Fantastic Fest Review: Shimako Sato's K-20: Legend of the Mask
by Alex Billington
October 4, 2009
It was my very last day at Fantastic Fest and I had a huge gap in my schedule. As I was leaving the Alamo Drafthouse, I was stopped by Aaron Morgan, who asked if I was going to see a movie called K-20. I said I wasn't and he started telling me about how great it was and that I need to see it because its only ever showed in Japan up until this point. After juggling the possibility in my mind, I checked out a trailer on YouTube, and decided to walk in last minute. Thank you Aaron, because I loved this movie! He described it to me as a movie that Christopher Nolan would be making if he was in Japan - and he's dead on with that description.
K-20: Legend of the Mask is a Japanese superhero action movie that's set in an alternate 1949 where Japan had surrendered before World War II even began. As a result, the country is now very steampunk and also divided amongst social classes, where the rich cannot marry the poor, everyone must work within their own class, and so on. A masked villain called K-20 starts to terrorize the city, stealing priceless works of art and other technological innovations for unknown reasons. He frames a talented smalltime circus acrobat named Hekichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who escapes capture and goes after K-20 instead, not only unraveling the mystery behind the masked villain, but in the process becoming a vigilante Japanese hero on his own.
There's so much more to the story than just that, but I'll let those secrets remain hidden until you watch the movie yourself. It's a mystery, a thriller, and an action movie all rolled in one, packed with plenty of comedy and entertainment, impressive CGI (when necessary), and fantastic acrobatic fight scenes and chases. I honestly was not expecting a Japanese action movie to look this good, but it really does seem like the kind of movie that Christopher Nolan would've made in Japan. While the story has plenty of twits and turns, it's still beautifully crafted, with a great balance of the good guy / bad guy dynamic (since there are two K-20s).
K-20 isn't a perfect movie, it has some minor flaws. It never explores the steampunk aspect when it could've used more of that style to its advantage. And there are some cheesy moments of dialogue and comedy that are just as bad as some of the crap that Hollywood churns out. But those moments are few and far between, leaving nothing but great action, great story, great characters, and great entertainment most of the time. I really can't suggest K-20 enough, especially if that plot or the trailer intrigues you, because it's one of those rare foreign films that you'll be so excited to tell all of your friends about once you finally get to see it, too.
Fantastic Fest Rating: 9 out of 10