Sunday, August 07, 2005

Fantasia Day Ten/Eleven (16-17 Juillet 2005)

Saturday was kind of rainy, so not the best day to try and get pictures of the banner and spot where the festival was being held (but my attempts to get picutres of the auditoria looked much worse). This weekend was "Komikstok", featuring movies adapted from comic books - mostly manga, since there aren't a lot of as-yet-unreleased American adaptations coming out in a viewable state, and you could see Batman Begins or Fantastic Four at the local multiplex. It would have been cool if Disney had brought Sky High, but I guess this really isn't their crowd.

In fact, the only North American distributor that had any kind of real presence at Fantasia was Lion's Gate, and they're Canadian, so the festival is going to be more on their radar. The American presense came Sunday, when I hauled my luggage with me into a screening of "Square Jaw Theater", a bunch of superhero-themed short films. My favorites were two of the bat-themed ones: "New Times", a CGI production using Lego-people models and featuring Adam West as Batman, Mark Hammill as the Joker, and Dick Van Dyke as a surprisingly good Commissioner Gordon. Another using Hollywood talent (that doesn't appear on their IMDB pages) is "Robin's Big Date", with Justin Long as Robin and Sam Rockwell as Batman.

Before I get to the reviews, one aside - I really do generally like Takashi Miike, and I can't wait to see his new movie which just opened in Japan yesterday (a big-budget family adventure, if you can believe it!). He was just the kiss of death for this festival, though. The sequel to one of his movies (One Missed Call 2) - stank. The one he directed (Izo) - sucked. And the one he appeared in (Neighbor Number 13) - just not good.

Anyway, here's hoping I get a chance to come back next year. It's a blast, the festival that the Brattle's Boston Fantastic Film Festival wants to be when it grows up. There's also many less nifty places to be in July than Montreal.

Dragon Head

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Komikstok)

How does one top the end of the world? The answer to that question is, generally, "it's not possible", so the decision to have it happen off-screen would be the wise one even if Dragon Head were about how and why the world ended and what could be done to set things back right. It's not, though - instead, it's about how someone deals with a strange, threatening new world. And on that count, it does OK. The subject's been handled better, but it's also (and more frequently) been done worse.

The world ended with a flash of red light, but Teru Aoki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) doesn't know this when he regains consciousness at the start of the story; he just thinks something has happened to his train on a class trip to Kyoto, and that he'll soon be rescued. Aside from killing everything it hit, the red light must have packed a heck of a wallop, because the tunnel his train is in has collapsed at both ends. Only a few others are left alive - classmates Ako Seto (Sayaka) and Nobuo Takahashi (Takayuki Yamada), along with one injured teacher, whom Nobuo kills in a mad rage. Teru and Ako escape before the tunnel completely caves in, but as they soon discover, what has happened is not just limited to the immediate area. Only some of the survivors they encounter are as overtly hostile as Nobuo, but that generally means that they are even more dangerous.

Read the rest at HBS.

Tetsujin-28 (Tetsujin niju-hachigo)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Komikstok)

There are two routes to go when adapting a comic book or cartoon for live action. Generally, with comics, the filmmakers try to bring the characters into our world. Certainly, there are exceptions (hello, Sin City), but look at how hard recent superhero movies have worked to tweak the costumes into something that can at least appear to exist in the real world. On the other hand, films based upon an animated property make much more of an effort to retain original designs and exaggerated aesthetics, even if they don't look "real". Witness the Scooby Doo movies, or George of the Jungle. Tetsujin-28 clearly falls into the second category, even if its original source material is print rather than animation.

Made to celebrate (roughly) the fiftieth anniversary of the original manga , Tetsujin features Shosuke Ikematsu as Shotaro Kaneda, a twelve-year-old new kid in town who is as surprised as anyone when pieces of a giant robot erupt from the ground and fly off into the distance, causing immense property damage. The worst is yet to come, though - the pieces return assembled, as the fearsome Black Ox. Luckily, the forces of good have their own giant robot, Tetsujin-28, which Shotaro learns was built by his own father - and which was designed for him to control! Unluckily, Shotaro is something of a scaredy-cat, and in their first encounter, Black Ox beats Tetsujin like a drum.

Read the rest at HBS.

Cromartie High School (Sakigake!! Kuromati Kôkô: The Movie)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Komikstok)

"Cromartie High School" is a hot property right now, at least in some circles. The three collections of manga that are out in the US sell pretty well, as do the anime DVDs. I'm not sure whether it's a franchise with longstanding popularity or a fad in Japan, but whichever it is, it's made the leap to a live-action feature film, and done so in a fairly entertaining manner.

It's a tricky leap, because while many manga are long, ongoing serials, Cromartie is a series of short vignettes which screenwriters Itsuji Itao and Shoichiro Masumoto have to somehow connect, expand, and embellish to form into an eighty-five minute movie. The basic gist is that Takashi Kamiyama (Takamusa Suga), a fairly bright 16-year-old, winds up in Tokyo's worst high school in order to help his best friend - who fails the entrance exam anyway. Being a resolute - and thoroughly naive - fellow, Kamiyama makes it his goal to clean up Cromartie, help the students make something of themselves. This will not be easy, since the students include Takenouchi (Yoshihiro Takayama), the tough guy with severe motion sickness, an obnoxious robot named Shinichi Mechazawa (voice of Shinji Takeda), and a gorilla. This is before Takeshi Hokuto (Noboru Kaneko) and his lackey show up, planning to "conquer" the school like the 18 private ones Hokuto's father has bought, or the ape-men from another planet arrive.

Read the rest at HBS.

Neighbor No. 13 (Rinjin 13-go)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Komikstok)

Ah, revenge. It seems like such a simple thing - someone does you wrong, you turn it around, preferably making the other fellow suffer twice what you've had to deal with. Simple and straightforward in concept, although it seldom is in practice. And it doesn't do anybody any good in the end. And in some cases, the ones who suffer are the audience.

Juzo Murasaki (Shun Oguri) has ample reason for wanting revenge. Back in high school, a classmate spilled acid on his face, disfiguring him for life. Or so it would seem. His scars seem to have healed, but he's got a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going, with his alter ego "Number 13" (Shido Nakamura) retaining the burns and channeling the anger, and sometimes seeming to act independently of Juzo. And is he ever going to be given a reason to come out and play, as the foreman at Juzo's new construction job is Toru Akai (Hirofumi Arai), the man responsible for Juzo's mutilation years ago. Along with his wife (Yumi Yoshimura) and child, he's also Juzo's neighbor, living just a few doors down in the row house development. And, apparently, he's still a right bastard.

Read the rest at HBS.

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