Cats and Crew 20th Century Boys

ProfileDirector Tsutsumi

Yukihiko Tsutsumi was born in 1955 in Aichi, Japan. His directorial debut was in 1980 with an episode of an omnibus movie, Eigo ga nanda/To Hell with English, in the movie called, Bakayaro/I’m Plenty Mad. He then moved to New York and directed music videos and high-definition productions. He also directed Homeless with Yoko Ono in this period. In 1994 Tsutsumi joined the founding members of Office Crescendo, Inc., a production company so he could direct a wider variety of material. His broadened expertise includes movies, TV dramas, music videos, commercial advertisements, and publications.

Recently Tsutsumi directed movies such as, Maboroshi no Yamataikoku/The Lost Legend of Yama Kingdom (2008); Ginmakuban Sushi Oji/Sushi King Goes to New York (2008); Hotai Kurabu/The Bandage Club (2007); Jigyaku no Uta/Happily Ever After (2007); Taitei no Tsurugi/The Sword of Alexander (2007); TRICK, the Movie 2 (2006) and Ashita no Kioku/Memories of Tomorrow (2006).

Interview

Were you familiar with the original manga?

I had read it and found it thoroughly entertaining. I can identify with many elements of the story because I come from the same generation as the characters. The way kids played back then and the way they were excited by new music. The first electric guitar Kenji ever owned was the yellow Greco Telecaster given to him by his sister. He plays it as an adult to put him back in the mindscape of his youth. It’s the same guitar as my very first guitar!

Did you have a credo when you made this movie?

To be the Original Manga Fundamentalist! The manga was so good that I figured I’d be better off duplicating it rather than changing anything. I want you to watch the movie with the manga in your hand for comparison. I guess you can’t because it’s too dark in the cinema (laughs). I used manga pages as storyboards and even duplicated the camera angles of each frame. We selected scenes from the manga and photocopied the pages. The crew carried those pages around to know what kind of shots we wanted for the scene.

When I was a kid, there was a manga magazine called Boken-O (Adventure King) and at one time it had a free attachment that came with it. It was called “The Moving Monsters.” It was really just monsters drawn on a sheet of paper but you could create the illusion that the monsters were moving with your hands. It was such a low-tech gimmick, but breathtaking. I was aiming at a similar kind of surprise with 20th Century Boys, the movie.

Your movies are known for their unique style and off-beat humour. Did you have to restrain yourself in this film?

I’m doing my thing, too. But these shots get in the way in the editing room (laughs). The world woven in the original manga, on which the whole movie is based on, is like an impenetrable fortress. Just by changing a little thing may result in a disastrous misdirection. The whole story is tightly spun like an intricate web. For example, if a finger in the manga was pointing this way, it has to point the same way in the movie. Or the meaning of the action might change. So I had to diligently follow the manga. The original manga is very cinematic, but manga language is different from movie language, so I had to sometimes change things to make it more cinematic.

Director TsutsumiThe original story has an undercurrent of the Rock spirit. Is it something you feel close to?

The underlying theme of this movie is Rock. It’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll movie in disguise. I put much energy in the FRIEND’s Concert scene and the scenes in which Kenji plays his guitar. The story revolves around a man who’s rock-star dream never took off. A man who is living a disillusioned life. He’s not sure which way he should go. He soon remembers what used to fuel his passion. The scene of Kenji playing the guitar on the shopping street on the eve of destruction is symbolic. The guitar that appears in the scene is a Martin guitar, a very famous instrument. It’s actually my guitar. I always wanted one, so I bought it a couple of years ago.

The film deals with many other cultural elements.

There are so many sub-themes. The story describes the process of a religious cult taking over the nation in a similar way to Nazism. It deals with the theme of lost childhood and a loss of innocence in a manner similar to the movie, Stand By Me. It examines Tokyo around the turn of the century. It forecasts the future to come and it looks back at the past, that of the 70’s. Each element makes a good movie by itself. The original manga is drawn frame by frame and reflects a tremendous, fantastic imagination. It’s like a tapestry mural on an epic scale. I wanted to pay homage to the original manga and shoot the movie with as much imagination as I could.

So much happens in the first film of the trilogy. What are your thoughts on that?

The first film is inconclusive but without it, there would be no second or third film. The first cut of the first film came at about 2 hours and 50 minutes. It was edited down to its barest minimum and at this stage it’s about 2 hours and 22 minutes. It’s a trilogy with a monstrous budget and it became also monstrous in length.

What was your response to such a huge budget?

I figured that I’d never have another chance to be involved in such a big project. So I decided to make the best of it and have as much fun as I could with this huge undertaking.

How about the star cast?

I remember Rob Reiner commenting on his experience directing The Bucket List. He said he was very satisfied with the performances of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I feel just the same. But I also felt very tense because there were always new actors to deal with every day

TsutsumiAny special opinion about 20th Century Boy, the T.Rex song?

T.Rex was responsible for the entire genre of glam rock and I think they were like fantastic flowers that could have only bloomed in those days.

If T.Rex are the fantastic flowers of Rock history, what do you think your movie will be?

It’ll be the biggest event movie of its time. The way it so perfectly duplicates the brilliant original manga is something new. I can reflect a lot of my personal history in this movie, and I believe that it will stimulate the memories of the audience.

How significant is the 20th Century to you?

It’s very important... How important? About 90% of me is made of it!

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About Chapter Two:

Chapter 2 is a non-stop monster of a movie

While I was editing this movie, I started to realise that I'd created a monster! When we made the first chapter of the trilogy our principle was to be as truthful to the original comic series as possible and to inject it with a rock'n'roll spirit. The second chapter is radically different. Events in the original 20th Century Boys [the manga series] often jump across time and space. That makes it easier for us to cut together in the movie adaptation. In Chapter 2, we really cut and pasted and shuffled the scenes and added and subtracted dialogue in the editing stage. It went through many changes and the process was quite thrilling. It was like finding a virus in a Petri dish that suddenly mutates into something huge and monstrous.

This movie revolves around the secret of The New Book of Prophecies and Kanna's actions. It's a highly suspenseful story in which Kanna opens the Pandora's Box, so to speak, and endangers herself. The mystery deepens as the movie spins a web of mystery: Who is Kanna's father? Who is the saviour? And who is Friend? Many new characters step into profess secrets they know, making the web even more complicated.

The movie has multiple protagonists and antagonists. There are Kanna, Sadakiyo, Yamane, Otcho, Yukiji, Yoshitsune, Chono, Kyoko Koizumi, Kakuta as well as many others. We had to create concise episodes for each of them with their own climatic moment. The result is a non-stop roller-coaster-ride of a movie. As if it had a mind of its own, it started to roll beyond my control. All the actors and crew started rolling with it. 20th Century Boys is one hell of a big rolling stone!

I have an awful lot of respect for Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki, who created the story of 20th Century Boys from scratch. My job was to bring their creation to life as realistically as I could. I had a desire to build a futuristic Japan in 2015 with detailed CGI. Overseas locations at New York, London, Paris, Rome, Beijing, etc. gave me a chance to show Japan's position in the world in the future. Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku in 2015 is a melting pot of ethnicity, so we hired many foreign actors. With many scenes and an incredible number of extras, the movie is impressive in its scale.

Kamisama has a line in the movie, "Japan is now full of poor people." Wherever we look, Tokyo 2015 is full of people down and out and confused. Shinjuku, Sugamo, Shimbashi...all these Tokyo suburbs have a Bladerunner dystopian feel. The faces of passers-by's as well as the major characters all reflect the shadow of the future they live in.

In 2015 in a world rampant with poverty, Friend is the only hope for the people.

Kanna and the Secret Base gang prepare to fight again.

And they have to face a fateful event...

Who is the last hope?

What will happen to Kenji's legacies?

I hope you'll enjoy the monster we created!

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About Chapter Three:

No limit to the explosiveness!

When I made Chapter 2, I thought to myself that I'd created a monster. Now the final chapter is the monster, which was completely out of my control! The screenplays incorporated 24 exciting manga volumes with unimaginably interwoven and entangled plots and what seems like relentless inflation comes together in the end. I was so impressed by the way the screenplays made sense of this tremendous story in a different rendition of the original manga.

I made a lot of effort to make each episode of the movie as detailed and as easy to follow as possible. In this movie many questions in the first two instalments are answered. How did Kenji survive that enormous explosion? How did Friend survive the fall? Who is the masked boy who keeps reappearing? As I was shooting this puzzle of a movie, I kept questioning myself and coming up with the answers, too! In the end I think we nailed the theme; why did Friend become Friend?

I'd like to acknowledge the actors who survived the year-long shoot. It's such a fantastic and unrealistic story and all the characters grow to be fantastically fearless and tough. The actors also had to wear lots of makeup, too. But they made an effort to enter this fantastic world and stayed there, breathing life into their characters. They pulled it off because they all love 20th Century Boys. My gratitude goes to the crew, too, who really excelled in their efforts.

Computer Graphics Imageries have gone beyond conventional standards, too. The people at N-DESIGN realised the fantastic Science Fiction world and energised it with their Otaku enthusiasm. Their research into the design and animation of the walking robot was exhaustive. One interesting thing about the 20th Century Boys mentality is seen in the scene when citizens are at home watching the robot cause havoc on TV, and they are enjoying it. These Tokyo residents have a certain detachment. I wanted to keep as many of those details as I could.

In the climactic concert scene, I hope the audience will cry when they hear the music. It wasn't the large scale of the performance that I wanted to emphasise but the liberation of the people as they are delivered from years of repression when they listen to the music. Music that is not from a God or a saviour, but a middle aged man whose song moves everybody. That's how I wanted the scene to unfold.

I had a master plan. In Chapter 1, I was an Original Manga Fundamentalist, so I made the movie as close to the original as humanly possible. In Chapter 2, I keep the audience involved and on their toes, wondering. In the final chapter the answers to the audiences' pressing questions are provided. I always wanted the concert scene as the climax of the final chapter. Since Chapter 1, I've been saying that I wanted to make a movie with a rock'n'roll spirit. I always had the concert scene as the trilogy's climax.

The story suggests a sentimental ending but the concert scene is loud! No room for sentimentality. This is an explosive movie! For the last 20th Century Boys, there is no limit to the explosiveness!

This is a movie too big to describe in a few words. It's an extraordinary movie in every way. I would call it a grand prank (laughs). It was a challenge to break the limitations of Japanese Cinema.

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

Director YUKIHIKO TSUTSUMI