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K-20: LEGEND OF THE MASK Is The Best Superhero Movie You've Never Seen

  • May 21, 2012
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These days, superhero films are a dime a dozen.  With the present success of both Marvel and DC Comics properties, it’s no surprise that everyone would want to get a dog in this fight.  Audiences are willing to scarf up both the light-and-fun versions (SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, and CAPTAIN AMERICA) as well as the dark and gloomy (BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT); with THE MAN OF STEEL and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in the offing, it’s no wonder that folks would be turning to the local video store in hopes to find their next crusader-for-justice.  In that spirit, I’m going to recommend K-20: THE FIEND WITH TWENTY FACES (also known as K-20: LEGEND OF THE MASK or LEGEND OF THE BLACK MASK in the UK) for all to explore.
In an alternate vision of the world circa 1949, Germany and the US never went to war.  Instead, they signed an armistice that set up a global class structure: the rich and the poor.  These two classes were never allowed to intermingle, much less inter-marry … so when the ruling class finds itself troubled by its modern day Robin Hood (K-20), police detective Kogoro Akechi (played by Toru Nakamura) will stop at nothing to see the thieving fiend behind bars.  However, when a twist of fate lands lowly Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) behind bars under suspicion of being K-20, the man may have to assume the villain’s identity in order to go about proving his innocence!
In short, K-20 is a delight masterminded by writer/director Shimako Sato, though it’s based on a novel by So Kitamura.  The film manages to effortlessly weave so many influences and characters together into one seamless whole that I’m surprised it hasn’t found greater success outside of Japan (the country of its original release).  There’s a bit of something in here for everyone who likes a rousing feel-good experience along with copious amounts of humor and romance.  Though it’s not pitch perfect, I’d argue that it might be as close to a pure pulp action picture that we’re likely to see in a long time.
What I found so personally amazing about K-20 was the fact that it crossed over into so many of the best genre influences.  Sure, you can tell right away that you’re dealing with a superhero flick, but the script dabbles into so many other areas I’m surprised that the director was able to keep so many balls juggling in the air!  It flirts with classic pulp, and K-20’s looks appear to have been inspired by THE BAT and THE SHADOW.  It has that decidedly retro-future look common to films like CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE ROCKETEER, and SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW.  There’s a strong alternate history influence as the world here is postulated by the fact that the Allies and Axis powers never went to war, instead signing a global Peace Treaty and allowing the variation nation states to maintain their own armies.  Clearly, there are talented circus acrobats; coveted Tesla technology; secret identities; wannabe sidekicks; crosses and double-crosses; the history of fringe events like the Soviet’s Tunguska Blast; and even steampunk influences at work here … so much so that I think any audience would be hard-pressed not to find something of value.
The film was produced by an exhaustive list (not uncommon for foreign releases), including Dentsu, Imagica, Nippon Television Network Corporation, Robot Communications, Shirogumi, Shogakukan, Toho Company, VAP, The Yomiuri Shimbun, and Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation.  Takako Matsu, seen in the film as both Akechi’s and Heikichi’s love interest “Yoko Hashiba,” won Best Actress for the 2009 Hochi Film Awards.  It looks and sounds as wonderful as one would expect from films of this nature, though a few special effects could’ve used another pass in the technicians’ bay.  Sadly, the disc comes with no prominent special features, and I would’ve loved to have greater insight into the writer/director’s inspirations for this work.  It’s definitely family-friendly, and I can only hope more folks discover it.  At 137 minutes, I might be a touch long, but it certainly didn’t feel like it to me.  In fact, I’d love to see this 2008 film continued in a sequel, if not several features!
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION.  I’d read a fair share on online buzz about this film, and, even though my interest was piqued beforehand and my expectations were definitely raised, I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.  K-20: THE FIEND WITH TWENTY FACES is the best superhero film you’ve probably never seen, much less heard of, and I can only hope you sit down and watch it today.
K-20: LEGEND OF THE MASK Is The Best Superhero Movie You've Never Seen

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May 25, 2012
This sounds terrific. Thank you for pointing the way with so interesting and persuasive a recommendation.
May 25, 2012
wow....I liked this one, but I guess you liked it more than I did! I do have to admit that this had its clever moments--and it sure was fun. Great review!
More K-20: Legend of the Mask reviews
review by . January 19, 2010
posted in ASIANatomy
3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan
With all the worldwide fame that super-hero movies have enjoyed this past recent years, you know filmmakers around the world capitalize on the super-hero wave. Japanese writer/director Shimako Sato’s “K-20: Legend of the Mask” (aka. Kaijin Niju Menso, “Fiend of 20 Faces”, 2008) is equal parts “Zorro”, “The Shadow” and “The Phantom” at the same time. It stars Takeshi Kaneshiro (Red Cliff) and his selection as the lead is the right …
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K-20: Legend of the Mask (also known as The Fiend with Twenty Faces) is a 2008 action japan-language film. The film released worldwidely on December 20, 2008. It is directed by Shimako Sate. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Takako Matsu portay a fictional roles in the film. Toru Nakamura and Kanata Hongo also starred in the film, just as Takeshi Kaga, Fumiyo Kohinata, Reiko Takashima, Toru Masuoka and Yuki Imai. The film was based on a novelization by So Kitamura. The film was produced by Shuji Abe and Seiji Okuda.


The story takes place in an alternative Tokyo which has taken a different history. In the fictional capital Teito, where the aristocrats continue to thrive since the 19th Century, there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor. The aristocrats own 90% of the wealth in the capital. In the city, there are rumors about a mysterious thief, who only steals from the rich with incredible ways like magician. People call him K-20, that's short for "Kaijin Niju-Menso" (the Phantom Thief with 20 faces).

Endo Heikichi (Kaneshiro Takeshi) is a circus acrobat. One day, he is deceived by a mysterious old man, and arrested as K-20. The old man turns out to be K-20 himself! Heikichi succeeds to escape from the jail, and he decides to hunt down the real K-20 to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, K-20 sets his eyes on a rich lady, Hashiba Yoko (Matsu Takako), whose fiancé is Akechi Kogoro (Nakamura Toru) who is a ...

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