08 October 2008

20th Century Boys

Last Sunday morning, instead of doing something healthy in the open air, Kaz and I spent 142 minutes at the cinema watching 20th Century Boys. It is the first part of a trilogy and covers the first 5 books of Naoki Urasawa's 22 book manga series. It is also one of the biggest budget films ever made in Japan. When we came out, we agreed that it was a good movie but that there was rather a lot going on plot-wise, which was nice because, after all, he's 12 and I'm 53. Where we differed, maybe, is that he was probably a lot less interested in, and puzzled by, the T-Rex references than I was.

In brief, a gang of kids in sixties Japan build a 'secret base' in an abandoned field and write 'a book of prophecy', in which Tokyo is threatened by destruction by the evil genius 'Friend'. Years later, the prophecy starts comes true, just as it has been written, and the now middle-aged gang have no option but to avert the disaster, but not before Haneda Airport and the National Diet get blown up. Rock music squeezes its way into the plot through the leader of the gang, Kenji, who has been in a rock band, but now helps out in his family's convenience store. It's an excuse for a pretty good soundtrack as well as a couple of rock-mediated turning points - like the scene where Kenji picks up a guitar, unleashes a god-of-rock solo and decides that it's time for action.

Now the puzzle for me is really in the title, 20th Century Boys, which is based on an old T-Rex song, 20th Century Boy. Back in the secret base, the kids are tuned in to Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone on the transistor radio, which makes good sense if this is a movie about getting back the lost ideals of sixties rock. But T-Rex were not a sixties rock band and they seem just a little out of place here to me. For me, and I guess for a lot of people of my age, T-Rex was a disappointingly successful attempt to cash in on the talent that was going to waste commercially on Tyrannosaurus Rex. Tyrranosaurus Rex good: T-Rex bad. But maybe not in Japan. In another pivotal scene, Kenji storms into a performance by a Japanese post-glam rock band and screams 'This is not rock!'. Fine, I thought, except that the band look and sound a lot like T-Rex - at least to my eyes and ears.

And is this connected? A 1997 tribute album to Marc Bolan by 14 Japanese bands - all singing in English and most better than the originals in my prejudiced opinion. 20th Century Boy is track 3 and done by The Willard.

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