Monday, August 01, 2016

Fantasia 2016.09 (22 July 2016): Shelley, The Inerasable, Seoul Station, and Kiyamachi Daruma

Kind of bummed I didn't get to the second screening of The Unseen, but it was going to be iffy with it starting at 12:45 and the plan being to work until 1pm three days a week. You can start early, but when in the middle of stuff that needs to be done at 12:30, it's hard to just stop.

Still, pretty good day - it included the new ones by favorites Yoshihiro Nakamura and Yeon Sang-ho, after all. It was going to go a different direction after that - I figured on seeing Let Me Make You a Martyr, but it was sold out and no press line to be found, so I headed across the street, got into Kiyamachi Daruma somewhat, and then hit the wall during it, drifting off enough that I couldn't even fake a proper review. I hope like heck I wasn't taking up a seat for someone who really wanted to be there.

That helped me decide which of the two not-hugely-enticing midnights to see, in that if I was already having trouble staying awake, I might was well head home for bed. I don't think I missed a whole lot, because I wasn't really up for the gross-out right then.

Not seen that day but worth mentioning: Train to Busan, which is a companion film to Seoul Station, is open in Boston (and other fine cities) already, and is really terrific. Speaking of already being available to see, it looks like Shelley is already streaming on Amazon, and, wow, did they go full Rosemary's Baby with that poster design.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Camera Lucida, DCP)

There's an intriguing mythology lurking at the edges of Shelley, and it might have wound up a bit more satisfying all-around if that material took a step or two toward center stage. As the movie stands, it's a pregnancy thriller with a number of terrific elements, but it errs on the side of the mysterious a bit too much; at some point, the audience needs to know what it's supposed to be scared of.

It doesn't start off as particularly alarming, but with Kasper (Peter Christoffersen) driving Hungarian immigrant Elena (Cosmina Stratan) to his house way out in rural Denmark. As much as they pride themselves on their self-sufficiency, they do need some live-in help, especially with Kasper's wife Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) laid up after an operation. Elena figures three years away from her son will be enough to buy a nice apartment back home, but Louise soon makes an offer that is hard to resist - if Elena will serve as their surrogate mother, they will pay the full three years' worth of salary once the baby is born. It's a heck of a thing to ask, but Elena likes Louise, and to be able to realize her dreams for her family...

There are some warning signs, of course, even if they're more obvious to the audience than Elena, the most intriguing early one being a comment from Louise that she "can't be near electricity", while the part of the offer that says Elena wouldn't have to work if she took this on raises the question of just why the couple hired help in the first place after a moment of thought. You can forgive Elena for not being overly alarmed by that, and while what follows after insemination are kind of the "normal" things that go with a potentially supernatural pregnancy in the movies, director Ali Abbasi does a good job of making them feel extremely unnerving for Elena, though always holding back just enough that she might feel like she's getting worked up over nothing.

Full review on EFC.

Zange - Sunde wa Ikenai Heya (The Inerasable)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

In the modern age, we try to vanquish ghosts with not just scientific investigation, but literary analysis and anthropology; by understanding where these stories come from, we think, well be able to punch holes in them, find another outlet for our fears, and move on. It doesn't work as well as we'd like in the real world, in part because, once we find enough traces of something, it's hard not to think that there may be something to it. That's the intriguing hook to The Inerasable, the rare horror story that gets spookier even as it gets more methodical.

It starts out with an author (Yuko Takeuchi) working on a project where she solicits tales of the supernatural to use as the basis of short horror stories. The one she gets from Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) doesn't initially seem like much - a college student living on her own for the first time, president of her college's mystery club, starts to hear something that sounds like sweeping in the next room when she's not looking. The two start researching, and while they can't find any reason for a ghost to be haunting her room, there has to be a reason why rents in this building are lower than in the surrounding area, although it sometimes seems to be the case that those who leave take the haunting with them.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura is mostly known for fairly upbeat stories about finding connections, and though he's dealing with spooky material here, there's still something very optimistic about how the author and student become friends and their sphere expands to include others with similar interests while they track down what seemed like a minor ghost story. A network forms, not just of people but of places and incidents, and eventually a chain of events along the lines of the one in Fish Story, tracing how one series of hauntings is connected to another, tying it into a tapestry that is able to present similar stories as actually being the same story without individual tragedies being subsumed.

Full review on EFC.

Seoulyeok (Seoul Station)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Axis, DCP)

I don't know if the animation medium has ever had someone quite like Yeon Sang-ho before - a distinctive voice who works fast enough that this is his third film in five years even without counting the big live-action movie that ties into it (or vice versa, depending on your priorities). A venture into overt horror compared to the dark but real-world stories of The Kind of Pigs and The Fake, it's still just as cynical, incisive, and angry as those movies.

You can tell where Yeon is coming from from the start, when two young men near Seoul's central subway hub are talking about the need for universal health care but aren't so charitable in deed when a bad-smelling but clearly ailing homeless man stumbles past and collapses but they do nothing. Another vagrant does, but he has trouble convincing anybody to come and help before the first dies and it turns out that what he was suffering from is some sort of zombie virus. They aren't the only ones seeking shelter in the station for the night; teenage runaway Hye-sun (voice of Shim Eun-kyung) is avoiding her boyfriend Gi-woong (voice of Lee Joon), who figures the best way for them to pay the rent they're well behind on is to list her as an escort. As the virus tears through first the station and the city, it's fortunate that Suk-kyu (Ryu Seung-ryong) is one of the first to see the add Gi-woong has put on line; he's been looking for his little girl for months and no horde of flesh-eating monsters is going to get in his way.

A lot of animators look to make their mark by creating beauty and grandeur, worlds that you can get lost in populated by imaginatively-designed characters. Jeon, on the other hand, goes for ugliness and sometimes banality; his on-screen Seoul is close enough to reality that it wouldn't be surprising if he just scanned reference photos into a computer and then applied a filter to give them more solid colors, and the characters are rendered digitally, though generally without the three-dimensional quality that generally conjures up, and the character look is not exactly pretty, though also not usually the deliberately ugly look some artists and animators eager to prove they are not making kid stuff adopt. These characters look worn, and their faces contort easier to screams than happy laughter.

Full review on EFC.

"Crimson Dance"

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016, digital)

It feels kind of crappy to hear a spiel from the director before her short film plays about how it's dedicated to someone who died of cancer and how this was really important to her and she wanted to make this film with this really personal message in tribute... And then really not enjoy the short at all. It didn't exactly cross the line to where it felt exploitative, but it given that I'm usually a pretty soft touch for good intentions, it was pretty drab.

I think part of the trouble was that a five minute short isn't nearly enough time to both do burlesque and do a story around burlesque, and "Crimson Dance" seemed to lean heavily to the former, and I found it very hard to get into. It's a niche thing, and I don't necessarily know the language that makes it more than the film appears to be.

Kiyamachi Daruma

N/A (in the * * ¼ out of four range)
Seen 22 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016: Camera Lucida, DCP)

I was more run down than I should have been by the time this played, so I found myself drifting in and out, far more so than I should have, since there were times when I had a tough time following the plot. The thing is, even though a fair amount of the movie impressed me, I had no desire to see it again when the second screening came around, and opted to use the time for a meal break.

It's a crazy enough premise - Shigeo Katsuura (Kenichi Endo) was a former big deal in the yakuza, but wound up a quadruple-amputee, and now goes around using guilt or the threat of looking after him to get people to pay his debts, assisted by Kenta Sakamoto (Masaki Miura). Kenta sort of backed into being a gangster, and is actually a decent enough guy that when he finds out the circumstances beyond Shigeo's crippling, he wants to help get revenge.

As yakuza stories go, it's not a bad hook. It goes for some early-Miike excesses toward the start - the threat a guy with no hands or feet soiling himself can motivate a family something fierce, and director Hideo Sakaki doesn't hold back from making sure the audience understands that threat - but generally settles into something not quite conventional but easily-enough recognized, a movie about how despite yakuza talk of honor and service, they are a cutthroat group that will throw their people aside without hesitation. That's good material, and the pairing of Endo and Miura is a fine one; we get the impression of their partnership as having settled into a groove even though they are very different people. It's a lot of fun to see Rina Takeda pop up in a role that doesn't need karate, even if I seem to have missed the part where the yakuza forcing her into prostitution breaks her.

In the end, though, I found myself feeling that even though there's a good, potentially shocking movie in here, it's not doing enough different or exceptionally well to make up for how it seems to plod through a fairly familiar plot. It's a good take on gangster stories, but not quite so original as its makers were going for.

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