Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Fantasia 2019.16: Night God, Human Lost, and Koko-di Koko-da

Another day with no guests, and a break taken for dinner because it looked like Jessica Forever would bump right up against Human Lost, and when you're here for the duration, you can choose which time you watch certain movies in DeSeve. Not that there wasn't anybody around - I put one thing with guests off for some anime and I'd seen Tone-Deaf at BUFF

Anyway, I'm hoping to spend Wednesday afternoon a wee bit outside the festival bubble before evening shows of The Fable and The Lodge. Depending on when this gets posted, I can recommend all of the afternoon shows in DeSeve - Day and Night, Extreme Job, and Les Particules.

Nochnoy Bog (Night God)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

As fusions of post-apocalyptic devastation and bureaucratic intransigence go, Night God is certainly arresting to look at, but it's also a reminder that, for however much truth there may be in this sort of vision of the future, it can be monotonous and ineffective once a viewer realizes that the cynicism is relatively unshakeable. At a certain point, you don't add much by saying everything is a mess in the way that it has always been a mess and always will be.

So it is for this one, which offers up a world without sunlight but has familiar sorts of authoritarian types in charge of the town our narrator returns to, still asking for forms and proof of identity even if they must be hand-written. An absurd situation develops involving live explosives and a TV game show, but it just redirects things back to the bureaucracy, and the stonewalling before anybody attempts to solve it is perfunctory. It's perhaps fitting that this sort of entrenched administration doesn't really change, but it comes across as a sort of default position. The film has its greatest spark of life when the daughter who had been silent through much of the film finally has words for her father about how he and his generation's obedience and timidity wrecked the world, but the filmmakers don't really seem to have any desire to run with that in any interesting direction - indeed, they see nothing but Icarus in that sort of attitude.

It's a striking vision of this at least. It's the sort of world that exists easily on a soundstage, and the details of it can be hypnotic, from the snow that sparkles as it falls through a hole in seemingly every roof to the daughter's yellow jacket, which seems to change shade as more or less light is cast in a scene. The film is fully committed to its pessimistic metaphors, and it's impossible to miss the thought and craft used to place them on-screen, even if you'd like to see the characters do something involved rather than just talk about how thinking is resistance.

HUMAN LOST Ningen Shikkaku

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Human Lost is one of those anime productions that are something like 60% world-building, 30% action, and 10% trying to find a story in all that. The fact that it has no shortage of interesting ideas - many stemming from how reckless and violent protest can become when everybody has all-but-magical health technology, even if using it can be a frustrating customer-service call - keeps it moving at an impressive clip, and it certainly hooks the audience with a great centerpiece action scene early on. It's fun to watch and explore, enough that anticipation of it all coming together can carry the viewer to the end.

The story, unfortunately, is awfully basic, in large part boiling down to a chosen-one narrative and pushing a lot of what matters into briefly-reference backstory. Screenwriter Tow Ubukata sketches the world out well enough that you can follow the story well enough, and they don't mess around in the details: Between the nice character animation and the voice work from Takahiro Sakurai, Masao Horiki is a thoroughly enjoyable villain, although you kind of wonder how anybody is trusting him. It leaves the end of the movie moving a little fast and heavy-handed, like the characters are racing against the running time of the movie rather than any actual crunch in their own world.

It's exciting enough sci-fi action to be worth checking out, but sometimes feels like it's trying to fit sci-fi anime structures more than following the story and world where it leads. There's a loyal audience for that, and they'll probably get a kick out of this.

Koko-di Koko-da

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

As a person who writes about film, I admit that there was a moment when I thought "aw, man, I hate doing this" as one of the three main characters introduced at the start of the film was eliminated in a fashion that was intended to be both horrifying and surprising and how do you write about what makes the rest of the movie work (and occasionally not) when you can't talk about what happens ten minutes in?

Ah, well, so it goes. By and large, Johannes Nyholm has made an intriguing film that plunges into the despair of grief on multiple fronts, and the combination of the contrast with "before", the Groundhog Day-style time loop that traps you in a fearful place, and the perversion of something mostly-unrelated into something you can no longer abide is something that rings true even as it also feels like too much. The movie can be a grim sit, and for some the repeated violence is going to be too extreme even as a representation of traumatic emotions. It is, by the end, clear where the film is going, but it certainly can seem like overkill.

And then, at other times, it doesn't, and there's this weird ethereal beauty to the horror it represents, an exquisite pain or a fleeting glimpse of something better. The extended shadow-puppet sequences, for instance, are dark as can be but also feel like people struggling and healing. There's humanity to the film's monsters, if not too much, and something sad but real about the characters trying to readjust to something normal. For all that this movie can occasionally be too much, it doesn't leap straight over being effective on its way there.

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