Monday, July 19, 2010

Fantasia: Fish Story and Golden Slumber

Yeah, I'll get back to "Fantasia Daily" tomorrow (okay, later today); I just figured that these two deserve to go together, since both are directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura from a novel by Kotaro Isoka. The programmers didn't put them together as a double feature, but spreading them out a bit is fine, as they managed to brighten two days.

One thing I can't help but notice about Isoka is that he seems to write novels that break up easily. Look at Fish Story and Accuracy of Death (aka Sweet Rain), which played Fantasia two years ago, and you see these very distinct substories. Looking at the description for the original novel of Golden Slumber (which will apparently get an English-language publication next year as Remote Control, a generic but appropriate name, I guess), it's described as being told in six parts.

This is, perhaps, just Isoka's style, but I've been reading a fair amount of Japanese sci-fi over the past year and I notice that a lot of these books have tables of contents which divide the book up into chunks. I suspect that it's still rather common for novels to be initially published as serials over there (whether in magazines or as a series of "light novels").

Fish Story

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

Fish Story, if nothing else, lives up to its name. Not in that fish appear anywhere in it, but in the other definition. It's an unlikely story, which grows larger and stranger in the telling, but one that delights as well.

In 2012, Tokyo is more or less empty as most of the population has fled in a futile effort to avoid the tidal waves that will be caused by the comet about to hit Earth. Well, except for a few - a miserable, ailing fatalist (Kenjiro Ishimaru) finds a record store open, the people inside apparently unaware of the upcoming cataclysm. The customer proposes several unlikely ways the disaster could be averted, but the owner (Nao Omori) pulls out a record, Fish Story, on vinyl, never re-pressed or available on CD, and says that the title track will save the world. How? Well it involves three college students (Gaku Hamada, Takashi Yamanaka, and Kazuki Namioka) in 1982 who ponder the paranormal implications of a sixty-second silence in the track, a doomsday cult in 1999, the pastry chef (Mirai Moriyama) who befriends a girl (Mikako Tabe) who oversleeps on the ferry in 2009, and, of course, the two leaders (Atsushi Ito, Kengo Kora) of a band who recorded this punk song in 1975, a year before the Sex Pistols hit the scene.

It all connects, naturally, and it's not much of a spoiler to say that Fish Story eventually reveals itself to be a Rube Goldberg machine of a movie, although director Yoshihiro Nakamura hides some of the steps until absolutely necessary. Of course, by the time comes to reveal them, most of them are probably what you've deduced them to be, although not all. It's an extremely satisfying combination of the film zigging when one might expect it to zag and pulling together in a way that is cohesive despite how relatively peculiar and individual the various segments are.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Golden Slumber (Goruden Suranba)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

Fish Story may not have set the Japanese box office on fire, but the folks who saw it loved it, so it's no wonder that director Yoshihiro Nakamura chose another Kotaro Isaka novel (with a musical title) as one of his next projects. And it's got another killer hook, one that it gets a lot more mileage out of than other thrillers.

Start with Masaharu Aoyagi (Masata Sakai); when he was in college, he and his friends Shingo Morita (Hidetaka Yoshioka), Kazuo Ono (Hitori Gekidan), and Haruko Higuchi (Yuka Takeuchi) hung out, critiqued fast food, and traded conspiracy theories. Ten years later, he's a deliveryman, although one who gained a certain amount of fame two years earlier for rescuing pop idol Rinka (Shihori Kanjiya) from a burglar. It looks like Morita is doing much better for himself, but when Aoyagi awakes after passing out in Mortia's car, his old friend tells him that he's up to his eyeballs in gambling debt, but it would be wiped clean if he makes sure Aoyagi is in this car at this time. Why? Well, the Prime Minister's motorcade is about to pass by; Morita thinks Aoyagi is being set up as a patsy, like Lee Harvey Oswald. Which is ridiculous--


Nakamura and company set this situation up in a crisp, efficient opening that establishes Aoyagi's dorky, blue-collar charm, and then literally explodes into high gear. After that, the chase is on, and though Golden Slumbers hasn't really had a chance to build, it manages to sustain itself at a remarkably high energy and tension level for a long time. It's probably something like an hour after before that initial jolt starts to wane, and by then the story has started throwing not just twists but counter-twists, giving us a very well-played game of cat and mouse.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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