Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.05 (22 July 2013): "The Garden of Words", "New Neighbor", The Burning Buddha Man & Secretly Greatly

I have to say, after spending even more of yesterday writing than I was planning on, I was a bit worried about not catching "The Garden of Words" - both of its screenings in de Sève were listed as sold out, and I didn't arrive quite as early as I was planning. Got in, though, and it turned out that pretty much the whole front row was empty. I don't know if that means they'd reserved more seats for badge-holders than needed, but does it matter? I can now fit The Last Tycoon in on Thursday!

The screening itself was a little rough, though - the nearly-as-long short meant to precede it, "New Neighbor", turned out to be a terrible match, a pretty adult story with lots of sex toys and phalluses being thrown around compared to how all-ages "Garden" is. So they switched the order, making sure to give warnings in English and French (and what looked like some free tickets) before the second featurette started. The first time the projectionist hit Play, the Blu-ray/hard drive was set to English dialogue, which continued for about five minutes before it was fixed. I wouldn't say the dub was bad, but it sure did feel totally different from the Japanese soundtrack.

Stuck around de Sève for The Burning Buddha Man, which was... interesting. There was a guy somewhere behind me who was yelling stuff out on occasion, and really seemed to be crossing the line from "enthusiastic response" to "thinking he's part of the entertainment". See also: People who mew like cats before the movie starts (which strangely happens a lot more in the "main" screen, whether it be the Hall or Imperial Theatre, than de Sève). They're not even waiting for the lights to go down anymore, and maybe this makes me a cranky curmudgeon, but is waiting a minute or so for the movie to start really so unbearable? I like that quiet moment of anticipation and don't see what folks get out of filling it.

Anyway, short night tonight, as I'll likely skip the annual "Small Gauge Trauma" show and go for Bounty Killer and Son of Sardaar at the Imperial. Plain gray t-shirt with "Red Sox Boston" on the front with block letters, and not because I've noted that the baseball has not gone well on days when I haven't worn a Sox tee while up here this year.

"Kotonoha no Niwa" ("The Garden of Words")

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival AXIS, HD)

A new animated film from Makoto Shinkai at this point necessitates my going back and re-reading what I have written about the rest of his productions, as it can look somewhat lazy to praise him the same way every time. Fortunately, he's done critics the favor of mixing his output up somewhat, so this forty-six-minute featurette in a contemporary, realistic setting is quite distinct from his genre-tinged works. But, yeah, it's great.

This particular story tells the tale of Takao (voice of Miyu Irino), a high-school freshman who cuts class on rainy mornings to go to the park and sketch designs for shoes; he would like to be a cobbler when he graduates, even if there is not much demand for that sort of artisan in today's world. There he meets a woman in her mid-twenties (voice of Kana Hanazawa) who sits on a nearby bench, drinking beer and eating chocolate, not talking about why she's skipping work to do so. He starts to open up; she doesn't to the same extent, but her story will come out.

Though Shinkai has thus far worked exclusively in the realm of animation, part of what makes him such a fascinating director is that so many of the things he does well are things more closely associated with live-action: The editing of his films, for example, is extraordinarily good; he compresses time, flashes back to multiple points, and creates montages in a way that just isn't done in the medium very often. And while lighting and "cinematography" gets much more attention now than it used to, Shinkai's careful (re)creation of locations and attention to how the world looks based on the time of day, year, and weather is on a different level.

Full review at EFC.

"New Neighbor"

* * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

I know I mentioned it above, but... Good lord, was this the wrong "long short" to pair with "The Garden of Words". But on its own merits...

Well, it's still pretty bad. That's not to say it doesn't do some things quite well; star Ayano Oami may not be the greatest actress, but she and co-writer/director Norman England seem to really nail just how uncomfortable and oppressive the porn and harassment a woman faces can be, with even her mother pushing the idea that her body and how it can be used to attract and entrap men is the sum of her resources. Whether the new neighbor (Asami Sugiura) - who appears to either be some sort of prostitute or just extremely promiscuous - is the last straw or the key to the unnamed protagonist being able to deal with sex in healthy manner, there's something there.

Unfortunately, once England has made his point of just how besieged this young woman is, he keeps making it, repeating the exact same situation twice, practically down to the exact same shot, presumably so he can use a line that the character really isn't ready for at the time. And then he seems to lose whatever plot he had toward the end for the sake of a shocking finish. This is a story that's too simple for surprise reversals that don't serve the basic point being made or repetitive flab, so it just leaves the viewer wondering what the point was.

The Burning Buddha Man

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival AXIS, HD)

The Burning Buddha Man is almost certainly unlike any feature film that will show up this year, animated or not. In fact, the style of this movie is so singular that it might be the rare movie that is more enjoyable on video than at the theater. Someone in the audience is going to hate it, and hate it at the top of his or her lungs. That's perfectly all right - even those who love the movie will admit that it's rough in spots - but it might make it hard to appreciate it for being interesting, if not great.

Something strange is happening in the shrines around Kyoto - large Buddha statues are being stolen in seemingly impossible ways. The latest shrine to be attacked is the one operated by high-school girl Beniko's parents, with the theft accomplished with a sort of Matter Transfer Device that left the upper halves of their bodies sheared away with the statue. With her only family a long-comatose grandmother, Beniko is taken in by Enju, an old friend of her parents with a shrine of his own. Enju's shrine is filled with strange, deformed children, and while his sculptor nephew Enji is nice... Well, this is the sort of place that has a door not meant for curious kids to open.

And then things get really weird.

The bulk of this movie is created with a Japanese animation style called "gekimation", in which backgrounds, characters, and objects are cut out, mounted, and then manipulated in front of a running camera. In many ways, it resembles puppet theater more than traditional animation, and given that Japan has a rich tradition of puppetry to draw from, it's surprising that this doesn't show up a little more often, even if only as a specialty item (the festival program has the last mainstream production in the 1970s). The director, Ujicha, is able to use this technique to give every part of the movie a shared aesthetic that is as lushly painted as it is frequently grotesque, and while the motion and static expressions don't look real, they work in the same way as any puppet show, especially since there's an immediate bond between the artist and the audience.

Full review at EFC.

Eunmilhage Widaehage (Secretly Greatly)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

It happens all the time: An action-comedy starts out funny, but when building to a climax, the action so completely takes over that the thing that got the audience hooked at the beginning is almost completely lost. Secretly Greatly is one of the most extreme examples of this tendency, as the filmmakers take enjoyable slapstick and morph it into something much uglier than it needs to be.

Won Ryu-hwan (Kim Soo-hyun) was recruited for North Korea's 5446 unit as a child, trained to become the ultimate killing machine, and then smuggled into the outskirts of Seoul, where he poses as Bang Dong-gu, the poor neighborhood's village idiot. Only the local postman (Ko Chang-seok), a fellow sleeper agent who has been there for sixteen years, knows his true identity. After two years, a new pair of agents show up: Lee Hae-rang (Park Ki-woong), a general's son given a blond dye job and told to take a TV talent competition by storm, and Ri Hae-jin (Lee Hyun-woo), a diminutive high-school kid. And then orders finally come...

Well, at that point things become a mess. Suddenly, what had been a pleasantly aimless story is given an injection of high-level politics, a whole bunch of new characters are injected into the story and the various townsfolk the movie has spent the past hour making into a fun ensemble is pushed to the side. It becomes just a matter of people trying to kill each other, with the core group of sleepers trying to help each other survive. It's a massive, jarring tone shift that feels like a bait-and-switch, and what's worse is, this second part doesn't even seem to carry over the themes that the movie had been building for the first hour-plus: Won becoming a part of this community versus the one he left is given pretty perfunctory treatment so that he can go off and get into gunfights.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: