Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Fantasia 2017.19: Night Is Short, Walk on Girl; Deliver Us; Lu Over the Wall; and Blade of the Immortal

Check out the rare "Q&A by the same director for different movies twice the same day" stuff going on!

I mean, how does someone even have two animated films come out close enough together to have them both play the same festival, let alone have them be released a month or so apart in theaters? I suppose part of it is one being held until there's an open spot on the schedule, and maybe anime production isn't exactly dealing with American unions in terms of overworking people. Dunno. These aren't 75 minute features, either.

In between: Exorcism documentary Deliver Us, which I kind of knew I wasn't going to like because it was an exorcism documentary that didn't have "fraud", "con artists", or "using superstition to abuse the mentally ill and maintain Church hegemony" in its description. I didn't expect it to be so dull, though; I wasn't far from nodding off throughout, although that may not be entirely on the movie; I think I basically feel that way for every second film when I sit down for a long movie-watching day, starting with the second. It happened again during Blade of the Immortal, and that's not dull at all, although it seems that they may have streamlined the story to the point where a lot that isn't action gets lost. Fortunately, there's a ton of great action.

I am a bit sad about the modifications the last-minute addition of Blade to the festival made to my schedule (and that of others) - it pushed Mon Mon Mon Monsters! to a smaller screen and probably sucked a lot of audience away from it, and while I had my issues with that one, I bet folks would have liked it. Doing that pulled Indian action-comedy Double Barrel off the schedule entirely, moving me to Lu Over the Wall in that slot and thus knocking my movie count down by one since I had it penciled in for the second screening the next day. Or I could have done the CineClub/Film Society screening ("Sherlock Holmes vs. Charlie Chan"), which is always fun, but a third Miike is a temptation I couldn't resist.

So, that leaves my second-to-last day plans a little shorter than they were: Spoor, The Endless, and Prey. Lu Over the Wall is recommended, Deliver Us not so much, and I'm kind of sad that there aren't English subtitles on Going to Brazil.

Yoru wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome (Night Is Short, Walk On Girl)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Axis, Blu-ray)

The first of two animated films by director Masaaki Yuasa at this festival is a delightful, fast-moving story of alcohol, used books, guerilla theater, and the possibilities of youth, right up to the fantastic and seemingly impossible as college students try to arrange their own fates. It's exhilarating to watch even if that sort of thing isn't necessarily one's cup of tea; Yuasa packs its ninety minutes with energy and imagination that constantly surprises but always has something that feels real at its heart.

It starts at a wedding reception in Kyoto's Ponto Town with two students at tables on the opposite ends of the room: The Girl With Black Hair (voice of Kana Hanazawa) is a friend of bride Noako and close to the main table; an upperclassman or senpai (voice of Gen Hoshino) who has had a crush on her for the past two years, staging "accidental" meetings so that she would eventually think them seeing each other everywhere was fate, is across the room, scheming to be seated at her table for the after-party. She doesn't go to that party, though, instead finding a bar where she is first accosted by older lech Todo-san (voice of Kazuhiro Yamaji) - easily dealt with via the "friendly fist" - and then joins up with classmates Higuchi (voice of Kazuya Nakai) and Hanuki (Yuko Kaida) for a night of bar-hopping that will involve a drinking contest with the mysterious Rihaku (voice of Mugihito), a trip to the open-air book fair, and meeting other friends at the school festival, with enough madness to make this night seem to cover months, while Senpai frantically follows and finds his attempts to gain attention and favor foiled by increasingly bizarre circumstances.

That The Girl and The Senpai aren't given names is an indication of how quickly-sketched many of the film's characters are, but they nevertheless become more they seem at first glance. That's a good thing, because Senpai initially comes off as a stalker while The Girl is rather idealized even without the story being told from his point of view. Still, screenwriter Makoto Ueda (working from a novel by Tomohiko Morimi) makes sure that nobody is just there to be a creep or perfect, something that especially comes to the fore in the last act, when what seemed like a tossed-off line about "Don Underpants" (voice of Ryuji Akiyama) not changing his shorts until he finds the girl he fell for at first sight actually starts driving a lot of the plot but it's okay, because these side characters make the same sort of impression as the leads.

Full review on EFC.

Libera Nos (Deliver Us)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Throughout Deliver Us, I couldn't help but wonder if its simple fly-on-the-wall approach did the people involved a disservice. Though someone watching with my general point of view (that this is dangerous superstition that hurts the mentally ill in order to position the Church as the only thing one can depend upon) will certainly see moments that support it, I can't help but feel that not questioning this actively can't help but make the practice seem acceptable, covering upon it a sort of legitimacy.

Is it fair to ask a documentary that simply shows the daily practice of a priest who includes exorcism at pay off his repertoire to do more? Perhaps not. However, this quiet film, by not apparently asking any questions until the editing process, winds up feeling not just accepting, but dull. Father Cataldo and those who come to him do much the same thing repeatedly, and it's just not very involving after a while.

Yoake Tsugeru Lu no uta (Lu Over the Wall)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, Bu-ray)

The second Masaaki Yuasa film of the festival (and day!) is a different sort of delight than Walk On Girl, in some ways a conventionally unconventional coming-of-age fantasy in terms of the story with magical creatures helping a lovely kid find his place and save the town.

But that's the basic plot, it's the way that this story sometimes gives Yuasa the chance to suddenly jump into something new, from the sudden jump to a bouncy theme song (and similar later number) to the seemingly random, surprising entrance of Lu's father that leads to things suddenly getting downright weird. The animation will go from semi-conventional amine style to indie distortion akin to Yuasa's Mind Game or Jazz-Age American cartoons and the later things inspired by them.

It's an energetic movie that nevertheless always finds time to do right by its characters, especially a few that could easily be overlooked, even when the action of the climax sometimes gets too big and strange for the audience to catch everything on the first time through. I'm not sure whether my nieces (and other American kids) would be more likely to respond to the great bits of music and cuteness or be thrown by how genuinely peculiar bits of it are.

Full review on EFC.

Mugen no Junin (Blade of the Immortal)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Blade of the Immortal is being advertised as Takashi Miike's hundredth movie (looking at the IMDB, the numbers don't quite seem to align, but, hey, close enough), and I suspect that his biggest hit outside of his native Japan is his remake of 13 Assassins, which demonstrated that while he may be known as the guy who does the weird stuff, he's one of the best action filmmakers out there when you strip that away. He returns to big samurai action with Blade of the Immortal, which gets to be even bigger and bloodier.

Fifty years ago, samurai constable Manji (Takuya Kimura) was declared an outlaw for actions which may or may not have been justified, but more importantly, was given immortality when 800-year-old nun Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) placed "sacred bloodworms" in his body, allowing him to heal from nearly any injury and even reattach recently severed limbs. He's lived a life of seclusion, but Yaobikuni seems to have found a way to entice him back into the world, advising Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), a teenaged tomboy, to seek him out as a bodyguard on her quest for revenge against Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), the man who killed her father. Anotsu has been attacking dojos all through Edo, insisting they join his "Itto-ryu" clan or perish, which not only indicates that he is a formidable opponent, but that he has surrounded himself with other lethal swordsmen - and now the government has taken notice, extending an offer of legitimacy where he would train their warriors.

Screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi seems to have streamlined Hiroaki Samura's manga in order to fit thirty volumes of comics into 140 minutes, and it's a fair job of compression - as much as some threads occasionally seem to be running behind others, it never has the feeling of having to get this, that, and the other in with no time left over to show what effect this all has on Rin and Manji. Miike and Oishi are good at showing just enough to get the important things moving - we don't need the full story of how Manji's actions not only branded him a criminal but emotionally devastated his sister Machi, just enough to see how that would hang over him for decades, and the quick glimpse of Rin's happy home life before Anotsu destroyed it is enough (while his eventual explanation of his own motivations is satisfying without realigning everything). That other things are fleshed out a bit less in order to give Manji, Rin, and Anotsu more people to fight in the end is perfectly okay.

Full review on EFC.

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