Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Twelve: From Inside, Shadow Spirit, and Gangster VIP

I'll admit, my lack of enthusiasm for From Inside may have come from having worn myself out a little beforehand; the walk up and down Mont Royal can leave a person a bit worn out. The best way to follow that up is not necessarily an hour and a half in a chair having to look up because you arrived just as the movie was scheduled to start, at least not if staying alert and engaged is the goal. Still, blah, doom and gloom nastiness. Not really my thing.

I think I chose fairly wisely with the rest of the evening's films - Shadow Spirits and Gangster VIP were enjoyable, and I got to have supper at a supper-like hour. Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with No Mercy for the Rude and Flick down the road.

Note to self: Apparently, the first Kyogokudo book is coming out in English... next year. I enjoyed Shadow Spirits enough that it's worth looking out for.

Today's plan: Hitting a couple tourist spots (I'll probably wind up telecommuting the rest of the week), followed by Our Town, The End, Stuck (I guess), and Red. If you're in town, Chasing World isn't bad.

From Inside

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival, Animated Auteur Visions)

On the one hand, I'm glad something like From Inside can get made: A feature-length (if just barely) animated feature that represents one man's unique vision, with no interest whatsoever in the family audience. On the other hand... Good lord, this is grim, to the point where even the folks who like their darkness might wonder why they're putting themselves through it.

The world has ended, our narrator Cee (voice of Corryn Cummins) tells us; she and other survivors are on a train, and have been so long that she can't remember getting on. Cee has been given her own cabin, as she is the only pregnant woman on the train. The landscape is hellish, and the conditions on the train are bad enough that she sometimes has difficulty telling the difference between her life and her nightmares. She considers the question of whether or not it is right to bring a child into the world quite a bit.

Filmmaker John Bergin goes to dark imagery right away, with engineers using pitchforks to feed babies into the burner. He gives us actual seas of blood, for instance, which is kind of over the top but serves to point up just how continually unpleasant things are. While Cee is drawn pretty, most of the other passengers and engineers are stylized and grotesque. It's a pretty constant stream of unpleasantness, and maybe could have used a little leavening, especially considering how beautiful the sequence where Bergin allows a little joy to enter the film is - enough so that there was a combination of laughs and groans when the pendulum swings the other way.

Full review at EFC.

Moryo no hako (The Shadow Spirit)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Modern genres and their rules have been fairly rigidly codified for a while now, but it wasn't always thus; the original pulps and serials would mix them up with abandon. The novels of Natsuhiko Kyogoku appear to be throwbacks to that kind of audaciousness, if The Shadow Spirit is any indication.

It starts out looking like a classic detective story, the sort that might show up on PBS's Mystery! series, albeit with an unusual detective: Reijiro Enokizu (Hiroshi Abe) can see a person's memories. After a brief prologue where we see him demonstrate this ability to Shunko Kubo (Kankuro Kudo) during their WWII service, the film picks up in the early 1950s, where Enokizu's uncle, a movie studio executive, wants the private detective to find the missing daughter of one of his stars, Yoko "Minami" Yuzuki (Hitomi Kuroki), who is potentially the heir to a vast fortune. It is not a good time to be a missing young girl, as across Tokyo, a group of writers - Tatsumi Sekiguchi (Kippei Shiina), Atsuko Chuzenji (Rena Tanaka), and Morihiko Toriguchi (Magi) - and cops Aoki (Keisuke Horibe) and Kiba (Hiroyuki Miyasako) are investigating gruesome murders where only mismatched limbs have been found. To get to the bottom of their cases, both groups will have to consult with Atsuko's brother, Akihiko "Kyogokudo" Chuzenji (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi), a rare book dealer whose encyclopedic knowledge of spirituality and the occult serves him well in his avocation of exorcist. Boxes of one sort or another will play a role in the investigation - Kubo, now a pulp fiction writer, finds them comforting, having the opposite of claustrophobia; a strange Shinto sect called the "Purifiers of the Sacred Box" claims they can remove people's ills; and there's a strange box-like building high on a mountaintop where Dr. Koshiro Mimakasa (Akira Emoto) did research during the war.

The Shadow Spirit is actually the second movie adapted from a novel series, so what comes across to foreign audiences as a surprising leaps from one genre to another will likely seem just like how these stories work to the Japanese. It is an interesting marriage of forms, though: The sleuths are a group of charming characters that it's quite easy to grow comfortable with, a fairly perfect fit for the mystery novel feel of the early film - even though set in post-war Tokyo, there is something very Agatha Christie about the movie's first act. They remain that way as the film goes on, even though the crimes have gotten much nastier, and they're now surrounded by the nasty pulp dismemberments and mad scientists out of old serials. The movie takes on the feel of a serial by the end, especially in how they could be quite far afield from how they started by the time they finished.

Full review at EFC.

Burai yori daikanbu (Gangster V.I.P.)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival, Nikkatsu Action!)

I'll catch up on this review when I'm back in Boston and have No Borders, No Limits for reference; after all, despite the success of the touring program, it looks like this won't be available on English-subtitled DVD any time soon (in part because it's the start of a six-film series that the rights-holders would like to package as a box set), and there are only a couple more stops for the tour (Seattle, Vancouver, enjoy!).

It is the most conventional of the movies included, a yakuza film starring Tetsuya Watari as a young gangster with a sense of honor, looking to do the right thing even as everything around him goes to hell. The director describes it as a youth film taking place against a yakuza background, and I see that.

It may not be quite so different as the other Nikkatsu Action films that showed up in the tour, but it is a pretty darn good movie; I'd be interested to see the others in the series.

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