Japanese cinema and attention to detail go hand in hand. So when a good old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure romp like K20: Legend of the Mask is on the cards you know you'll get an archetypal dashing hero, a cunning villain and some fresh takes on the genre.
K20's playground is a fictional Japanese city in 1949. A masked villain known as K20 is creating havoc, expertly stealing precious artifacts for reasons that point at creating a super weapon.
Heikichi Endo (Taskeshi Koneshiro) is a lowly circus performer framed as the mysterious criminal. After befriending a gang of friendly thieves, he sets out on a series of inventive adventures that always raise a smile.
During his quest Endo rescues and allies with the duchess of the city (played sweetly and sassily by Takoko Matsu). Her beauty earns her the nickname 'the princess', a delightful nod to past adventure films.
What sets K20 apart from run of the mill adventure films is the weight of intellect behind the script and direction. The movie recalls The Coen Brothers' inventive period film The Hudsucker Proxy.
Humor, intrigue and a vast attention to detail gel a plot that is one part classic and two parts inventive, breathing clever new twists and turns into an age-old premise. Another aspect of K20's charm is how good it looks.
CGI is used but it takes a back seat to painstakingly detailed and visually stunning sets and costumes (not to mention some fantastic parkour-style stunts from Kaneshiro).
Sato's alternate 1949 is an infusion of art deco noir for the upper class and an impressive neoindustrial wasteland for the slums. When the skyline of the fictional city is presented on the big screen it is awe-inspiring.
Never difficult to follow but well written enough to keep you guessing to the end, K20 is a perfect modern day action adventure film.