Set in an alternative Tokyo, a poor, talented showman who spends his days entertaining the common folk, life changes forever when he’s approached by a man who asks him to use his ability to take pictures of society heiress Yoko Hashiba. She is having an engagement ceremony but what Endo doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that he’s been set up to be mistaken for the masked thief K-20, the Fiend with Twenty Faces. Oh my, how will he get out of this pickle? Yes, quite the wonky plot but aside from the silliness there is a lot to enjoy here. Takeshi Kaneshiro, who has sometimes been referred to as the Asian Johnny Depp, is an actor who can play just about any role to which he commits. The rest of the cast is great and it’s got a number of big action set pieces.
The film’s opening text tells us that Japan has peacefully extracted itself from WWII, leading to a rise in the upper class while creating a vast gap in social inequality. It’s a world that attempts a futuristic classic feel similar too Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, although not quite so mannered. The setting works, sure, but the villian not so much. The motive behind the character didn’t really make me want to root for him. I mean, the only reason this guy wants to be a hero is so he can take down this one bad guy and clear his name. Why should we care? Another gripe is K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces seems pitched for a family audience, and Sato keeps things pretty kid-friendly, but the running time is way too long and should be trimmed down.
Bottom line though, is this is a really cool Japanese superhero film that introduces just as many new concepts as it borrows from American titles. It’s just good clean fun and one of the better super hero films I’ve ever seen. It is a shame that Kick-Ass was just released at the time of this review. It seems the DVD release of this film will most likely get overshadowed by that film in the states. There’s always a mystery as to who K-20 is through the entire film and that’s part of what makes the movie so damn good. Also, what a superhero movie without fights? There are some really great fight sequences that fit in perfectly with the campy adventure feel the film is going for. K-20 delivers a roller coaster ride full of twists and turns.
Having seen this film twice now, I liked it the first time I saw it but had some issues with the second act lag, but this time around it really seemed to flow well for me. I got to study the character a bit more thoroughly this time around and I observed much. 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, he’s a tangle of contradictions. All the while, Takeshi’s character zooms up and down buildings and flies from one to another at a vertiginous height, as he hones his skills. This is an answer to American blockbusters saying, “Hey, we can do this too”. You know what? They’re right.