Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 17 July 2009: GS Wonderland, Instant Swamp, Animation, Secret Hot Spring Resort, and The Chaser

Huh; I could have sworn I slept through Arcanum as a work-in-progress when it screened at Fantasia back in 2006, but I can't find any record in the blog of doing so. So I guess my being knocked out this time around may entirely be me being tired after a few hours in the office, four movies, and one shorts package.

GS Wandarando (GS Wonderland)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

One of the signs of a particularly good comedy - or any sort of movie, really - is when there are funny or interesting things happening in the corners; stuff that the movie doesn't need but which make things even better. GS Wonderland has plenty of these things, but rather than enhancing an above-average movie, they point out how bland the actual center of the film is.

It's the summer of 1968, and Beatlemania has hit Japan with the sort of pop-cultural wallop that gives rise to scores of imitators. Tomonoro Sasaki (Tetta Sugimoto) has been charged with starting a "group sounds" label for his company (or it's back to producing nursery rhyme flexi-discs!), and has agent Kajii Ryosuke (Shinji Takeda) hunt up a band. He stumbles upon The Diamonds, three guys who had had a cruel prank played upon them by another band - guitarist Masao (Takuya Ishida), drummer Shun (Hiro Mizushima), and bass player Kenta (Yosuke Asari). The song that the company has requires an organist, though - and the only keyboard player Kajii can find is Miku Ono (Chiaki Kuriyama)... and who has ever heard of a girl in a GS band? So, one promise of a solo contract and wig later, "Michio 'Mick' Ono" is part of the group. The Diamonds are a disaster, but when the label rebrands them as "The Tightsmen", they score a smash hit - in part, of course, because the girls find Mick so dreamy.

This is a fun idea, dressed up in colorful 1960s costumes, and with a bit of satire about the music industry that is still relevant today; what could go wrong? Well, mainly, director Ryuichi Honda and his co-writer Yuji Nagamori could fail to make the Tightsmen interesting in almost any way. Masao, Shun, and Kenta are completely interchangeable; their supposed characterizations (Shun was bullied by his seven older sisters, Masao has dropped out of school to pursue his music career) are briefly mentioned but never matter that much. Miku is a bit of an enigma herself; she's strong-willed and tough, but that's sort of the extent of what we know about her.

Full review at EFC

Insutanto Numa (Instant Swamp)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Satoshi Miki's follow-up to Adrift in Tokyo isn't quite as magical as that movie was, and it's not hard to guess the reason - it feels like it's trying harder, rather than just capturing a moment between a couple of characters. It does have a lead character that is awful easy to like in Kumiko Aso's Haname Jinchoge, who early on does a nice job of balancing quirkiness and with a sort of no-nonsense attitude, although the quirk starts to take over as the film goes on.

It's a fun movie, though, and props must be given for the ending, which features an event so audacious as to be ridiculous, and yet it works for this film.

The Outer Limits of Animation 2009

N/A (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Unfortunately, the longest two segments of this shorts package ("God of Tears" and "Spaceman on Earth") were also among the least entertaining - doubly sad, given that the directors were there in person. In sharp contrast were the four tiny pieces by PES - delightful in a very compact package - and some of the other short-shorts like Philip Eddolls's "Gib Gob" and Patrick Boivin's "businessman version" of the Iggy Pop song "King of the Dogs". I also rather dug Run Wrake's "Control Master" and "This is J03" from Rory Lowe & Tom Schrapnel". "Aerius" by Tanya Erzinclioglu & Nicola Coppack is utterly beautiful and I loved the imagination in "Apr├Ęs la Pluie". Best of show, though, was easily "Mr. Wire's Nostalgia" by Jonathan Ostos Yaber, both for its nifty stop-motion design and the emotional wallop it packs at the end.

(Maruhi) yu no machi - Yoru no hitode (Secret Hot Spring Resort)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Okay, maybe I'm not so keen on the Brattle picking up the pink movie series. I liked this a little better than Gushing Prayer, and actually thought there was a pretty good movie in here somewhere. It kind of goes a little off the rails in the end, though, and there's something distinctively unsavory about how the characters are trying to sell what is basically a rape as titillation (and, by extension, how the film is trying to sell that to us).

Chugyeogja (The Chaser)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

The Chaser was not quite the movie I expected, but not in a bad way - where I sort of figured on it being a feet-on-the-ground race across Seoul, that part ends fairly quickly; from then on, it's a bit of a mind-game as former-cop-turned-pimp Jung-ho (Kim Yun-seok) as well as the police force tries to find proof that Ji Young-min (Ha Jung-woo) actually is the monster they know him to be: A tough enough job with the force's hands tied by procedure, but even Jung-ho is hampered by a distinct lack of information.

I believe this has been optioned for a Hollywood remake, and it's one I wouldn't necessarily mind, in that I can't see how they wouldn't tone the end down a little bit.

Today's plan is Paco and the Magic Book, the Hard Revenge Milly double bill, Yesterday, Crush and Blush, The Horseman, and Smash Cut. Alien Trespass isn't bad.

Sunday, it's Samurai Princess, both 20th Century Boys pictures, Portait of a Beauty, and A Quelle Heure le Train pour Nulle Part.

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