Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.02: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, The Ambassador, Juan of the Dead, and Gyo

I need to shower and head out before the first movie of the day, so two three full reviews and two one very quick one. If you're in Montreal, my plan is Zarafa, A Little Bit Zombie (probably), Cold Steel, Sushi Girl, Wrong, and Zombie Ass.

Hoshi o ou Kodomo (Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012:Axis, HD)

Makoto Shinkai has occasionally been described as "the new Miyazaki", which is tremendously unfair, both for how Hayao Miyazaki is almost universally beloved for a large body of work and for how it diminishes Shinkai's own distinct gifts. With his latest, the comparisons seem more apt; Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below has the mythic feel of Studio Ghibli's more ambitious classics even while having Shinkai's denser plotting and focus on separation and loss.

Asuna Watase (voice of Hisako Kanemoto) is a smart, independent girl, getting top marks in her classes and looking after herself while her widowed mother works long hours at the hospital. She's made herself a little hide-out at the top of a nearby cliff, where she tunes into all manner of broadcasts with a homemade crystal radio. One day, she hears an especially strange song; that night, she sees a new light from her bedroom window. And when she meets the boy who made it (voice of Miyu Irino), it's only the first step into a world that is bigger and stranger than she could imagine.

And what a phenomenally grand world it is! Shinkai starts with the story of Izanagi and Izanami, a Japanese version of the Orpheus myth, adds a paramilitary secret society, monsters, magic, and an unknown underworld. Then the film fleshes that new world out. And then there's more. Every time that it seems like Shinkai has reached the point where it might be time to just play out what he's already built, he comes up with another wonder. Even the horrors - and make no mistake, there are some creepy, nasty things to be found here - are kind of awe-inspiring. This is a truly amazing example of world-building, with each facet both stunning to behold and a logical piece of the whole.

Full review at EFC.

The Ambassador

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Documentaries From The Edge/Spotlight Denmark/Norway, HD)

More than with most documentaries, I find myself in a bind when watching something like The Ambassador. The part of me that goes to the movies for a good story winds up in conflict with the part that is (hopefully) a decent human being, in that I want events to play out to their logical conclusion even as I'm aware that those are real people on the screen who could either wind up in danger or have their lives ruined. That probably means that the movie is getting its point across, even if the filmmaker doesn't have exactly the material that he may have gone looking for.

The filmmaker, in this case, is Mads Brügger, a Danish television journalist who begins this movie by constructing a new persona: Mads Cortzen, a Danish businessman who aims to become a diplomat to the Central African Republic, from whence he would make the contacts necessary to use his new credentials to smuggle conflict diamonds back to Europe. It turns out that there are actually brokers for that sort of thing; Mads is able to set himself up as a Liberian envoy to the CAR for about $135,000. It is not, however, an entirely smooth operation, and that's not counting what he must do once on the ground.

That corruption is especially rampant throughout less-wealthy nations is something that everybody knows, if only as a vague concept or something read in a news report; it is something else again to see it in action, and Brügger does a good job of presenting that reality to his audience in a simple, unadorned manner. The apparent ease with which one can make these sorts of contacts is saddening, and Brügger deserves respect for putting himself on the line to get the footage.

Full review at EFC.

Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, digital)

As "zombie-movies-that-aren't-really-scary" go, Juan of the Dead is pretty good, with a fine deadpan sense of humor and enough gross-out gags to fill its running time, even if it does tend to meander in the middle. Alexis Dias de Villegas is a fun, unassuming lead, and the characters surrounding him are at least entertaining.

What really works about it, of course, is what it says about living life in a dictatorship - services go to hell, it becomes kill-or-be-killed, and the disaster never gets better, but you stay and try to make the best of things because, damn it, this is your home, and what else are you supposed to do? That's in every frame of the film, and gives it a little more heft than it might otherwise have.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012: Axis, HD)

There's a weird look to Gyo; it's one of those animated movies where detail levels don't quite match, with the monsters drawn and colored differently than the protagonists than the background. It's not a crippling issue, but it does make the movie look kind of cheap, or like filmmaker Takayuki Hirao didn't quite know how to bring Junji Ito's manga to life.

Although, by the same token, I don't know that I'd want to see this in live action; there's something properly unreal about this story of fish mounting spider legs and crawling onto land before stuff gets really weird. It's often in a hurry, with Hirao and company trying to cram a lot of gross strangeness into 70 minutes, even while the most horrific stuff - the blossoming of overt, violent hostility between a pair of supporting characters - could benefit from a somewhat slower burn even more than the sometimes contradictory-seeming apocalyptic A story.

Full review at EFC.

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