Cats and Crew 20th Century Boys

ProfileNaoki Urasawa

Naoki Urasawa was born in Tokyo in 1960. After being one of the finalists for the Shogakukan New Comic Award in 1982, he began his professional career in 1983.

Selected works: Pineapple Army (written by Kazuya Kudo); Yawara!, Happy!; Monster and 20th Century Boys. Urasawa currently draws Pluto for Weekly Big Comic Original magazine.

Interview

What inspired you to create the story of 20th Century Boys?

I had an idea for a manga that was based on some mysterious symbol. I was in the bath on the day I finished drawing Happy! [a series Urasawa drew before 20th], and a passage of a speech flashed in my head. It goes, “Without them we wouldn’t have lived to see the 21st Century. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 20th Century Boys!” I faxed the idea to the [Big Comic Spirits] editor right away. The memory of playing a T.Rex song, 20th Century Boy on the P.A. at my junior high school also came back to me. The episode of Kenji playing T.Rex is based on my own experience.

What happened when you played T.Rex on the school P.A.?

Like I drew in the manga, “Nothing changed(laughs).” In those days the only music you’d hear on the school P.A. would be some mellow easy listening stuff. I thought something hard as T.Rex would be revolutionary... but I guess many kids had similar experiences. Shiro Sano who plays both Yanbo and Mabo, told me that he thought it was about him when he read that scene. Many readers identify with 20th Century Boys. For me about 1/10 of it is autobiographical.

You once said in an interview that you wanted to examine the 20th Century with your manga.

Let me elaborate on that. What I meant was that history is a chain reaction of events, and anything we have now is the outcome of what happened in the past. I wanted the readers to have that notion, because if we ignore what connects past and present and only look at a fragment, we miss something important. After the war, something new started in our culture. Some things matured and some things decayed, so to speak. I thought it would be important to re-examine those things.

As a screenwriter, what elements did you want to keep in the adaptation?

The sense of strangeness the original manga has. “What’s going on?” is often the most important reaction to 20th Century Boys. If the obscurity was lost in adaptation, it would be one dimensional. I wanted to keep it multi-dimensional. I have faith in the way Director Tsutsumi handled the movie.

Naoki UrasawaThe director’s intention is to perfectly duplicate your manga on the screen.

It’s kind of funny that one of the most original directors around is trying to duplicate a manga. And when I saw the footage, I thought it was perfectly his movie (laughs). I hope this movie project gives creative people the opportunity to interact and stimulate each other.

What do you think about the cast?

They are all exactly right for their characters. It’s very unusual. I can tell that each of them studied the manga closely and portrayed their characters in a way that gives life and breath to the 20th Century Boys world.

What do you hope for the movie adaptation?

It’s a trilogy with a big, 6 billion yen budget. It sounds like a big event and a grand saga. But really, it’s a very personal story. In other words, we can say that anybody’s life can be turned into a grand saga. I hope that the movie becomes something that reaches the very private microcosm of the audience.

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About Chapter Two:

20th Century Boys is a drama about passing a baton from one generation to the next, so to speak. Perhaps the second chapter of the trilogy displays this the most. It's set in a different time with new characters. As Otcho, Yukiji, Yoshitsune, etc. start to age, the younger generation ---Kanna, Kyoko Koizumi, Chono and Kakuta all become central to the story.

Many people have said to me that the grown-ups in 20th Century Boys live cool lives. In my opinion, it's very important for an adult to be cool and to be an inspiration to children. It's one of the themes of 20th Century Boys. Children are inspired by something cool and people they aspire to be. One reason children lose innocence is the disappointment they feel when they lose interest in what had once inspired them. They can keep that inspiration if what gave them the inspiration remains special.

For me the coolest inspiration that adults can give comes in the form of The Rolling Stones. They mockingly referred to themselves as old men in the 70's but when they perform live, they still are young and energetic. They really make me think that growing up is a cool thing.

Scenes in the second chapter of the trilogy that were adapted from the original manga series have many characters in complicated relationships. Their lives are revealed in many flashbacks, too. Every scene has equal weight and every line spoken is crucial. Making an adaptation of the manga series was an ordeal. I was impressed and also relieved to see how the actors meticulously realised their characters for the first chapter. Even in a short scene with brief dialogue, they made just as much sense and just the right dramatic impact. Also Director Tsutsumi has done an excellent job of putting together the complex second chapter as well as the first one. I am very grateful to him.

About Chapter Three:

It sounds mindless but when the trilogy finished its production, all I could think of was, "We've made it this far!" Initially the scale of the trilogy was so grand I couldn't grasp the significance of it. It took many years to finish the original manga, too, but it was more like laying brick by brick each week. So it didn't feel like a grand project. A regular film director would have easily collapsed under the pressure of this enormous undertaking. Director Tsutsumi not only survived it but delivered three masterpieces! I saw the movie for the first time, and when it came to the end, I got so emotional I couldn't help saying, "This is a fantastic movie...!"

The movie has a real sense of maturity. I really like mature movies. Movies with that sort of maturity can be seen by children, too. Many people talk about how the movie unfolds differently from the original manga. My point of concern was simply that the movie left audiences with the same emotional reaction rather than have it the carbon copy. Director Tsutsumi understood that well. But he has his own way to lead up to the same emotions. If he were a ballplayer he'd be pitching a screwball while I'd throw a fast-ball. But we both get strikeouts after all, you know what I mean? In the beginning Tsutsumi was calling himself the Original Manga Fundamentalist but at the very end he twisted the movie his way and left his unmistakable signature on it. It was indeed a tour de force.

In one very important scene we had Kenji Endo, the musician who is the namesake of our hero Kenji. I was so happy to have him there. His presence gave the movie a sense of reality like a documentary movie. He really livens up the movie. When I started the manga series I had an inspiration to name the hero after him. But now the real Kenji Endo has appeared in the movie. He brings it to a full circle. He made sense of my impulsive decision. What a journey it was!

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Awards

1989 – The 35th Shogakukan Manga Award for Yawara!
1997 – The Best Manga Award from the 1st Japan Media Arts Festival for Monster
1999 – The 3rd Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Manga Award for Monster
2000 – The 46th Shogakukan Manga Award for Monster
2001 – The 25th Kodansha Manga Award for 20th Century Boys
2002 – The 48th Shogakukan Manga Award and the Best Manga Award from Japan Media Arts Festival for 20th Century Boys
2004 – The Angoulême International Comics Festival for 20th Century Boys
2005 – The 9th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Manga Award and the Best Manga Award from Japan Media Arts Festival for Pluto (with Takashi Nagasaki and Macoto Tezka)
2008 – Japan Cartoonist Award Grand Prize for 20th Century Boys

Original Graphic Novel 20th Century Boys

20th Century Boys: 22 volumes / 21st Century Boys: 2 volumes

It was serialised in Shogakukan Big Comic Spirits magazine from issue number 44 of 1999 to issue number 33 of 2007.

Approximately 28 million copies of all the volumes have been printed to date.

It has been translated for 13 countries; United States, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

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© 1999, 2006 Naoki Urasawa, Studio Nuts, Shogakukan © 2008-2009 “20th Century Boys” Film Partners © 2008-2010 4Digital Media

Creator NAOKI URASAWA