Monday, July 14, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Eleven: Robo Rock, Chasing World, Be a Man! Samurai School, Akanbo Shojo, and Trailer Park of Terror

A pretty good day, all told - it rained like crazy for a while in the afternoon while I was safely inside, but the cheap Japanese sci-fi was kind of endearingly cheap. Tak Sakaguchi showed up to introduce and lead a Q&A of Be a Man! Samurai School, and the ugy certainly brings a lot of energy - he practically ran down the steps in Theatre Hall, looking damn cool in the long white trenchcoat he wore in the film and happily demonstrating action and stuntwork with a fellow action choreographer (man, how cool would it have been to have him and Gordon Liu on the same stage?).

After that came Akanbo Shojo, and it's kind of weird to read the other reviews of that. There's not a lot, since it doesn't officially open in Japan until next month, but everything out of the New York Asian Film Festival plays it up as wacky and kind of self-parodying. I guess I can see that perspective, but I did see it as an effectively scary horror flick first, with Yamaguchi having fun on the edges.

Finally, there was a break before Trailer Park of Terror, which is plenty of fun although I can see why the MPAA kept hitting it with an NC-17; it is pretty gory toward the end.

Today's a weird day, schedule-wise; the one hat frustrates me the most. From Inside to start at 3pm is a given, but after that Shadow Spirit overlaps with No Mercy for the Rude by fifteen minutes, and then at 9:40 there's the nifty looking Faye Dunaway zombie movie Flick and one of the Nikkatsu Action movies I didn't get to see at the Brattle, Gangster VIP. It's the first really nasty choice of the festival.

Also enjoyable: Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

Robo Rock

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Somewhere in Japan, the makers of Robo Rock have to be wondering how their little movie wound up in a North American festival; it plays so much like something made by friends screwing around with a video camera and some special effect software. It might be; looking at IMDB, it seems that most of the cast and crew have worked on the same projects together.

The acting winds up being kind of amateurish and goofy, but the story is often just off-kilter enough to be fun, and the giant robot is a very cool design.

Riaru Onigokko (Chasing World)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Parallel universes could very easily become the new post-apocalyptic future if given a chance to catch on. After all, it takes even less to build one of those and say it's a science fictional milieu - where the apocalyptic movies would require beat up locations a parallel Earth can look just like ours, maybe with a little cheap CGI to add differences. So you can get movies like Chasing World, not-bad little sci-fi adventures done on a budget.

The film opens with several people dying sudden and bizarre deaths; a news report says they're all named Sato. Tsubasa Sato (Takuya Ishida) isn't terribly concerned; Sato is the most common name in Japan, after all - sister Ai (Mitsuki Tanimura) has been in a non-responsive state for as far as he can remember, and father Teruhiko (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) is a pretty useless drunk. And he's constantly being chased by would-be yakuza and former childhood friend Hiroshi (Shunsuki Daito), but if Tsubasa has one skill, it's running and escaping. He'll need it - when Hiroshi and company finally catch him, they suddenly disappear - although from their perspective, he's the one who disappears. He soon finds out he's somehow slipped into a parallel world, where for the past week the King of Japan has been running a "Death Chase", with everyone named Sato the target. Here, Ai is up and about, and Hiroshi is not a jerk... But there are "its", as in a game of tag, trying to round Satos up, killing anyone who tries to escape.

Screenwriter/director Issei Shibata is working on a fairly limited budget, but he does manage to squeeze a fair amount out of it at certain points. Takuya Ishida or his stuntman does some pretty neat tricks as he runs, so the foot chase scenes are more fun and visually interesting than one might expect. The "its" are a simple, yet effectively creepy design: The hooded jackets that overlap masks that suggest a too-wide smile with glowing, unblinking red eyes manage to look both practical and threatening without being overly elaborate, and positing that the individual "its" would decorate their masks is a nice touch. Those foot chases can't last the entire movie, but Shibata stops short of them becoming tiresome.

Full review at EFC.

Sakigake!! Otokojuku (Be a Man! Samurai School)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Tak Sakaguchi wears a lot of hats for this goofy little picture - writer, director, star, action choreographer - and it's a good thing he's a charismatic presence enough to sell it. Like Cromartie High School, it's a series of goofy vignettes that have a story grafted onto them by the end, where Sakaguchi and company can do some fighting. Also, none of the cast look like believable high school kids, with a really surprising number in full mustaches.

Akanbo Shojo (aka Tamami: The Baby's Curse)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival, From Manga to Screen)

For all I know, Kazuo Umezu, the creator of the manga series on which Akanbo Shojo is based, may be one of the sweetest folks a person could ever meet, as was Vincent Price by all reports. You wouldn't be able to tell that from his body of work, though, which is full of exceptionally bloody horror comics, often featuring children as villains and victims. Not my thing, generally, but I found myself loving Yudai Yamaguchi's adaptation of this particular series.

It starts as many horror movies might, with a young girl coming to a scary house. Taxis from the train station would rather not take Yoko (Nako Mizusawa) and her chaperone Yoshimura to Nanjo mansion, and the elderly housekeeper immediately tries to send them away, saying Mr. Nanjo isn't seeing any visitors. While Yoshimura goes to talk with Mr. Nanjo, Yoko warms herself by a fire, until she hears a baby crying. This leads her to a creepy room filled with dolls and a door that suddenly lockes her in, but when she awakes after escaping she's told it's just a dream. Something's not right, though - though Mr. Nanjo seems to be nothing but elated to be reunited with his long-lost daughter, Mrs. Nanjo carries around a stuffed animal that she calls "Tamami", refusing to acknowledge Yoko. And it soon becomes very clear that the Nanjos and their servant are not alone in the house.

Akanbo Shojo is directed by Yudai Yamaguchi, and initially seems quite the change of pace for him: Yamaguchi comes from the group that burst onto the scene with Versus nearly a decade ago, and his previous work has been outrageous, full of (sometimes gory) slapstick and comedy; even his segment of Ten Nights of Dream was a wild ride. He does a surprisingly good job of slowing things down in this movie's first act, letting the audience be antsy about what might happen rather than laughing at the latest bit of mayhem on-screen. It sets quite a mood for when the crazy stuff starts happening.

Full review at EFC.

Trailer Park of Terror

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

A great deal of schlocky fun. The director mentioned in the Q&A that he hadn't really wanted to do it as "six kids wind up in zombieland and get picked off", and you can kind of see that in how he really does seem to be enjoying the parts set before that, with Nichole Hiltz's Norma making her deal with the devil (Trace Adkins!) and generally loathing the creeps she's stuck with.

Once he gets rolling, though, it is at least a good dead teenager movie, with one or two worth cheering for and the rest providing enjoyably nasty kills. The ghoulish makeup is pretty darn good for such a low budget movie (the FX house was a partner in the production), and the cast dives into it with relish.

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