Friday, December 13, 2019

Fantasia 2019.20: And Your Bird Can Sing, Dare to Stop Us, Jessica Forever, Tokyo Ghoul S, and Dachra

Look, folks, I got the review for Tokyo Ghoul S up on eFilmCritic (under whose auspices I was awarded a pass to this festival) before its two-night run, and I've been covering a lot of other movies while they're in theaters, and somehow it means that these just kept getting pushed forward to the point where I'm trying to see if I can watch these things online now because it's been so long since the specific festival and the circuit in general. So a couple of these are basically going to be me saying I saw them.

Kimi no tori wa utaeru (And Your Bird Can Sing)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It would be nice to say that this film make enough of an impression on me that some part of my brain flashes to it when I read its English-language title, but that's not really the case; I just get a loud rendition of the Beatles tune (and, for that matter, just that line of the song). It's okay enough as a movie, but feels like a lot of the Japanese indies that have been playing Fantasia of late - a main character in his early twenties who doesn't betray much ambition, the pretty girl who seems to have a little more going on in the same orbit, and a fair amount of drinking, karaoke, and hook-ups that lead to the potential relationship sputtering or flaming out. There are a couple of funny moments and the sort of clear, disappointed take on the world as it is today that might make this group of films be recognizable as a movement in ten or fifteen years, but not a moment that makes it a must-see.

It's good enough, though. Director/screenwriter Sho Miyake has probably inherited the narrator (Emoto Tasuku) just being credited as "me" from the source novel, which had me confusing him with his roommate Shizuo (Sometani Shota) a lot in the early going, as Shizuo seems more the focus, with Sometani delivering what you might call a dull-knife's-edge performance - there's not necessarily a lot about Shizuo to be impressed with - his lazy passivity probably invites more disdain - but there's just enough spark to him, especially his powerful crush on co-worker Sachiko (Ishibashi Shizuka) to make the audience want more from him. Ishibashi is thankfully given just enough material to make Sachko more than just an idealized girl who's more than the guys deserve, even if the film is not going to stretch its focus far enough to compare how young women are handling this seemingly dead-end life to their male contemporaries.

That's probably in part because they're seeing the manager and there's this perception that sleeping with older guys is a path to mobility that young men don't have (which may have the tiniest grain of truth but is also a sign of other problems), which is too bad, because it camouflages how the movie also has some solid ideas about generational issues. Even when they haven't vanished down a self-destructive hole like the narrator's mother, the're people like humorless, petty assistant manager Moriguchi or manager Shizon, who aside from sleeping with his young female employees always looks at least a little drunk. If the previous generation is so impressive, how does the next find the inspiration to "mature"?

Lots of Japanese movies seem to be asking that question lately, and this one does too, even if it doesn't exactly have that memorable an answer.

Tomerareru ka, oretachi o (Dare to Stop Us)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I have probably, over the course of attending this genre festival and other events like it, gotten myself a pretty warped perspective on what filmmakers are a big deal. When it comes to Japanese filmmakers, for instance, I know very little Ozu, but a movie about fringe icon Koji Wakamatsu? Let me clear my festival schedule for that! Truth be told, there's probably more drama to be found in that anarchist maniac's orbit than that of a respected genius, although some may be a bit disappointed that Dare to Stop Us takes place more within that orbit rather than focusing on Wakamatsu himself.

Instead, it's told from the perspective of Megumi Yoshizumi (Mugi Kadowaki), a young woman who seems to be on the fringes of the art world when she meets a friend Michio "Spook" Akiyama (Soran Tamoto) in a cafe, asking if she knows any girls that could pass for 15 for a pink film he's working on (the producers of these short skin flicks didn't care what sort of messages the filmmakers put in so long as they had the requisite number of sex scenes). She will wind up before the camera in films with names like "Female Student Guerilla" for Wakamatsu (Arata Iura), whose anti-establishment cinema is rooted having been arrested when authorities thought he was a yakuza. He attracts a varied group of writers from Atsushi Yamatoya (Shima Ohnishi) to critic-turned screenwriter Haruhiko Arai (Kisetsu Fujiwara) to Megumi's crush Kenji Takama (Ku Ijima), and Megumi eventually becomes a good assistant director, but as Wakamatsu's fame grows and stabilizing force Spook leaves, the situation at his studio becomes more unpredictable as he's emboldened to take on more radical projects.

Wakamatsu is the leader of this cohort and the one whose name is best known nearly fifty years after the events of these movies, but the film does not spend much time demonstrating his genius; the filmmakers show fleeting glimpses and recreations of his work from this period or spend much time demonstrating any particular genius in his methods. Arata Iura doesn't go the full "abrasive, abusive genius" route, instead recreating the sort of charisma that has a person floating just far enough above the rest to seem extraordinary while still being close enough to grasp onto. He's magnetic, but just certain enough of his own genius that he can shrug off turmoil underneath him.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Jessica Forever

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

At some point during Jessica Forever, I started wondering if maybe this whole thing was a fantasy of some character or other, because that's the only way it starts to make some sort of sense, but absent some more concrete indication from the film itself, it's hard to justify that interpretation, even if it does leave the movie a weird mess of uncertain wish fulfillment badly masquerading as world-building. At best, you can say it's a fable, but it's a dull one, unsatisfying as entertainment.

The film opens with a group of lost boys conducting a sort of raid/rescue; Michael (Sebastian Urzendowsky) is about to be captured or put down by a bunch of drones, but other orphans like himself, led by the beautiful Jessica (Aomi Muyock) save him, and whisk him away to a sort of camp in a large house where they stay together, hunting for food and supplies in disciplined units. When the authorities track them down, they relocate, this time to an island, where Michael meets Camille (Maya Coline) while he and one of the other boys are bathing at the beach, and she seems to like him. The thing about tight-knit groups like Jessica's teenage orphans, though, is that things start to unravel once you add a new element to it.

So, just what is this thing that filmmakers Caroline Poggi & Jonathan Vinel (with script collaboration from Mariette Désert) have made? It feels dystopian for a while, but that falls away as Michael and a few of the other boys start coming into contact with outsiders on the island. There's maybe something to say about how life goes on otherwise even if an oppressive regime is cracking down on vulnerable people like these orphans, but it's not something people talk about. So maybe it's a fantasy, either of Michael's or of these dozen boys collectively, where they're still basically children even if their bodies have passed adolescence, the only girl they have to deal with a crush-worthy babysitter who never scolds and showers them with toys, leading them on adventures of the sort that boys like this find thrilling. It makes as much sense as anything.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Tôkyô gûru 'S' (Tokyo Ghoul S)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Tokyo Ghoul S is a "more of that" sequel; it doesn't particularly expand the mythology or have its characters grow and change that much, but delivers audiences another serving of what they enjoyed about the first. Folks who liked the live-action Tokyo Ghoul movie that came out a couple of years ago will likely have fun with this one, and those who missed it won't be overwhelmed. It's not the most ambitious franchise entry, but it doesn't send the series off the rails.

As established last time, "ghouls" live hidden among humanity, unable to eat much other than human flesh and able to fight with extra limbs. Ken Kaneki (Msataka Kubota) is unusual in that he started out human but was given transplant organs from a ghoul; he now works at the "Antieku" coffee shop that caters to ghouls, alongside Toka Kirishima (Maika Yamamoto). Most of the ghoul community understandably keeps out of sight, but Shu Tsukiyama (Shota Matsuda) is not most ghouls - known as "The Gourmet", this trouble-making idle riche type lives to dine on the finest and most unusual human specimens, like the model with different colored eyes he hunts in the opening. A chance encounter with Ken sends his cravings into overdrive - a human with the flavor of a ghoul? How delicious and transgressive!

You would think that some of the ghouls that Ken met in the first movie would have noticed that he smelled incredibly delicious, but to be fair, most of them are trying to live quiet, minimally-murderous lives, and have thus made a habit of repressing their predatory instincts. Not that the screenplay by Chuji Mikasano shows any particular need to explain that in such a way, and it's actually rather striking in its relative lack of ambition: After the first film introduced a whole semi-hidden world, the people making this one banish the Commision of Counter-Ghoul Operations to the sidelines despite the exceptionally high-profile murder that opens the movie, and tend to tread water with Ken and Toka keeping their secret from their human classmates/best friends. The supporting characters from the first are, at best, used as potential hostages and victims here, as the scope narrows to focus on Ken and his immediate problems, making it personal.

Full review at EFilmCritic


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I saw this, but can't say that any particular details are coming back to me four months later. But this here's a log so I'm logging it.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Dachra is being described as the first horror film from Tunisia, and that alone makes it worth seeing for some - aside from it being fun to have one's cinematic passport stamped by as many countries as possible, this sort of genre film often says a lot about how people see themselves in general and by what frightens them. And if that's not something one is particularly curious about, it's also a pretty darn decent scary movie, even if it does occasionally show some rough edges.

It follows a group of three journalism students, Yasmine (Yassmine Dimassi), Bilel (Bilel Slatnia), and Walid (Aziz Jbali) who, looking for a story that will really excite their professor, decide to investigate a girl in a mental hospital (Hela Ayed) who emerged from the woods twenty years ago and seems almost feral. They learn just enough to find where she was found, and it leads them through a path to a hidden town, where they meet a friendly host in Saber, though a pregnant goat-herder tells them to run. Alas, their car is broken, it's about to get dark, and Saber can't help them get to town until the next morning. But there's an empty house or two, and maybe this dairy from a couple decades ago will make interesting reading for Yasmine.

Writer/director/editor Abdelhamid Bouchnak doesn't stray far from the basics here; there are definitely moments when it feels like he dropped a cult compound in the middle of The Blair Witch Project, and seasoned horror movie fans are going to have immediate suspicions about what all the meat drying between on the outsides of the various buildings really is. He never goes about it in half-hearted manner, though, making the path the team follows to this Dachra area enjoyably lurid, with the other end matching it with every attempted step out of this place seeming to put the characters into a bigger hole (at least, those that don't meet impressively bloody ends).

Full review on EFilmCritic

No comments: