Tuesday, December 18, 2012

K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces

I'm not a big fan of superhero movies. Avengers, X-Men, Batman -- to hell with 'em. Can't use 'em. Vapid pap, as thin and two-dimensional as the paper they were originally printed on. But leave it to the Japanese to make something work better. I'm talking about a movie called K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces (aka K-20: Legend of the Mask -- the K is for "kaijin," fiend.). This engaging thrill ride from 2008 is jam-packed with acrobatics, parkour, wire-fu, period costumes and special effects plus real character development and one hell of a twist ending. Good shit, Maynard!

Anybody who knows what ero-guro means will be familiar with the king of this particular literary genre, one Edogawa Rampo (I've written about him many times). And if you know anything about Edogawa Rampo, you'll know that he wrote scads of mystery novels featuring his detective, Kogoro Akechi. Now Akechi's arch rival was this guy, the Fiend with Twenty Faces (see where we're going with this?) but there's a twist: This film is a re-imagining of these two characters, one in which Akechi isn't quite the heroic figure of Rampo's novels. K-20 is based on 1989 novel The Story of Nijumenso (literally "twenty faces") by So Kitamura. The author took some liberties with the beloved characters, giving us a nicer Nijumenso and a less honorable Akechi. How much you take offense to such tampering will no doubt affect how much you enjoy this picture.

The film is set in an alternate 1949, one in which Japan has avoided WW II and Nikola Tesla technology is being actively pursued. However, a rigid two-class system is enforced by the government and there's an awful lot of very poor people. Akechi is engaged to a duchess (Takako Matsu) and is after a circus performer (Takeshi Kaneshiro) whom he thinks is Nijumenso. Along the way we meet thieves and orphans, cops and soldiers, oh yeah, and that guy with all the faces.

So I'm just here to say I had a blast, really enjoyed the flick. Nice to have some fun for a change! (Thanks to Dr. Stan Glick for the disk.)


Peter Nellhaus said...

I wrote about K-20 a while back. I've been intrigued enough to get Rampo's book to see what he originally had in mind.

Patrick Galloway said...

I've been looking for an English version of that for awhile. Glad to see it's finally out. Thanks for the tip!