Kiyoshi, Sadikiyo. He drives Kyoko home, trying to get information about Kanna. He tells her that Friend couldn't go to the Expo as a child and so he spent the summer in a mask, disguised as him.
Instead of home, Sadikiyo takes Kyoko to Freind's childhood home, where the dream navigators arrive to kill Sadikiyo. He admits to Kyoko that he killed Mon-chan, but gives her a memo Mon-chan carired. Kanna arrives, as well, fighting her way through the dream navigators, but Sadikiyo locks himself in a room and burns the house down. Kanna follows the information in the memo, leading her to a small town where there was a research lab at a hospital. She finds a video on which various people in the town talk, and among them is her mother, Kenji's sister, Kiriko Endo (Hitomi Kuroki), who is ashamed of what she has done, and says that somebody has to stop what's happening. In a second message, she tells Kanna to grow up happy. However, Kanna is shocked to discover that she had something to do with the creation of the virus that was used.
Otcho and Kakuta show up at Yamane's childhood home. A neighbor gives them a message Yamane left, which is for a meeting in the old school science lab. Otcho and Kakuta sneak into the school at night and meet Yamane. He tells them that he worked together with Kiriko in a lab, where he created a virus that only she could creative a vaccine for. The new virus would be even more potent than the last, and when Kiriko heard about it, she confronted him, realizing that they had made the first one. Otcho offers to help him go public with the information, but Yamane plans instead to kill Friend when he visits Shinjuku. Otcho gets information from the head of the Thai mafia about where Friend intends to go on his visit to Kabuki-cho, in Shinjuku. Apparently the Pope has told Friend to deliver a message to Father Nintani. Otcho discovers in the conversation with the leader that Kanna is at the church.
As Friend travels through Shinjuku in a parade, Kanna gathers the mafias at the church, along with Chono. But Friend supporters show up in anticipation for his visit. In the crowd is the police officer who killed the man in the alley and Brittany, who aims his shotgun at Kanna. Otcho comes crashing through the window and shields her, but a shot rings out and the officer drops dead. The officer was shot by #13 from the prison. Otcho takes the officer's shotgun and runs off to confront Friend.
Otcho makes his way through the crowd to Friend, who tells his guards to not point their weapons at him. Friend reveals that he knows about Otcho's son, Shota, who he ignored. One day, Shota thought he saw his father and ran out to meet him, only to be struck by a truck and killed. Otcho's wife blamed him for his son's death. Otcho is rattled by Friend's knowledge of these events. Then Friend reveals a small plastic badge from his pocket which Otcho recognizes. However, before he can do anything, Friend is shot dead by Yamane, who in turn is shot dead by #13. Otcho escapes with the help of Kakuta.
The world mourns the loss of Friend, but Manjoume has a feeling that things aren't over. The opening of the 2015 Expo begins with a funeral service for Friend which is attended by many, inluding prominent politicians. Father Nintani informs Kanna that in order to be seen as God, which is Friend's plan, a man would have to rise from the dead. She runs to the Expo grounds, but is too late. As flowers are being rested near Friend, he rises, astonishing everyone. Later on, Friend meets with his closest allies. He turns to a page of The New Book of Prophecies which relates to men spreading the new virus. A phone rings which informs him that they are doing so. A new virus is spread in different parts of the world, killing many. In 2017, the Third Year of Friend, a man serving as a pirate radio DJ plays a familar song, Kenji's song, and wonders if anyone is listening. Meanwhile, Kenji Endo rides a scooter through the countryside, still alive.
To Be Continued (in the next movie)
Continuing where the previous 20th Century Boys movie, "Beginning of the End" left off, the second installment in the trilogy plunges our returning characters into a darker, more disturbing world controlled by Friend and his colleagues, a world many of them inadvertently helped create in the first film. The movie covers the entire second arc of the manga series, roughly from the midst of volume 5 to the end of volume 15. That's a lot of ground to cover, and of course, the movie doesn't adapt every portion of that material, but condenses it rather well over the course of two hours and twenty minutes. Here the "mythos" of the story expands, both in the present and in the past. Where once we had only little scraps of Kenji's childhood, we are given more of the big picture here, which reveals more of the characters' motivations and offers more hints to the identity of Friend. In the time where most of the story takes place we have returning characters whose development continues and new characters who support them and develop themselves. There are even some new characters that I count among my favorites in the story.
Much as I praised the first installment for its sense of authenticism in its character appearances, setting designs, and detail, this movie is no less as faithful to the feel of the manga. I especially liked the Friend Land portion, with its crazy video game and virtual reality attraction, which took Kanna and Kyoko to the past. The little details here and there in the movie are fun, too, like the Expo 2015 poster in the background of classroom before we're even given a hint about the importance of the expo or the designs in the Friend Land hotel room Kyoko stays in. Hell, even Yoshitsune's base looks as it does in the manga. And the detail that went into the Friend Museum (Friend's childhood home) was amazing. You can definitely see why this was one of the most expensive movies in Japanese cinema.
The storyline is much like the second arc of the manga, with the focus going from Kenji Endo to his neice, Kanna, who is now a frustrated teen, having to deal with a world that blames her uncle and his friends for the horrible disaster of years previous. Not only that, but the world also praises Friend as a savior, and his political party controls Japan.
Another focus is the girl Kyoko Koizumi, a favorite character of mine, who unintentionally gets involved via her own bad luck, and immediately finds herself way over her head. You sort of feel for her, because she has no connection to any of this, but she finds herself meeting all these characters who have more in common with Kanna than her, but she has no choice but to go along.
The third focus is Otcho, who escapes prison with the intention of taking down Friend on his own. Their storylines all intersect with the help of the plot progression and other characters, like Yukiji and Yoshitsune. It's a satisfactory evolution of the plot from the first story arc. But where there are things that are the same as in the manga, there many things which are not, either for time restraints or purpose of smoothening the pace.
This second movie especially starts to take a different route than the manga. For one, in the manga, the identity of Friend is revealed before the final act of the second story arc, before the start of the 2015 Expo. In fact, the revelation of who Friend is becomes knowledge to several of the characters, and his death is just the beginning of that final act, which first has the characters going on thinking he's dead for quite a while before he (apparently) comes back to life. In this movie, Friend's identity is never revealed, even at the end of the movie, except for a hint at who it might be. Another change comes in the form of the cooperation of the Thai and Chinese mafia in Kanna's plans. In the manga, it took some doing for her to earn the trust of the gangs, her using her special intuition to gamble and spark their interest in her. They all met at the church because she promised money to them, but their leaders ended up joining hands to protect the Pope from from the Friends. In this movie, they seem to simply want to protect Kanna because, I don't know, she's cute? It sort of comes out of nowhere here. There's a whole part of the story involving the Pope coming to visit Shinjuku in the manga, because he knows Father Nintani. There's another character, Father Luciano, who comes to Japan to warn Nintani and Kanna. We even get a flashback to just after the Bloody New Year's Eve incident, where we discover that Nintani had previously been a criminal who helped a priest delivery vaccines for the deadly virus spread around the world. That priest has since become the Pope. Kanna wants to protect the Pope and promises to help Nintani do so. In the movie, it's Friend visiting the dangerous Kabuki-cho section of Shinjuku. When Friend dies, it's under different circumstances, and when he rises at the Expo, he saves the Pope from an assassin, thus making people believe him as a sort of god. This part's change is probably for the better, though it does scale Father Nintani's part back to a point where you wonder how Kanna even knows him. They also tend to put Kanna and Kyoko in a lot more scenes that they were originally, as if they were involved more with each other than in the manga. In the manga, Kyoko suffers Friend Land without Kanna. It's only later that Kanna goes into the virtual attraction, after Friend's supposed death, to find out the truth of 1971, when the incident at the school lab occurred. And it's at this time that the head dream navigator shoots and kills Inshu Manjoume while he's also tapped into the virtual attraction. This comes into play later on in 21st Century Boys, the manga's sequel.
The changes and condensation work out in some places better than others. Kyoko spends more time with Sadikiyo in the manga, where we find out that even though most people have forgotten what his face looked like as a child, there was one teacher who, like Sadikiyo, remembered the face of every one of his students, leading to a very touching moment where Sadikiyo cries, and another where that same teacher, who is mostly senile, remembers Kirko Endo, Kanna's mother, and tells Kanna to believe in her. A small issue I have with the manga, which is enhanced even further in this movie, is that the people in the world this story takes place in seem to lack natural skepticism. Not only does Detective Chono immediately believe what Kanna tells him about her uncle, despite everyone else believing differently, but he does so before he even comes to suspect the police of being corrupt, which is what starts him doubting the world to begin with. In other words, his believing Kanna seems to come out of nowhere, just out of her being sincere.
Another thing is, why would people automatically assume Friend has risen from the dead when he wasn't even unmasked for his funeral and the public doesn't know who he is? If some famous masked figure dies and you see him rise at his funeral, isn't the easier assumption that this isn't the guy who died, but rather somebody else imitating him? But no, the people automatically think a man has risen from the dead, a virtual impossibility. Come on, people can't be that gullible, can they? In the manga, any doubt they had would have been removed by him saving the Pope. They wouldn't question it because they would have been shocked by the man in the mask saving the Pope and it would have wiped away any doubt in that moment.
However, I do love a lot of what I see here. The complexity of the intersecting storylines, the compelling mystery, the colorful characters, the competent acting, the great set pieces, the soundtrack, the certain creepy factor of the main villain, the revelations. It's an immersing film, and more than two hours go by before you know it. It leaves you wanting more, and wouldn't you know, there's more to come! There's still another film after this one! I think that, overall, this movie isn't quite as solid as the first one. Though I do appreciate some of the condensation, it's hit-or-miss in that area leads to a lot of awkwardness, and it doesn't help that the direction isn't really top-notch, leading to a lot of emotional moments losing their impact. However, it's an entertaining installment,nevertheless, and I look forward to the final chapter.
Overall Score: 3.5 out of 5
20th Century Boys: The Last Hope is available on DVD by Viz Media