Monday, July 17, 2006

Fantasia '06, Day 11: And that's a wrap (for me, at least)

Two from Saturday are up: The Gravedancers and The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Both of them are playing today, if you're lucky enough to still be in Montreal for the festival.

Got up, checked out, and stowed my big gym bag of laundry at the bus station before heading for my last taste of Cocktail Hawaii for another year and a full day of movies. I admit, by mid-afternoon, I was strongly considering seeing if their was an earlier bus; I think I could have slept through a half-hour of Vampire Cop Ricky without noticing I'd slept through a half hour of it (it's really back-loaded); the three featurettes from Japan that I thought I'd get through easily turned out to be trying in their own way. Maybe, I thought, arriving in Boston at 6.30am tomorrow and then heading straight to work is a bad idea I could avoid by going home now.

Fortunately, things started looking up from there. Samurai Commando 1549 was kind of a blast, as any combination of feudal samurai and twenty-first century tanks must inevitably be. And Train Man wound up being pretty darn adorable, almost as good as Viz's entry to the festival last year, Kamikaze Girls (which I still adore; I wish I could have made Friday's outdoor screening). And I think it was really good to end my time at the festival on a romantic comedy; I was just about completely serial-killer-ed out by the end of last week. Train Man is a delight, though - I hope Viz gets it more than the two screens Kamikaze Girls got.

Today's plan, if I were still in Montreal: The Red Shoes, Isolation, and Synesthesia. But I'm not and I've got no screeners. Stupid day job.

Vampire Cop Ricky (Heup-hyeol-hyeongsa Nadoyeol)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

Vampire Cop Ricky opens with a scene that strikes me very funny - in a dark Transylvanian castle, Count Dracula's coffin opens and he rises to begin a night of terrifying the nearby village. But there's a mosquito buzzing around, and it's driving him nuts, sending him into a fit of rage when it bites. As the mosquito flies away, only the encounter an oncoming plane, we see Dracula howling in completely disproportionate fury. And I'm thinking, man, if the film can keep this kind of off-kilter vibe up for another two hours...

Of course, hitting the plane doesn't kill the mosquito - it is now a vampire mosquito, and as such is hardier than its non-undead breathren. In the meantime, though, we meet Do-yul (Kim Su-ro) - the "Ricky" of the title, though I don't see where that name comes from - on a raid to bust illegal betting kingpin Tak Mun-su (Son Byung-ho). But Tak's been tipped off - as we later learn, but Do-yul himself. Do-yul, of course, gets bitten by the mosquito, and starts to gain vampire abilities (and weaknesses) even as his corruption is uncovered. And as if Tak's gang and his fellow officers aren't enough trouble, the Vatican has dispatched a vampire hunter (Oh Kwang-rok) with an ultimatum - stop using your vampiric abilities right away, so that you can possibly revert to humanity, or get a stake through the heart.

There's a good deal of entertainment to be had in this movie, but it's got a fairly bloated midsection; one fellow near me took a thirty or forty-five minute nap and I really don't know if he missed anything particularly important. After the initial half-hour kicking things off, things settle down while the characters go through their motions until director Lee Si-myung and his three writers suddenly seem to remember that they pitched this movie as an action-comedy with about forty-five minutes to go.

Read the rest at HBS.

"The iDol"

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

"The iDol" comes in at a notch under an hour and still feels twice as long as it needs to be, with its meandering story of a toy given to a bum by an alien that eventually finds its way into the hands of a die-hard collector. The biggest laugh comes when a model confesses that she collects 1940s/50s Soviet propoganda items, especially ones which focus on Joseph Stalin. A few more moments of character absurdity and much less musical montage would have gone a long way.

"Sukeban Boy" ("Oira Sukeban")

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

The most exuberant of the day's triple bill, "Sukeban Boy" shoots for guilty pleasure and lands in that general area with a gender-bending plot about a boy with the face and voice of a pretty girl. His biker father sends him to a girl's school, where he soon finds himself plunged into a bizarre example of every schoolgirl-fetish cliché imaginable, and some that probably don't bear imagining. Plenty of nudity and over-the-top girls in schoolgirl outfits fighting, and, hey, who doesn't like pretty naked girls?

"Negadon: The Monster from Mars" ("Wakusai Daikaiju Negadon")

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

This one has been getting a lot of praise, and the way it captures the cinematography of early Japanese science fiction is really kind of incredible. It stands alongside "Voices of a Distant Star" as an incredible example of what one person can do with CGI when he puts his mind and time into it these days. Unfortunately, Jun Awaku's story is not nearly as strong as Shinkai's. I get that it's supposed to be a tribute to classic kaiju, but it seems both too slow-moving and melodramatic for a 25-minute short.

Samurai Commando Mission 1549 (Sengoku Jietai 1549)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

If someone comes out of Samurai Command Mission 1549 disappointed, it is because the potential is so ridiculously good; I mean, we're going in with the potential for both samurai slicing their opponents up and helicopters exploding. That's two of the four basic action/adventure movie food groups right there. Not enough for a balanced diet, but certainly a tasty snack.

In 2002, an experimental force field developed by Rei Kanzaki (Kyoka Suzuki) failed to work as expected - it sent the armored division testing it back to the year 1547, where they are promptly attacked by a local army. Two and a half years later, in the present (2005), sunspot activity or whatever sent the project haywire may allow for a second trip into the past, and it's necessary - whatever Colonel Matoba (Takeshi Kaga) has done in the past is starting to have repercussions in the present - black nothingness with the potential to eat the world repercussions. So Kanzaki recruits Yusuke Kashima (Yosuke Eguchi), a former protege of Matoba's, and Shichibe Iinuma (Kazuki Kitamura), a samurai who was thrown forward in time by the same event that threw Matoba back, to make a trip back to 1549 and set things right. What they find is worse than they expected - Matoba has taken over the court of Nobunaga Oda, and intends to devastate and rebuild the country with modern technology, giving Japan a five hundred year head start on the rest of the world.

That's a lot of plot, and it's a little challenging for a westerner like myself who really doesn't quite know who Nobunaga Oda is (as it should be; I wouldn't expect a movie about people traveling back to the American Civil War to explain who Lincoln is just because someone in Japan may not get it). Since we're joining the story two years after Matoba has arrived, we've got to play catch-up along with Rei and Yusuke, and we may wind up holding on to their mistaken assumptions slightly longer than they do. It is worth noting that this film offers a great many places for the audience to be confused - it throws a great deal of technobabble, the history of feudal Japan, and a few pre-existing relationships at us - but does a pretty good job of keeping us up to speed without resorting to large swaths of expository dialog.

Read the rest at HBS.

Train Man (Densha Otoko)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

Train Man has conquered the Japanese media quickly and thoroughly. It first captured the public's interest as a blog that was posted as the events took place; it soon became a novel, a series of manga, a television series, a stage play, and, of course, this film. It's not hard to see why - it's a sweet love story that can appeal to all ages, but it's also arguably one of the first movies to really get communications and community in the twenty-first century.

Takayuki Yamada plays the title character, a self-described "gaming and manga otaku" (computer/comic nerd, in American), and he fits the stereotype - he's a shy twenty-two year-old who has never been on a date, works in I.T. tech support, and goes home to an apartment filled with stuff but no other people every night. He's taking the train home one day when a drunken salaryman comes on board, and our otaku stands up and tells him to stop as he's starting to get really obnoxious to a willowy beauty (Miki Nakatani). The transit police take the drunk into custody and ask those involved to fill out a report. Amid his apologies for causing inconvenience, she asks for his address so she can send him a thank-you gift. He posts about it on a message board (signing the message "Densha Otoko", or "Train Man"), and when the gift is an expensive Hermes tea set (tagging the woman with the nickname "Hermes" or "Hermess"), the people responding to the conversation encourage him to pursue her.

Unless I'm mistaken, we never actually learn the characters' real names - they don't come up in the dialog, and they are simply "Train Man" and "Hermes". They're almost abstractions, with Train Man representing what is nerdy or socially maladroit in all of us and Hermes representing an ethereal ideal. But more than that, it's because Train Man's blog entries and the responses are a crucial part of the film - they expand the film's narration from a monologue to a chorus, even while we see things almost entirely from Train Man's perspective. It gives him a sounding board while still leaving him very much on his own. And it gives us a chance to examine the kinds of new, ad-hoc communities that the internet has had a large part in realizing.

The simple, traditional approach would be to point out that Train Man needs to stop looking for his social life on-line and start interacting with people in the real world. Certainly, the nervousness that borders on genuine terror that we see from him in his awkward first dates with Hermes suggests that important parts of his social development are woefully inadequate - although he is, maybe, not the saddest case we see. Most of the people we see responding to the blog aren't other nerds (a trio of gamers is the boisterous exception). There's Rika (Ryoko Kuninaka), a nurse; Michiko (Tae Kimura), a housewife; Hirofumi (Eita), a student; and Hiashi (Kuranosuke Sasaki), a businessman. We get only brief glimpses into their lives, but we learn enough to fill in blanks and to see that the social network they form benefits them all.

Read the rest at HBS.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

great stuff .. Train Man does indeed sound like a great little flick . i'll have to see if I can eventually catch up with it on DVD