Cinémathèque Québécoise

Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of animated film Fox Fears

In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can't keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother's clogs.

In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can’t keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother’s clogs.

The mystery of the night, primordial fears, the power of a mother’s love – those are some of the ingredients in Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
a lovely short animated short from Japan. (Nothing to do with the nefarious U.S. TV network!) Director Miyo Sato made Fox Fears using sand and paint on glass.

The story begins the way a low-key horror film might. A young boy named Bunroku narrates the story. Under a bright moon, he was walking to a night festival with his friends, but he couldn’t keep up with them because he was wearing his mother’s clogs. (Not the right size, I guess. What happened to his own shoes? Too small? They broke?)

He and his friends stop at a clog shop so he can buy new ones. While they are in there, we hear distant music from the festival – flutes and drums. One flute sounded a bit like a wolf’s howl, to me. After the boy makes his purchase, a mysterious old woman appears and tells them that buying clogs after dark means you will turn into a fox. Don’t they know that? “Lies!” they shout, and head off to the festival, with its lanterns, banners, floats and music. (I would have liked to spend a few more seconds at this festival!)

Bunroku tells us that his friends would always see him safely home, and yet somehow this night, they do not. He imagines foxes and their shadows stalking him all the long, long way home. Once he gets there (guess that’s a spoiler, sorry!) he tells his mother what happened and she reassures him there’s nothing to worry about. She uses the word “lies,” as well. Maybe superstition is too big a word and too big a concept for a little kid. Not to mention folklore or mythology.

But Bunroku needs further reassurance. “But what if I DID turn into a fox?” His mother has an answer to that. He has more complicated questions and she has more detailed answers. I won’t spoil all that for you. One of the imagined scenarios is tragic and might bring the susceptible to tears.

Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.

Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.

Even thought they are having a theoretical, late-night, drowsy chat about shapeshifting, it is very clear that Bunroku’s mother would do anything and everything to keep him safe. That’s what good mothers everywhere do. It’s quite an amazing thing!

References and my reactions: It is possible that I am seeing things in Fox Fears that director Miyo Sato did not intend. Who knows, really. But, one way or the other, those things added to my enjoyment of the film.

Fox Fears has a dreamy, timeless quality. I don’t remember seeing any cars, buses, trucks, cellphones. If not for a light bulb seen at Bunroku’s home, and the Western clothes on some characters, the story could have taken place hundreds of years ago.

I find it cute that he’s wearing his mother shoes. I used to wear my mother’s boots when I was quite young (I had big feet!) That made me feel closer to her, not to mention that her boots were prettier and more stylish than mine.

The clog shop looks isolated, on the edge of the forest. That reminded me of so many films, Japanese ones in particular, where magical (and/or evil) places only exist at night. In the light of day, there is nothing there at all. Or just some ruins. The people who seem to live in those places are really ghosts or demons. Eat or drink what they give you and you will be under their power forever. Does that clog shop even exist in the day time?

A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.

A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.

Foxes and fox spirits figure in Japanese folklore and films; I’ve read some of those stories and seen some of those films. They appear in Chinese and Korean tales and films too, though the details vary.

I saw Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki) at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation de Montréal 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
Animation (PG)
Director: Miyo Satori
Length: 7 min., 38 sec
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Completed date: 2015

 

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Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of the documentary Oscar

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

In the 12-minute NFB/ONF documentary Oscar, filmmaker Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre uses animated sequences, archival footage, photos, news clippings and other documents, radio and TV interviews with Montreal-born jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to chart his career and to depict the loneliness of life on the road and the toll it takes on a marriage, on the relationship between a father and his children and on musical performance, too. (Peterson was only 19 when he married for the first time. He tells an unseen interviewer that he should have waited until he was at least 40.)

A telegram reads: “I miss you Daddy. When are you coming home?” We also see a divorce document – genuine or recreated, I don’t know – that lists the respective parties as “Oscar Peterson” and “Mrs. Peterson.” That’s how it was in those days, married women didn’t even have a name of their own. More cringe inducing is a radio segment from 1944 in which announcer Jeff Davis calls 18-year-old Peterson a “coloured boy with amazing fingers.”

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal's Alberta Lounge.

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal’s Alberta Lounge.

In addition to talk about the hardships of touring, we see daytime and night-time photos of Montreal back in the 1940s, are reminded how popular our city was with U.S. tourists, and revisit the tale of how U.S. impresario Norman Granz was riding in a Montreal taxi when he heard Peterson on a live radio broadcast from the Alberta Lounge. Granz instructed the driver to take him there right away.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

In the next sequence, Granz has taken Peterson to Carnegie Hall, where he plays on a bill that includes Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. (Granz was Peterson’s manager for most of his life; a New York Times obituary for Granz says that Peterson named one of his sons after him. Google tells me that late in life Peterson had a daughter named Celine. Was she named for our national songbird? Anybody know?)

An animated depiction of CBC radio host Peter Gzowski is astounded when Peterson tells him that he thinks ahead while he’s playing, or more precisely, that he plays behind his thinking.

Needless to say, Oscar contains lots of Peterson’s music, too, a bonus for old fans and newly created ones.

Oscar is part of a three-film selection called Animating Reality 1: Familiar Faces, that will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., as part of the Sommets du cinéma d’animation film festival, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise, 335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.

NOTE: Casino, a 4-minute film by Montreal director Steven Woloshen, uses music by Oscar Peterson. Casino is among the films in the International Competition – Programme 3, that will be shown at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., at the Sommets du cinéma d’animation.

 

Sommets du cinema d’animation: ‘If you scan an octopus, be sure you really clean your scanner well afterwards’

joan-gratz-blue-clay

You don’t hear about scanning tentacles everyday; neither do you get to talk to an Oscar winner. But some of us did both yesterday (Friday, Nov. 25, 2016) when filmmaker Joan Gratz gave a master class at the Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation here in Montreal. We learned a lot and laughed a lot, too.

Gratz’s Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase won Best Animated Short at the 65th Annual Academy Awards in 1993. (Snow White announced the award. Seriously! Gratz did not mention this herself, but I saw it on YouTube.)

I had seen it before, but did not realize that she had created the images with clay. Gratz explained how she does that, and showed us many of her other films, including Kubla Khan, Puffer Girl, and Pro and Con.

An image from the animated film Puffer Girl, by Joan Gratz.

 

Animator Joan Gratz has written and illustrated books, too.

Meanwhile, you can see her latest film Primal Flux, as part of the International Competition 3 selection, at Sommets du cinéma d’animation, on Saturday Nov. 26 at 5p.m. and Sunday Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. Both screenings will be in the Salle Principale of the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Cinémathèque Québecoise
335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Montréal, Québec, H2X 1K1
Berri-UQAM Metro

There’s lots to see and do at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation in Montreal

A frame from Diane Obamsawin's film Here and There. Is Obamsawin a Habs fan?

A frame from Diane Obamsawin’s film Here and There. Is Obamsawin a Habs fan?

The 15th edition of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, at the Cinémathèque québécoise, will squeeze many activities into a mere five days.
The film festival’s schedule includes short and feature-length animated films from around the world, master classes, and a free stop-motion workshop for children (I’m jealous!).

Canada’s venerable nation Film Board (NFB/ONF) is well represented and there are competitions for student films, from Montreal, Quebec, elsewhere in Canada and abroad.

Admission to the films: $10 for adults, $9 for students, seniors and those 4-16 years old.

At Les Sommets du cinema dÕanimation, filmmaker Joan Gratz will demonstrate her signature technique, claypainting.

At Les Sommets du cinema dÕanimation, filmmaker Joan Gratz will demonstrate her signature technique, claypainting.

Among the other presentations: Finding Work in the Animation Industry; The secrets behind virtual monsters and creatures; Money and Eyeballs (How to get funding and exposure for your films); Round table discussion (How do journalists and critics work in a community as tight-knit as animation?); A Near-Perfect History of Animation. The Animation lecture cost $9, but the other events listed above are free.
There are two master classes: A 90-minute Master Class with Joan Gratz, who “will present her films and reveal the secrets behind her signature technique, claypainting” is free.

A frame from Diane Obamsawin's film I Like Girls. Mathilde, right, says that her first girlfriend was "half horse, half Wonder Woman."

A frame from Diane Obamsawin’s film I Like Girls. Mathilde, right, says that her first girlfriend was “half horse, half Wonder Woman.”

A ticket for a five-hour Master Class with Diane Obomsawin is $9.

Visit the web page of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation here.

The catalogue of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation is here, in PDF form.

Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, Nov. 23 to 27, 2016

Cinémathèque québécoise
335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Montréal, Québec, H2X 1K1
Berri-UQAM Metro

See two classic Hong Kong gangster films Saturday night!

Tony Leung Chiu Wai, left, and Lau Ching Wan are the stars of the Hong Kong film The Longest Nite.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai, left, and Lau Ching Wan are the stars of the Hong Kong film The Longest Nite.

Lucky Montrealers can see a double bill of classic Hong Kong gangster films for a mere $10 tonight, Saturday, April 30, 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. That’s two for the price of one. (And these are indeed 35 mm films, not DVD projections.)

Too Many Ways To Be No. 1, from 1997, and The Longest Nite, from 1998, were shown in Montreal in the early days of the Fantasia International Film Festival, so tonight’s screenings will have an added nostalgia value for people who saw the films back then.

The very black comedy Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 is set in the months before Britain returned Hong Kong to China. Tense times! Petty criminal Kau, 32, hasn’t got very far in life and he’s contemplating his future. He’s wondering – should he accept a job taking stolen cars to the Chinese mainland, or not?

The film shows what would happen if he did; then shows a scenario in Taiwan that could only happen if he refused the mainland job. These crooks are not the cool, suave, well-dressed types one sees in many gangsters films – they’re loud, clumsy and clueless. Camera work is unusual, with one scene shot upside down and another that takes place in total darkness apart from the flashes coming from guns.
Rob Larsen at drunkenfist.com says: “Far-removed from the slick, attractive style that is the stereotype of a Triad picture, Too Many Ways feels like it was shot by the love child of Samuel Beckett and Ringo Lam with a script provided by David Lynch.”

Shelly Kraicer says: “A gangster film, brilliantly written and photographed. . . it’s provocative and amusing at the same time (and manages to make the ‘experimentation’ of Pulp Fiction look like child’s play). Amazing camera work (hyper-actively circling, inverted and distorted, with a daringly warped colour scheme). . . The tone flips constantly: expect something hilariously violent/satirical/absurdist. . . I can’t recommend it highly enough: take a chance and see it, if you want something both entertaining and a bit challenging.”

Kau is played by Lau Ching Wan, other actors include Francis Ng, Cheung Tat Ming, Carman Lee, Elvis Tsui and Matt Chow.

Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 is from Johnnie To’s Milky Way Image Company and directed by Wai Ka-fai. It’s 90 minutes long, with Cantonese and Mandarin dialogue and English subtitles.

I might also point out that Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 seems to be out of print, so this is a rare chance to see it. In fact, people are asking for $2,143. to $3,062 for a DVD via amazon.ca. Ha! As if!

A person would have to be a VERY big fan to pay more than $2,000 for a DVD.

A person would have to be a VERY big fan to pay more than $2,000 for a DVD, don’t you think?

Lau Ching Wan is also in The Longest Nite, along with Tony Leung Chiu Wai. The film is set in Macao; Tony Leung plays a very crooked, very violent policeman who works for gangsters and Lau plays a burly, mysterious stranger whose shaved head makes him look extra scary. Unlike Too Many Ways To Be No. 1, there’s nothing funny about The Longest Nite.
James Mudge of Beyond Hollywood says: “This is a bleak, nihilistic and brutal thriller which pulls no punches and whose complex plot shows an intelligence that is both ruthless and vicious. . . With its myriad twists and turns, the plot of “The Longest Nite” rivals “The Usual Suspects” in terms of intricacy. . .two rival gangs are attempting to negotiate a truce and join forces before the impending return of another, legendary gang boss. . . one of the gang leaders, Lung, learns that a contract has been taken out on his life, supposedly by Brother K, the other boss. Brother K denies this, and sends Sam (Tony Leung), a dirty cop who works for him, to investigate. . . it appears that there may be even more to the assassination plot than the simple killing of Lung.”

“The plot twists are quite unpredictable, and the tension gradually builds as the viewer is given often misleading hints as to where the story is going, rather than being force fed details via needless exposition. . . “The Longest Nite” is a classic Hong Kong thriller. . .A cunning film that is as cerebral as it is exciting and violent, this is a film all fans of Asian cinema should see.”

The Longest Nite is directed by Patrick Yau and Johnnie To, it’s 81 minutes long, in Cantonese with English subtitles.

Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 and The Longest Nite, 7 p.m., Saturday, April 30, 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E., Montreal, Quebec H2X 1K1, across from the Berri-UQAM metro. Visit the Facebook page for more info.

See Guy Maddin’s surreal documentary film My Winnipeg, Saturday afternoon at the Cinémathèque Québécoise

Guy Maddin's film My Winnipeg includes a surreal story about racehorses who were trapped in a river when they fled a fire in stable. The horses remained there, frozen in place, until spring arrived. The frozen horses even became a local tourist attraction!

Guy Maddin’s film My Winnipeg includes a weird tale about racehorses who were trapped in a river when they fled a stable fire. The horses remained there, frozen in place, until spring arrived. The frozen horses even became a local tourist attraction!

Montrealers! You can experience the wonderful film My Winnipeg this afternoon, for the first time or as a repeat visit, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. And I strongly suggest that you do just that!

With My Winnipeg, director Guy Maddin made something that’s both very intriguing and very hard to classify. That’s par for the course with Maddin, though. (The first Maddin film I saw was Tales of the Gimli Hospital. So strange! I did not write about it at the time. Maybe some day.)

My Winnipeg combines elements of history, myth, fantasy, personal memoir and docu-drama. Even with that description, I’m probably leaving many things out, since it’s been a few years since I saw this 2007 film. Watching it was like being a guest in someone else’s fascinating, foggy dream. It was mesmerizing and occasionally hilarious, though Maddins delivery remains deadpan throughout.

Among the things I remember: Maddin talks about insomnia, his childhood home, a large network of secret alleyways that covers the city, without appearing on any maps, the brutally cold winter that saw race horses fleeing a burning barn only to die in the river, where they remained, frozen stiff, until spring came. Walking onto the ice to “visit” the horses became a popular thing to do.

Winnipeg is the capitol of Manitoba; Maddin takes us to the provincial legislature where he talks about Freemasons and examines the alleged symbolism and significance of the building’s architectural elements and the statue of the Golden Boy on the building’s dome.

In scenes set in Maddin’s childhood home (over a beauty parlour) elderly U.S. actress Ann Savage portrays his mother. Many early viewers thought that she WAS his mother. I believe that she won an award or two for her work. (I’ll try to verify that.)

Other things I remember: An old-fashioned looking map (like something from a film or TV show made back in the 1950s) showing Winnipeg as the centre of the world with various lines converging there, a visit with an astronomer, some kind of Nazi parade during World War II (it was part of a civil defence exercise, in case Canada was invaded by Germany).

My Winnipeg is a treat and it’s made by a Canadian, too. What’s not to like?

(Disclaimer: In the interest of speed, I have written this post based entirely on my memory of the film – except for the part about when it will be shown, the address of the Cinémathèque Québecoise, etc. After posting I’ll do some research and modify this post if necessary. And I’ll add some quotes from favourable reviews. I know they won’t be hard to find, because I’ve read them before.)

I’m back, with some review snippets. My Winnipeg has 119 reviews on imdb.com, though sadly, many of the links are broken, including the one to the review written by Al Kratina, my blogleague at the Montreal Gazette’s Cine Files. Tsk! Technology is not always our friend.

Esteemed film critic Roger Ebert liked My Winnipeg a lot. Here are some excerpts from his review: “If you love movies in the very sinews of your imagination, you should experience the work of Guy Maddin. . . If you hear of one opening, seize the day. Or search where obscure films can be found. You will be plunged into the mind of a man who thinks in the images of old silent films, disreputable documentaries, movies that never were, from eras beyond comprehension. His imagination frees the lurid possibilities of the banal. He rewrites history; when that fails, he creates it.”

“(1) Shot for shot, Maddin can be as surprising and delightful as any filmmaker has ever been, and (2) he is an acquired taste, but please, sir, may I have some more?”

Mark Kermode of The Observer says: “Fans of early David Lynch will find a kindred spirit in Maddin’s surreal monochrome vision, while his infatuation with the archaic mechanics of early cinema yields peculiarly modern dividends.”

“The narrative tone is sonorously ‘factual’, yet how much of this alternative history should we believe? . . .Is there really a surreptitious taxi trade serving backroads and alleyways that do not appear on any maps, crisscrossing the city over a maze of hidden rivers through which the true blood of the locals flows?”

Kermode’s final verdict? My Winnipeg is “poignant, truthful and hilarious.”

A.O. Scott of the New York Times says:  “After seeing “My Winnipeg,” Guy Maddin’s odd and touching tribute to his hometown, I was tempted to do some further research.”

But . . .”Fact-checking “My Winnipeg” would be absurd, since the film, which combines archival documentary images with freshly shot, antique-looking passages, is more concerned with lyrical truth than with literal accuracy. And even though I suspect that some of its more outlandish assertions are at least partly grounded in fact, Mr. Maddin is engaged less in historical inquiry than in hallucinatory autobiography, ruminating on the deep and accidental relationship between a specific place and an individual life.”

As “My Winnipeg” conjures it, the bond between city and filmmaker is ambivalent and reciprocal. Much as he may dream of taking that one-way rail journey to somewhere else, Mr. Maddin can no more spurn Winnipeg than it can disown him.”

“. . . unleashing his eye and imagination on the prosaic, sad reality of an ordinary North American town, he proposes an alternative account that is mysterious, heroic and tragic. His Winnipeg is a place where ghosts commingle with regular citizens and may in fact be the true native spirits.”

 

See My Winnipeg (2007) 35 mm, directed by Guy Maddin, 80 minutes long, in the original English version, on Saturday, June 13, 2015 at 5 p.m., at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., (metro Berri-UQAM)

You can watch a trailer for My Winnipeg on the Cinémathèque’s web site. That trailer is not bad, but the excerpt below, about the secret alleys, will give you a better idea of the mood of the film.

Just a warning about the Cinémathèque’s web site – the page for “Today at the Cinémathèque'” says that the 5 p.m. film is La nuit du rêveur. What? A change in schedule? I feared that I had written this post for nothing. But no, La nuit du rêveur is the French name of the film. This version does not have French subtitles, though. This screenings is part of a series called Les nuits du cinéma, which runs until June 20, 2015.

Tickets at the Cinémathèque Québécoise are $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors. Admission is FREE for those 16 years old and younger. How great is that?