K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask Review
The glut of famous comic book heroes being adapted into live action movies by Hollywood means there’s little room for any new crusaders, but this offering from Japan is a fun-filled superhero outing which echoes the retro feel of The Rocketeer and The Shadow with a futuristic spin much like V for Vendetta. Though aimed at attracting family audiences, there’s plenty of rough and ready action, and a story shrouded in mystery that maintains its intrigue until the end.
K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask is set in an alternative 1949 where World War II never took place and Japanese society has been split into two: the extremely rich and the hopelessly poor. There a mysterious thief known as K-20 (aka the Fiend with 20 Faces) is stealing from the rich, but, unlike Robin Hood, keeping all the takings for himself. When he sets his sights on inventor Nikola Tesla’s energy beam enerator to take over the world, he needs someone to take the heat off his back so he frames circus performer Hekichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) for his previous crimes at the rehearsal of a marriage between heiress Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu) and Chief of Police, Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura). Free to now take Tesla’s invention for his own, K-20 doesn’t count on Endo’s resilience to clear his own name. Escaping from prison he takes on K-20’s identity to find the energy generator first, and perhaps put an end to K-20’s thieving ways.
The 1940s looks of K-20 combined with the appearance of more modern technology spark comparisons with Katsuhiro Otomo’s steampunk stylings seen in Steamboy – and give it a real caper feel. It soon emerges that it’s an origin story for Endo and as he seeks to clear his name, he becomes obsessed with finding out the story behind K-20 in order to foil his plans. Kaneshiro makes for a hero you root for despite struggling to find winning ways on first donning K-20’s V-like outfit and, unlike the tired adaptation of The Shadow or the ill-advised Frank Miller project The Spirit, director Shimako Sato keeps the movie zipping along with fast and furious action scenes.
Between the fights and chases, including some impressive free running sequences, Yoko and police inspector Akechi give able support to the charismatic Endo. Superheroes always need their companions to offer light relief as well as guidance which they do well. There are a few final twists which keep you guessing too thanks to a cleverly contrived identity mystery. If this series was to continue, every suggestion is the K-20 character is in safe hands based on this enjoyable debut.
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