2016 Fantasia International Film Festival

Fantasia 2016 Review: Three by Johnnie To

Wallace Chung, left, Vicki Zhao Wei and Louis Koo in the Johnnie To film Three. Everything that happens in the film is a prelude to the madness depicted here.

Wallace Chung, left, Vicki Zhao Wei and Louis Koo in the Johnnie To film Three. Everything that happens in the film is a prelude to the madness depicted here.

Three did not do it for me. I’ve enjoyed many Johnnie To films over the years, thanks to the Fantasia International Film Festival, but I found Three both disappointing and annoying. The film asks us to throw common sense to the wind. I do that all the time, and not just at the movies, either, but I just couldn’t do it for Three.

(However, it’s only fair to point out that both Fantasia screenings were sold out, albeit in the smaller De Sève cinema, and that one of my friends, an esteemed film prof, watched it twice.

My problems with it, in no particular order: a dumb script with many unlikely events, unnecessary carnage, wooden acting.

To elaborate further: Shun (Wallace Chung), the leader of a criminal gang, is shot in the head by a cop (we don’t see it happen) and he’s taken to a hospital. Not only is he still alive, it seems that the bullet hasn’t done any damage – he’s quipping away about philosophy, taunting his police guards, etc. Even so, the doctors say that he needs surgery as soon as possible. Shun refuses that surgery because he wants to be conscious when his gang comes to rescue him. But then what? He’ll still have a bullet in his head, and it’s not like your average mob doc is prepared to deal with that.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the surgery now, and then have the gang rescue him while he’s being taken to prison? Hijack the prison van – should be a piece of cake, right?

If his henchmen are so scary (and we’re led to believe that they are) and he’s in such medical danger you’d think that he’d be held in a private room with many guards, but no, he’s in a ward with several other patients.

Vicki Zhao Wei plays a neurosurgeon and Louis Koo plays a police detective in Three, a film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Koo wears that same stone-faced look in 98 per-cent of the film.

Vicki Zhao Wei plays a neurosurgeon and Louis Koo plays a police detective in Three, a film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Koo wears that same stone-faced look in 98 per-cent of the film. He doesn’t take that jacket off, either.

Lotsa cops, led by Ken Chan (Louis Koo) are waiting for the gang to arrive so that they can arrest them. Or kill them. It’s a tense waiting game! Never mind that this plan puts all the patients, doctors, nurses, other hospital workers and visitors in extreme danger. The sensible thing to do would be to restrict access to the hospital, as was done in many countries during the SARS outbreak, and to catch those bad guys at some other time, in some other place. But no, Chan is determined to nab them today.

Because this is a Johnnie To film, we know that there will be an over-the-top-shoot out, and, um. . . (SPOILER ALERT!) other kinds of mayhem, as well. The only question is when. But even in the land of make believe, I object to doctors and patients being blown away for such contrived reasons.

Which brings us to the wooden acting. Most of the time Louis Koo looks grim, stoic, stubborn, angry, or determined, which is pretty much the same thing on his face. He barks, snaps and scowls at everybody. Neurosurgeon Dr. Tong (Vicki Zhao Wei), who is having a very bad week, looks glum and exhausted, sometimes on the verge of tears. Not a lot of nuance happening here. Well-cushioned Lam Suet, one of  Johnnie To’s regular actors, plays the guy sent to get lunches, of course. His character can barely speak in sentences.

A patient named “Uncle Chung” provides some comic relief, though he isn’t that funny. Two other patients offer what you might call tragic distraction. There’s a cliffhanger scene, or more precisely a-bedsheet-and-firehose scene, that is just left. . .hanging. Literally. We don’t see how it wraps up. There’s another scene that might remind you of the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. And why not? Toss it all in!

Every time I look at Louis Koo in his quilted blue jacket I wonder – just how heavy is the air-conditioning supposed to be in this hospital?

For the squeamish: Action-film fans are used to shootouts, but are they used to gruesome surgery? Be warned that even though Shun refuses his operation, many other patients do get theirs. There are scalpels, drills, copious amounts of blood and exposed brains in Three.

Meh. I suggest watching something else by Johnnie To.

THREE
Director: Johnnie To
Writers: Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung, Mak Tin-shu
Cast: Louis Koo, Wallace Chung, Vicki Zhao Wei, Lam Suet
Run Time: 87 minutes.
In Cantonese with subtitles in English and Traditional Chinese
Seen at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal

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Fantasia 2016 Review: Too Young To Die!

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Fim Festival in Montreal.

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Too Young To Die! is full of laughs, music, demons, and love. It’s educational, too!

I saw this raucous crowd pleaser in the very best circumstances possible, with hundreds of other enthusiastic film fans at the Fantasia International Film Festival, right here in Montreal.

Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and his fellow high-school students are riding a bus home after a field trip. Earlier, Daisuke had bribed a friend to change seats with him so he could sit next to his crush, Hiromi (Aoi Morikawa). They are having a shy chat when the bus goes over a cliff.

Daisuke wakes up in Buddhist Hell wondering what he did to end up there and how he could be so much worse than his fellow classmates. None of them are there with him, even though initial reports say that all the students on the bus died, except one.

Daisuke tells Killer K (Tomoya Nagase) a long-haired, horned, fanged guitar-playing demon, that he wants to go wherever Hiromi is. (He hopes she’s alive but he assumes that she’s in Heaven.) When Killer K says that no one has ever gone from Hell to Heaven before, Daisuke vows to do his best to be the first person to do that.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he'll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he’ll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

There will be many challenges ahead! Daisuke has to haul heavy loads AND attend Hell Agricultural High School, too!  He’ll have to work very hard in Hell to be re-incarnated on Earth. What kind of creature he will be depends on his own efforts and the whims of Lord Enma, who sits in judgement. I’d be going into serious spoiler territory if I mentioned ALL of his reincarnations, though they include a bird, performing sea lion, a dog, and a giant scorpion. It’s pretty hilarious to watch Daisuke, who returns to his family home as a pale blue parakeet, frantically trying to delete a naughty video from his smartphone, and send one last text message to Hiromi.

Daisuke will get seven chances to redeem himself, but if he fails, he will turn into a demon like Killer K. Already his face is getting a bit redder, his teeth are longer and sharper and he can feel little bumps on his head where his future horns might sprout.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Joining Hiromi is Daisuke’s main concern, but there’s a secondary plot line about a demonic battle of the bands. Killer K wants to recruit Daisuke for his group, Heruzu (Hells). This plot provides several tunes, some outrageous gags and an ultimate pyrotechnical showdown.

Despite the abundance of laughs and silly situations, Too Young to Die! is also a genuine love story. Years go by, but Daisuke’s love for Hiromi never wavers.  I found it very touching.

Writer and director Kankuro Kudo is obviously taking lots of liberties with his depiction of the Buddhist underworld, but he didn’t make it all up, either. Just Google Lord Enma and Ox-Face and Horse-Head for some background, and you’ll see. That’s why Too Young to Die! is also educational.

Musical Notes: Tomoya Nagase, who plays Killer K, is a musician in a band called Tokio. Director Kudo plays guitar in a band called Group Tamashii.  

Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tomoya Nagase, Kenta Kiritani and Nana Seino played the film’s title track at the Tokyo Metropolitan Rock Festival in May. If you like the songs in the film and you’ve got money to spare, you can order the film’s sound track from CD Japan.

Another film: Ryunosuke Kamiki and Takeru Satoh play high school students who write a manga in Bakuman, also shown at Fantasia this year. (You can read my review of Bakuman here.)

Interesting coincidence: Before the bus crash, Daisuke bought Hiromi an amulet at a temple. A few days after watching the film, I saw a guy on the metro with a similar amulet hanging off his knapsack. I would have liked to ask him about it, but I didn’t get the chance before I had to get off the train to watch another Fantasia film.

Too Young To Die!
125 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Kankuro Kudo
Screenplay: Kankuro Kudo
Cast: Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Kenta Kiritani, Nana Seino, Aoi Morikawa, Arata Furuta

Fantasia 2016: Slash Review

Jessie Ennis plays Martine, Michael Johnston plays Neil and Hannah Marks plays Julia in the film Slash. It was shown in Montreal during the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Jessie Ennis plays Martine, Michael Johnston plays Neil and Hannah Marks plays Julia in the film Slash. It was shown in Montreal during the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Slash is a coming-of-age film with an easy rapport between the main actors, Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks. They play Neil, 15, and Julia,16, fellow high-school students who both write erotic fanfiction. They only become aware of each other after Neil drops his notebook at school, other students grab it, read from it and mock him. Would a guy who’s already a bit of an outsider bring his notebook to school and risk such exposure? I have my doubts, but these characters have to be brought together somehow, and they are cute together, so I’ll go along with it.

We see excerpts from Neil’s somewhat overwrought stories, about his favourite hero, Vanguard, acted out onscreen. Some of those scenes were shot at the Vasquez Rocks outside of Los Angeles, the same place where many Star Trek scenes were shot.  Until now I had assumed that those Star Trek rocks were made out of plaster – they looked fake to me back in the day and they still look fake to me now, but that fake look and the Star Trek connection just add more cheesiness to Neil’s stories.

Julia indicates that she has an unhappy home life, even though we don’t actually see it, and Neil hasn’t figured out his sexuality yet, so they both need as much friendship and moral support as they can get. Julia encourages Neil to lie about his age and submit his writing to an Internet site called the Rabbit Hole. Soon Neil is getting friendly messages from an older man. Oh, oh. For Neil, the possibility of meeting that man adds a frisson to their attendance at a Houston comic-con that has a minor slash component hidden away behind closed doors.

I liked Slash, though the lively Julia makes Neil seem bland. She might have made a better main character.

According to some Internet comments, writer-director Clay Liford does not present an accurate picture of slash culture. I have no way to know if that is so, but I confess that the accusations tainted my enjoyment a bit. Here’s a link to a review on The Daily Dot, by Aja Romano, who says the film is “Beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted” but “For all it may be a movie titled Slash, its depiction of slash is completely wrong. It is a bizarre, distorted, inaccurate, outdated, inexplicably porn-obsessed, and inexplicably male-centric version of slash fiction and slash fandom that doesn’t reflect reality.” Romano also says that “Julia still bears all the earmarks of a classic manic pixie dreamgirl.”

Romano includes a link to another article, “A guide to fanfiction for people who can’t stop getting it wrong,” that she co-wrote with Gavia Baler-Whitelaw.

Clay Liford told IndieWire that he did lots of research before making the film, though the world he describes doesn’t sound like the one presented by Romano and Baler-Whitelaw. If you write fanfic yourself, feel free to comment below!

On the other hand, as someone who has never owned a car and has many car-less friends, the car culture and world of privilege that Neil and Julia live in seem more foreign to me than slash culture does – Julia is only 16 but she seems to have access to an expensive-looking SUV whenever she wants it, and the two of them (just 15 and 16, remember) check into a Houston hotel without any difficulties at all.

I watched Slash via online screener at the 2016 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Slash, written and directed by Clay Liford, with Michael Johnston, Hannah Marks, Missi Pyle, Jessie Ennis, Peter Vack, Sarah Ramos, Michael Ian Black, Tishuan Scott.

Fantasia 2016: Superpowerless review

In the film Superpowerless, actor Josiah Polhemus plays former superhero Captain Truth. The film had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

In the film Superpowerless, actor Josiah Polhemus plays former superhero Captain Truth. The film had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

The poster for Superpowerless calls it “A coming-of-middle-age story.”

Bob used to be Captain Truth, sort of the Batman of San Francisco – he didn’t have a fortune, a mansion, or a souped-up car, but he did save the good citizens from muggers, accidents and natural disasters. He also had a diminutive sidekick named Liberty Boy. Seriously.

Bob can still speak in the deep, threatening tones of Captain Truth, but he can’t come through with fists and feet and he doesn’t dare try to fly. His powers have faded away and he doesn’t know what to do next. He’s lost his “job,” his identity and he’s not yet ready to be normal and ordinary.

Nowadays, Bob (Josiah Polhemus) stays home drinking, or he wanders the streets aimlessly while his girlfriend Mimi (Amy Prosser) is at her office. (While Bob has lost his dream job, we learn that Mimi never achieved hers, even though she seems to be doing okay financially – she has a house and all in beautiful and super-expensive SAN FRANCISCO! She had always wanted to live and work in Rome, but she never made the leap.)

Real-life couple Josiah Polhemus and Amy Prosser play former superhero Captain Truth and his girlfriend Mimi in the film Superpowerless.

Real-life couple Josiah Polhemus and Amy Prosser play former superhero Captain Truth and his girlfriend Mimi in the film Superpowerless.

One of the things that struck me about Mimi is. . .to put it bluntly, she is a bit wrinkly. She was Bob’s childhood sweetheart and therefore, they are more or less the same age. This should not be remarkable in any way, yet it is, because men in Hollywood films are so often paired with women young enough to be their daughters.

When Bob learns that Liberty Boy has published a book he considers doing the same and starts dictating his thoughts. His description of how he discovered that he could fly, and how much he misses doing it, is fascinating and touching. You might wish that you could fly, too.

H.P. Mendoza plays Liberty Boy, former sidekick to superhero Captain Truth, in the film Superpowerless.

H.P. Mendoza plays Liberty Boy, former sidekick to superhero Captain Truth, in the film Superpowerless.

Speaking of women young enough to be a daughter – Bob gets in touch with a young and toothy potential editor who spells her name Danniell (Natalie Lander). He foolishly tells Mimi that this editor is a guy, named Daniel. Of course, we can guess that this will lead to problems later. It’s a situation older than TV sitcoms like I Love Lucy.

Because Bob does a lot of walking we are treated to views of many parts of San Francisco. Never mind superheroes, even ordinary citizens must be very fit to handle all those hills! There’s an interlude with a guy who makes bird houses and a car trip to Bob’s childhood neighbourhood in Palo Alto. When he’s walking, Bob often hides his face under a hoodie – this made me think of characters in the video game Assassins Creed. (Coincidentally, Assassins Creed is made by Ubisoft, which was a Fantasia sponsor for many years. We used to see ads with faces hidden under hoods before almost every film.)

After reading the synopsis for Superpowerless, I mistakenly expected a comedy, satire, or even a farce. In the end, I was happy enough with a film that’s relatively serious, with occasional comic moments.

Something I noticed while reading the credits: Actor Josiah Polhemus did the paintings that hang in Bob and Mimi’s home. He’s a multi-talented guy!

Superpowerless (2016)
80 minutes
Director: Duane Andersen
Writers: Duane Andersen, Dominic Mah
Stars: Josiah Polhemus, Amy Prosser, Natalie Lander, Guinevere Turner, Pepe Serna, H.P. Mendoza, Warren Serkin

Fantasia 2016: I saw Yoga Hosers and Kevin Smith and I’m very glad I did!

Harley Quinn Smith, left, and Lily-Rose Melody Depp give a decent rendition of O Canada during the closing credits of Kevin Smith's film Yoga Hosers. Depp even sings some of the French verses.

Harley Quinn Smith, left, and Lily-Rose Melody Depp give a decent rendition of O Canada during the closing credits of Kevin Smith’s film Yoga Hosers. Depp even sings some of the French verses.

I can’t imagine a better place to see Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers than at the Fantasia International Film Festival. The audience is famous for being warm, welcoming and enthusiastic. And to have Smith himself introduce his film and answer questions later. . .bonus!

I swear, he talked for ONE HOUR before the film even started. I was sitting down (he wasn’t!) and his talk was interesting, so I didn’t mind. After the film, almost everyone in the room stayed for the entire Q&A, even though the metro would close before he stopped talking. We’d figure out how to get home later.

If the critics who did not enjoy Yoga Hosers could have seen it with us…maybe they would have had a different reaction.

Smith told us that he had written the film with teenage girls in mind, after his wife had pointed out that he was taking their daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, to a lot of films about male superheroes. “BatMAN, SuperMAN, IronMAN, do you see a pattern here?” she had asked him. So he made a film about girls hanging out together, playing with their phones, and fighting evil.

Smith is famously fond of our country. Why is that? Well. . . His parents went to Niagara Falls, and then to Montreal, on their honeymoon, and after they had children, they took them to those cities, too. And then there’s hockey, and SCTV, and the DeGrassi TV series. Smith went to film school in Vancouver and met his good friend Scott A. Mosier there. This friendship was foretold by an Indian fakir, no less. (“You will meet someone with the initials S.A.M.”)

Smith said that when the Internet became available to one and all, he thought “Oh, good, now I can learn more about Canada!” He hopes to have dual citizenship one day. He would probably pass the exam easily enough! Daughter Harley came to the screening with him. She likes Montreal; he told her that’s good because “we might be moving here.” (You know, depending how the presidential elections go.)

What about the movie, Yoga Hosers? Of course it’s silly, but it was better than I expected. Harley Quinn Smith plays Colleen McKenzie, and her good friend Lily-Rose Melody Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, plays Colleen Collette. People call them Colleen M and Colleen C. (Or Colleen Squared.) I assume that the McKenzie name is a tribute to hoser brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie from SCTV. The two Colleens work in a Winnipeg convenience store (or dep, as we’d say here in Montreal) owned by Colleen C’s father.

The store has lots of maple syrup in stock, and even sells frozen poutine. As often as possible, the two Colleens head to the back to practice their singing. This inadvertently leads to the appearance of tiny men, made of bratwurst, wearing red jackets and Kaiser Wilhelm-type pointy helmets, who start killing people.

The two Colleens go to Terry Fox Preparatory School(!) Their history teacher, played by Vanessa Paradis, talks about Nazi sympathizers in Canada during World War II. Some U.S. or U.K. reviewers might not have grasped that that part of the story was not fictional at all. Sadly. (This might seem like a weird thing to mention, or even notice, in a film with bratwurst Nazis, but it seemed strange to me that Paradis, as the teacher, could wear skinny jeans at school while her students had to wear school uniforms. Also, we don’t do that junior, senior, sophomore stuff here in Canada. Whatever, though.)

Colleen M (Harley Quinn Smith) left, Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) centre, and Colleen C are held prisoner in a secret, underground lair in Kevin Smith's film Yoga Hosers.

Colleen M (Harley Quinn Smith) left, Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) centre, and Colleen C are held prisoner in a secret, underground lair in Kevin Smith’s film Yoga Hosers.

Johnny Depp plays a Montreal detective named Guy Lapointe. He’s got bushy eyebrows and wears a beret. (Depp told Smith that he could do a very good Québécois accent, because of the time that he’s spent here in Montreal, but if Smith preferred a bad one, he could do that, too. “Dial it down to stupid,” Smith told him.

The yoga part of Yoga Hosers? The girls take a yoga class with Yogi Bayer (Justin Long). The moves he teaches them come in very handy when they have to defend themselves from murderous satanists, not to mention the Goalie Golem!

Yoga Hosers and Kevin Smith got lots of applause and a standing ovation from the Fantasia crowd. The introduction, the film itself and the post-film Q&A, took about 3.5 hours. Time well spent; I have no regrets!

During the Q&A, there was a heart-warming moment when a man in the audience said that he had met Smith last year at Comic-Con and the encouragement he got from Smith then  had led him to write his first feature film.

Yoga Hosers, written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Ralph Garman, Stan Lee.

Los Angeles stands in for Winnipeg.

Yoga Hosers was seen at a sold-out screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal on Friday, July 29, 2016.

Fantasia 2016: Check out the manga film Bakuman on Saturday – you won’t be sorry!

In the film Bakuman, Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) play high-school students who want to get their manga into the magazine Shonen Jump.

In the film Bakuman, Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) play high-school students who want to get their manga into the magazine Shonen Jump.

I enjoyed Bakuman (バクマン。) very much. This Japanese film about breaking into the manga world has a good story, sympathetic characters, appealing actors, and lots of laughs. There are some lessons in friendship, co-operation and work/life balance, too, if you care to notice them; they didn’t seem heavy-handed to me, but feel free to ignore them if you’d rather.

And for the squeamish among you, no one gets any fingers cut off, either.

High-school students Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki), try to create a manga AND have it accepted by the prestigious weekly magazine Shonen Jump. They aim high, these guys! Moritaka will draw and Akito will create the storyline.

There are multiple motives, including pride, the spirit of competition, money, and a desire for a future as someone other than an office drone. Moritaka’s main reason is to impress fellow student Miho (Nana Komatsu). He spends most of his class time sketching her surreptitiously. But the pure joy of creation is a very big part of it, too, and that’s a big part of the film’s appeal for me.

Moritaka can draw very well, but he must learn some new techniques, with pens and brushes, to make a manga. We learn these techniques along with him, and hear the scritch, scritch, scritch of his pen quite clearly. He already has a big advantage, since he spent many of his childhood years in the studio of his late uncle, who was a famous manga artist. In fact, that studio is still available for him to work in. (I didn’t quite grasp why that room had been left unused all that time. But never mind!)

The visuals in Bakuman are great. Facts about manga scroll across the screen; sometimes it’s like we’re inside a drawing, other times the characters are fighting like martial artists, with giant pens and brushes as their weapons. The newsroom of Shonen Jump is a sight to behold – it’s huge with lots of art on the walls and enormous piles of paper everywhere. Is that the real office, or a set? I won’t stop writing to find out right now, but I’m mighty curious! If it’s a set, what a job it must have been to create it. Fun, too, I imagine. (UPDATE: It is a set, but it does look like the Shonen Jump office.)

Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wield their drawing instruments like weapons in Bakuman, a film about the world of manga.

Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wield their drawing instruments like weapons in Bakuman, a film about the world of manga.

Takayuki Yamada plays Akira Hattori, the editor our guys meet when they visit Shonen Jump. His character is rather scruffy and subdued, but he’s impressed by their work and he offers solid support and advice.

Lily Franky plays an editor-in-chief who seems very mean at best and downright sinister at other times. Since I’ve seen him play gangsters and psychopaths in other films, the sinister part might just be in my own head.

Shota Sometani, who seems to be in half the films coming out of Japan these days, plays Eiji Niizuma, a rival manga artist, who is also still in high school. He dresses in all in black and scuttles around in a crab-like manner that recalls assorted horror movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. He’s already ruined his body by spending so many hours scrunched over his drawings.

This film about manga artists is based on a manga itself. (Of course it is!) I can’t claim to know much about manga myself, but viewers who do will likely pick up lots of references and enjoy many inside jokes. Maybe they could share them with me!

Takeru Satoh was the star of the wonderful film If Cats Disappeared From the World, which had a sold-out screening at Fantasia this year. He was also the star of the live-action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. Ryunosuke Kamiki was in two of the Rurouni Kenshin films, and in two other films in this year’s Fantasia selection, As the Gods Will, and Too Young To Die. He was in Poison Berry in My Brain, a hit at Fantasia 2015.

Bakuman
Directed by: Hitoshi One
Written by: Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Cast: Takeru Satoh, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Takayuki Yamada, Nana Komatsu
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 120 min.
Distributor: Toho

You can see Bakuman as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, at 6:40 p.m. Saturday, July 30, 2016, at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W. Fantasia runs until Aug. 3, 2016.

Fantasia 2016 presents TWO Zappin’ Parties from DJ XL5!

DJ XL5's Vibraslap Zappin' Party at the Fantasia International Film Festival will include four episodes of festival favourite Simon's Cat. That Zappin Party happens at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

DJ XL5’s Vibraslap Zappin’ Party at the Fantasia International Film Festival will include four episodes of festival favourite Simon’s Cat. That Zappin Party happens at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

What’s a Zappin’ Party? It’s a Fantasia International Film Festival tradition that Montrealers should check out at least once, especially they are already fans of the festival.

The party takes place in a cinema, and laughs, weirdness and lots of variety are guaranteed.

For DJ XL5’s Vibraslap Zappin’ Party, at 10 p.m., on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, “DJ XL5 has selected 20 intriguing items and slipped them in amid a mix of old TV ads, film snippets and bursts of static, to simulate a productive evening of channel surfing with the gang at home.”

The characters Cowboy, Indian and Cheval from the animated epic Panique Au Village / A Town Called Panic appear in La rentrée des classes, which won the Jury Prize for a TV Special at the Festival international du film d'animation d'Annecy in June

The characters Cowboy, Indian and Cheval from the animated epic Panique Au Village / A Town Called Panic appear in La rentrée des classes, which won the Jury Prize for a TV Special at the Festival international du film d’animation d’Annecy in June.

Those 20 items will include four episodes of Fantasia favourite Simon’s Cat and five pieces from Lee Hardcasle, a master of claymation horror. (Seriously!) The characters Cowboy, Indian and Cheval from the animated Belgian epic Panique Au Village / A Town Called Panic return for La rentrée des classes, which won the Jury Prize for a TV Special at the Festival international du film d’animation d’Annecy in June. Read more about DJ XL5’s Vibraslap Zappin’ Party on the Fantasia web site.

Very important info: “DJ XL5 is the only Fantasia programmer who gets thing started 20 minutes ahead of showtime. Wild trailers and musical oddities await those wise enough to arrive early!”

The second installment, DJ XL5’s Mondo Superhero Zappin’ Party, at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, will look at superheros from the 1940s until the present. Not just American ones either; these crime fighting men and women are from Spain, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey. The Fantasia catalogue says “Expect lousy fight choreography, ill-fitting costumes, dollar-store masks and similar cinematic stumbles and bungles. Arrive early — surprise screenings await the first folks in the room!”

Read more about DJ XL5’s Mondo Superhero Zappin’ Party on the Fantasia web site. The Fantasia International Film Festival continues until Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

BTW: I’ve heard that the Fantasia tradition of meowing when the lights go down was started by fans of Simon’s Cat.

Fantasia 2016 Review: If Cats Disappeared From the World

Aw, can't you just imagine that soft fur against your face? Takeru Satoh is the main human star of the Japanese film If Cats Disappeared From the World.

Aw, can’t you just imagine that soft fur against your face? Takeru Satoh is the main human star of the Japanese film If Cats Disappeared From the World.

If Cats Disappeared from the World? Noooo! That’s a very distressing thought! But the Japanese film that carries that title is nothing short of magical. Everything works.

The script is based on a best selling book, Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara by Genki Kawamura. Takeru Satoh, the star of the live action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, is excellent as the main character. He’s a handsome guy with big eyes, but I bet some special lighting was used to make him look extra luminous here.

Satoh plays a 30-year-old postman (he’s really 27 and he looks younger) who has been living from one day to the next without thinking too much about the future. After a tumble from his bicycle, his doctor tells him that he has an inoperable brain tumour and he could die any day. Then a guy who isn’t Death, but might be the Devil, shows up and tells the postman that he will die tomorrow, unless he’s interested in a deal. No contracts signed in blood or anything like that, though. Every day from now on the Devil will make some useless thing (in his cranky opinion) totally vanish from this world – how about starting with telephones? – and as long as the postman agrees, he can have one more day of life.

Don’t worry if that sounds weird, silly or stupid, it’s just a way to show us flashbacks and to get the postman and the audience thinking about memories, the things that are truly important to us, the totally random way we might have met someone who became a lifelong friend, and how much films, (and cats!) enrich our lives.

In the film If Cats Disappeared From the World, the postman (Takeru Satoh) and his girlfriend (Aoi Miyazaki) would talk on the phone so late into the night that when they went out on dates they were too tired to stay awake.

In the film If Cats Disappeared From the World, the postman (Takeru Satoh) and his girlfriend (Aoi Miyazaki) would talk to each other on the phone so late into the night that when they went out on dates together they couldn’t stay awake.

Most of the film was shot in the hilly port city of Hakodate, in Hokkaido, but there is also a bright, sunny interlude in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a visit to the magnificent Iguazu Falls. And several cute kittens. There’s a scene early in the film where the postman is riding his bicycle while the kitty sits in the bike’s retro straw basket, looking adorable as all get out. Just about everyone in the cinema said “Awwwwww!”

If Cats Disappeared from the World could easily have turned out corny, or sickeningly sweet, but no one made a misstep. We were promised tears but I managed to hold mine in, just barely.The one and only screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal was sold out and everyone there applauded heartily when the film was over. A few sniffles were heard. If you get a chance to see If Cats Disappeared from the World you should leap at it, and grab it with your paws and claws!

If Cats Disappeared from the World, directed by Akira Nagai, written by Genki Kawamura.
With Takeru Satoh, Aoi Miyazaki, Gaku Hamada, Eiji Okuda and Mieko Harada.

BTW: Takeru Satoh can also be seen in Bakuman, a film about two high school students (told you he looked young!) who write a manga. It’s very entertaining. You can watch Bakuman at Fantasia at 6:40 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, 2016 in the Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Read more about Bakuman on the Fantasia web site. Fantasia continues until Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

Fantasia 2016 Review: Seoul Station

Arriving soon on a track near you - zombies! An image from the Korean animated film Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is being presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Arriving soon on a track near you – zombies! An image from the Korean animated film Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is being presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Want some social commentary with your zombies? Anyone who’s seen Yeon Sang-ho’s earlier, animated films The King of Pigs and The Fake would be expecting as much.

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to the live-action feature Train to Busan. (Zombies are notably slow-moving, so I guess that’s why they need a train!) Both films are on the menu at the Fantasia International Film Festival and both feature hungry zombies.

Before those zombies show their scary faces we see how quickly bystanders lose their sympathy for a sick, elderly man when they realize that he’s “just a homeless.”

I’m willing to bet that “a homeless” is not sloppy subtitling, but a way to indicate that the more fortunate citizens see the man in question as just a smelly problem, and not a fellow human being. He is defined by his status alone, and has no other identity for them. His work, back when he still had some, would have helped to make Korea the successful country that it is today, and since military service is compulsory for all able-bodied men, he served his country that way, too. Now he’s just one of the many people, mostly men, who spend their days hanging around Seoul station, where the train and subway lines meet, and sleep there at night.

Despite being in the same predicament, there’s no unity among the station dwellers – they only seem to care about people who come from the same part of the city or the country that they do. In this, they are just like the more prosperous citizens, who like to deal with people from their own home towns, from their universities, etc.

The old guy is slow-moving, weak and sweaty. It is obviously a hot day, but maybe he’s suffering from something more than the heat? His younger friend struggles mightily to get help for him, but nobody cares. When the friend can’t find the old guy where he left him, he searches all over until he discovers that the old guy has become Zombie No. 1. (Or is that Zombie 0?)

At the same time, runaway Hae-sun and her boyfriend Ki-woong are way behind on their rent and facing eviction. Rather than look for a job himself, he’s hanging out at an Internet café, playing games and creating an online escort ad so he can pimp out Hae-sun. She says she’s not having any of that and stomps off. As a newly homeless person, she might have to join the others at Seoul station. There aren’t enough shelters to meet the need, so the authorities let the homeless sleep in the station if they stay quiet.

Hae-sun’s tough-guy father sees the ad, tracks down Ki-woong and they try to find his “little girl” while keeping one step ahead of the zombies.

The police and the military are called out, but they’re worse than useless because they haven’t got a clue about who’s really dangerous and who needs their protection. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Montrealers can see Seoul Station at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The film’s live-action sequel Train to Busan, will be shown at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, also at the Hall Theatre.
The first Fantasia screening, on Thursday, July 21, was sold out.

Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, with the voices of Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung and Lee Joon, is 92 minutes long, in Korean with English subtitles.

Fantasia 2016 Review: The Bacchus Lady (죽여주는 여자)

So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) takes her friends on a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone in this scene from the Korean film The Bacchus Lady.

So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) takes her friends on a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone in this scene from the Korean film The Bacchus Lady.

Bacchus is a Korean drink, originally sold as a general health tonic, but now marketed as an energy drink much like Red Bull or Guru.

So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) the 65-year-old Bacchus Lady of the title, sells the drink to men who gather in Seoul’s parks. If they want sexual services, too, she takes them to a by-the-hour hotel close by. Many of her customers are long-time regulars, friends, really, and want conversation and a cuddle more than sex.

So-young does this work out of economic necessity. There’s no social safety net for her. She doesn’t have a family to help her, she doesn’t have a state pension, nor a company pension. (While she had been a prostitute before, on a U.S. army base, she had also worked in a factory.) The job market is tough for everyone, of all ages, and it seems that the only other work she could get is picking up cardboard for recycling. One woman who is seen doing that work looks very old and very frail. In a better world she would be at home drinking tea with her feet up.

So-young’s life is really hard, but she carries on, as she always has done. The friendship of her landlady and one of the neighbours helps; they are the closest thing she has to family. They share laughs, drinks and some happy times. Her customers seem less resilient, even though they are better off financially. One could assume that these widowers were pampered by their wives all their lives; now they are bored, lonely and don’t know how to look after themselves. In past times, these men could expect to live out their days in the home of their eldest sons, but things have changed and parents and grandparents are no longer given the respect and deference they once had. The children and grandchildren move to other cities, even other countries, to further their careers and they leave their elders behind, seemingly without a thought.

When some of these men can no longer bear to live in this new world, they ask So-young to help them leave it, and this begins another chapter in her life.

The film also looks at other marginalized people in a way that seems relatively natural and uncontrived. So-young’s landlady is a transgender woman and her neighbour is a guy with a prosthetic leg. So-young gives shelter to a young boy who’s half-Filipino, half Korean. Through her efforts to help him, we learn that mixed-race children face discrimination in Korea and their non-Korean mothers are often exploited and unaware of their rights.
The Bacchus Lady is fiction but it is based on reality. Reaction to the film will vary from viewer to viewer but I see it as an excellent argument for better social services and an unconditional basic income for everyone. Basic Income Canada Network and Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) are two websites with articles about that concept.

The Bacchus Lady (죽여주는 여자)
Written and directed by E J-yong
Cast: Youn Yuh-jung, Chon Moo-song, Yoon Kye-sang, An A-zu, Choi Hyun-jun

In Korean with English subtitles, 110 minutes long.

Montrealers can see The Bacchus Lady on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 7:25 p.m., at the J.A. De Seve Theatre of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Visit the Fantasia International Film Festival web site for more information.