Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Fantasia Day Eight (14 Juillet 2005)

After a thoroughly delicious late breakfast at Cocktail Hawaii (where I ate four or so times; highly recommended), I spent the late morning and early afternoon walking up Mount Royal, which reminded me a lot of going to Bradbury Mountain when I was a kid - paths that became stairs, lots of shady trees, and being just dripping with sweat when you reach the top. It was the day I didn't want to go too far afield because of the 3pm movie.

Anyway, the movies themselves were kind of a mixed bag at first - Hallucination and Le Portrait of Petite Cossette are both direct-to-video fare, and while not bad, really, neither is great.

The last movie of the day, Kamikaze Girls, is great. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Mean Girls, and more besides, although it's not quite hitting the same themes: It's less about "what girls go through in high school" than these two specific girls. It's right up there with Survive Style 5+ in terms of being visually stunning, and has a great pair of lead actresses. I'd seen Anna Tsuchiya a few days earlier in a similar (but smaller) role in The Taste of Tea, but didn't recognize Kyoko Fukada from Dolls at all.

The sad question you have to ask about these movies, though, is whether anyone outside of festivals (and the home country, of course) will get to see it. I think there's an audience for this - someone's buying all that shojo manga, right? - but will an American film distributor? I'm imagining a horrific cut/dub job if it were to head to theaters, and a difficult sell on video. I'd be interested to see what kind of muscle Paramount Classics and MTV could put behind it (same with Cromartie High School), but it's probably not on their radar , even though it apparently got a bunch of awards in Japan, even though it's basically a teen movie.

Hallucination (Genkaku)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia) (projected video)

What was once called a "B-movie" is now "V-cine". The former is an American term while the latter is Japanese, but the idea remains the same: Genre films shot quickly on lesser stock (where that used to mean 16mm or black-and-white instead of 35mm color, now that means video), with a low enough budget that profitability is almost guaranteed. They're the very definition of disposable entertainment - generally not great movies, but good enough when you're looking for something in the genre that you haven't seen before.

For Hallucination, that would be a combination of yakuza and horror. Tatsuya (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) is a low-level yakuza who is charged by "big brother" Sejima (Riki Takeuchi) to watch over his girlfriend Kumiko (Kimika Yoshino) as she detoxes in a secluded cabin. Along for the ride are a former nurse (Hitomi Miwa), a couple other gangsters at Tatsuya's level, and their hit-man guide, who is the only one who can lead them to the cabin (and presumably back again), but who is just a bit unstable. Kumiko starts seeing things and running off while they're still trudging through the woods, and their guide is inclined to abandon the party. It turns out that this area is a long-time dumping ground for bodies, who are not resting easy. They're not zombies, though - they're the sort of phantoms who prey upon interlopers' paranoia, encouraging them to eliminate each other and add to the ghosts' numbers. Which is surprisingly easy, when you consider that Kumiko isn't the only one with past or present drug problems.

Read the rest at HBS.

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette (Cossette no Shouzou)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia) (projected video)

I will keep this short because Le Portrait de Petite Cossette is not, in fact, a movie. It is, however, not far from being one; a couple hours in the editing room to remove the opening and closing credits between the three thirty-five minute "episodes" and maybe trim out some of the redundant recapping dialogue at the beginning of the second and third and Geneon would have a feature-length horror anime with decent, if not spectacular, production values and a self-contained beginning, middle, and end.

It probably wouldn't be a great horror movie, but it would be a good one. Eiri, a young man who works in an antique shop, is cataloguing new inventory when an eighteenth-century goblet from France catches his eye; it plays strange tricks with the light. When he looks closely, he sees a tiny, pre-teen girl. She is Cossette, and her soul was placed in the goblet by the mad artist who had painted her portrait hundreds of times. Eiri is the first one who can see her, which she claims means he is the reincarnation of the artist, and can free her by allowing her to drain his life-force.

Or something like that. In gothic horror, atmosphere is often more important than fitting all the details together, and Cossette has atmosphere in spades. Though conceived as a direct-to-video release before airing on Japanese television, the animation is excellent, especially during the sequences which take place in the limbo-space/dreamscape which Cossette inhabits. The use of lighting, for instance, is among the best I've seen in a primarily cel-animated work, and I imagine that many digitally houses would think twice before trying to approximate its candle-lit ambience. Cossette herself is an unnerving character, with her little-girl voice camoflaging the hardness that comes from spending two hundred and fifty years in even the most magnificent of prisons

The elements for a fine gothic story are there, but the medium gives it fits. I wonder if this was adapted from a longer manga, which would explain the unnecessary abundance of characters in Eiri's modern Tokyo - are two psychic shopkeepers actually needed? The repetition of events between the first and second parts fits with a serial, but with only three parts totalling under two hours and a "play all" function on the DVD, most will watch this in one sitting.

I probably shouldn't complain too hard about how a short serial doesn't quite work as a movie, but the festival program seemed to imply that it was a single unit, and that's the frame of mind I was in when I saw it. Cossette would be a pretty good movie with just a little work - probably even a better movie than it is a serial.

Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

The movies Hollywood markets to teenagers, especially teenaged girls, pay a certain amount of lip service to being one's own person, but when it comes right down to it, they still focus on acceptance by the group. The girl is revealed as a conventional beauty when her glasses come off, or the group's idea of what is acceptable expands slightly, or when they're feeling really hip and cynical, there's one or more murders that could have been avoided if only someone had paid more attention to these misunderstood kids. Happily, Nakashima Tetsuya's Kamikaze Girls isn't like that - it's a fast-paced comedy that celebrates individuality as much as friendship.

Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) is an individual, no doubt about that. Believing that she should have lived in Rococo 18th-Century France, she dresses in frilly dresses that most girls abandon by the age of eight or so, refuses to eat anything that isn't sweet (why should one's life contain both sweet and sour?), and practices embroidery in her spare time. She probably would never have met her classmate Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya) if not for the latter responding to an ad Momoko had placed to sell her father's knockoff "Versach" clothing; Ichiko is a tough-talking, kind of slow "Yanki" biker girl who starts hanging around for reasons Momoko doesn't immediately grasp (other than her grandmother's bike). Momoko isn't really interested in having friends, but Ichiko is maddeningly insistent.

Read the rest at HBS.

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