Japanese film

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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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: 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 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: Inerasable

A writer (Yuko Takeuchi) and a student (Ai Hashimoto) seek information from a Buddhist priest in the Japanese film Inerasable, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Inerasable is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

A writer (Yuko Takeuchi) and a student (Ai Hashimoto) seek information from a Buddhist priest in the Japanese film Inerasable, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Inerasable is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

A novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) has been writing short horror stories based on suggestions sent in by her readers. She gets a letter from Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), a student who has heard strange noises coming from her bedroom; swishing noises that sound like someone sweeping the tatami.

The nameless author remembers getting a similar letter a few years ago. . .when she finds it, she discovers that it was from a tenant in the same building. And that woman’s young daughter had acted as if she could see something. . . up near the ceiling. Then Kubo learns that another former resident of the building committed suicide shortly after moving somewhere else. (His landlady has a creepy story about the last time she saw him.)

Kubo and the writer start working together, trying to figure out what drove the man to kill himself. They look at old photos, land records and maps, and talk to old timers in the neighbourhood to learn about previous buildings where Kubo’s apartment block now stands, and the people who lived and sometimes died in them.

They go farther and farther back in time, and travel to other cities, too. They hear stories of apparent madness, fatal accidents, murder, and more suicides, all connected in some way. Restless spirits seem to be everywhere.

At one point, a young man who knows all about the ghost stories, rumours and gossip on Kyushu Island  casually mentions that the locals think just hearing those stories will leave you cursed. Oh, oh! “Ah, a classic ghost story rule!” (or words to that effect) says the writer’s husband, knowingly.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura also made Fish Story (2009), Golden Slumber (2010) See You Tomorrow, Everyone (2013) and The Snow White Murder Case (2014), which were all shown at previous editions of Fantasia. See Inerasable at the Fantasia international Film Festival on Friday, July 22, 2016, at 5 pm in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

Inerasable

Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura,  written by Kenichi Suzuki, based on a book by Fuyumi Ono.

Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Ai Hashimoto, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kenichi Takito, Kuranosuke Sasaki,  107 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles.

FNC 2015: Yakuza Apocalypse has tattoos, swords, knives, fists and fangs, a stinky kappa, a fighting frog and vampires!

This frog packs a mean punch, and mean kicks. too, in Takashi Miike's film Yakuza Apocalypse. It's part of the lineup at Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinema.

This frog packs a mean punch, and mean kicks. too, in Takashi Miike’s film Yakuza Apocalypse. It’s part of the lineup at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinema.

Takashi Miike – that should be enough information for many of you. For others, how about yakuza vampires and Yahan Ruhian, one of the baddest bad guys from Indonesian film The Raid?

What about a fuzzy frog, adept at martial arts? That creature up there at the top of the page?

There’s a female mob boss, too, for some gender equality.

Plot, you want a plot? OK. Lily Franky plays Kamiura, one of those mythical gangsters who protects the townsfolk from harm, and only goes after other gangsters.

Recent recruit Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) admires him immensely, and hopes to be like him one day. Little does he know how soon that day will arrive.

In Yakuza Apocalypse, Yayan Ruhian's character looks like a geeky tourist at first glance, but he soon unleashes his lethal fists and feet.

In Yakuza Apocalypse, Yayan Ruhian’s character looks like a geeky tourist at first glance, but he soon unleashes his lethal fists and feet.

Kageyama doesn’t know it yet, but Kamiura is a vampire gangster. He seems indestructible until the arrival of two mysterious strangers, who demand that he rejoin some syndicate that he previously abandoned. After his death (!) Kamiura still manages to bite Kageyama, and thereby anoint him as his successor. Mayhem ensues. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s fun. Nothing like Audition, though!

Yakuza Apocalypse, in Japanese with English subtitles, 115 minutes long. Directed by Takashi Miike, with Hayato Ichihara, Lily Franky, Yayan Ruhian.
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 21:00
Program #178
Cineplex Odeon Quartier SALLE 10, 350 Emery St. (metro Berri-UQAM)

 

NYAFF and Fantasia 2015 Review: Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity! What an appropriate title! Many yakuza films would have us believe that there are rules to be obeyed, a code of conduct to be followed, that there is, in fact, honour among thieves. This film just laughs at such silly notions . . . beats them to a pulp, and throws them right out the window.

And the various rituals and ceremonies? When it’s time for someone to give up a finger, no one is quite sure how it’s supposed to be done. A woman says “I saw it in Osaka, once.”

Battles Without Honor and Humanity was made in 1973, though the story it tells begins just after World War II, in Hiroshima. Japan is under U.S. occupation, and U.S. soldiers are running wild and acting like animals. The local crooks almost look civilized in comparison, which is quite the feat.

The film mixes conventional scenes with parts that are like a vintage version of 60 Minutes, with a narrator describing feuds and alliances, and onscreen text telling us how and when certain people were killed.

Gangs struggle for supremacy within the city, and gangsters struggle for power within their gangs. A boss cries poor so he can get away with underpaying his underlings. There’s lots of yelling and arguing; fights are not elegantly choreographed. Not one of these guys seems like a criminal mastermind.

Frankly, I couldn’t keep track of all the lying, plotting and double crossing that was going on. I could have used a family tree and a score card. Maybe that’s because the film is based on the memoirs of a gangster and real life can be more complicated than fiction? Battles Without Honor and Humanity was also part of the lineup at the recent New York Asian Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Crime / Thriller / Classic / Retro Japan 1973, 99 min., DCP, Japanese (with English subtitles)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara, Koji Shundo, Koichi Iiboshi
Cast:Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Kunie Tanaka, Goro Ibuki, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tsunehiko Watase, Seizo Fukumuto

Saturday, Aug 1, 2015, 2:50 p.m., Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 5, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

Fantasia audience makes Sion Sono’s Love & Peace extra special

 

Page 248 of the Fantasia International Film Festival's catalogue is devoted to the Sion Sono film Love & Peace.

Page 248 of the Fantasia International Film Festival’s catalogue is devoted to the Sion Sono film Love & Peace.

Live blog post: I’m just recently home from watching Sion Sono’s film Love & Peace at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival. (North American premiere, BTW!) I want to write  a few words about it while it is still fresh in my memory. (I will admit, I got a bit distracted by hunger – had to make a snack. . . then I had to make a photo to go with this post. . . also had a quick peek at Facebook, sorry!)

The thing I wanted to say about Love & Peace, besides the fact that it’s very enjoyable, is that the enthusiasm of the Fantasia audience added a lot to the experience. Like. . . salt, ketchup, vinegar, mayonnaise, or whatever thing you like to add to your French fries (frites). Or butter, jam, peanut butter on your toast. . . .that extra ingredient that makes things better.

I appreciate the huge screen and a great sound system in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, but it’s the cheers, laughter and enthusiastic applause of the people around me that make it feel like an EVENT. For sure I would have laughed a lot if I had watched it at home on my computer, but it was so much better at Fantasia!

People applauded as soon as the name of writer and director Sion Sono appeared onscreen. They also cheered and applauded at certain key points during the film.

Love & Peace is about hopes, dreams, music and the love that pets have for their people, no matter what. Whether they deserve it or not.

 

 

Fantasia 2015 Review: Princess Jellyfish is wonderfully cute and fluffy fun

Rena Nonen, left, and Masaki Suda are the main stars of Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime. Princess Jellyfish is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Inernational Film Festival in Montreal.

Rena Nonen, left, and Masaki Suda are the main stars of Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime. Princess Jellyfish is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Inernational Film Festival in Montreal.

NOTE: Princess Jellyfish will be shown at 4 p.m., Saturday, July 25, 2015, as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

OMG!!! The plot of Princess Jellyfish is as unbelievable as your average fairy tale (or Japanese or Korean TV drama) but who cares? It’s so much fun! I was happy to make the old “leap of faith” and just go along for the ride. I can imagine the laughs and cheers in the Hall Cinema right now! Go see it if you can!

Princess Jellyfish is based on Kuragehime, a 15-volume manga that first appeared in November 2008. (An 11-episode anime was shown on Japanese TV in 2010.)

OK, that plot, as briefly as possible. Several nerdy women of assorted ages and interests live in Amamizukan, an old Tokyo apartment building. They call themelves The Sisterhood, though they could also be called otakus and NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training.)

Tsukimi (Rena Nonen, centre) with her fellow nerds in the Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime.

Tsukimi (Rena Nonen, centre) with her fellow nerds in the Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime.

Our main character, Tsukimi (Rena Nonen) who wants to be an illustrator, is obsessed with jellyfish. The walls of her room are covered in sketches of them. Ms. Banba studies trains and their schedules. Chieko is interested in traditional Japanese culture and always wears kimono; Mayaya is into the epic Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (and toys assocated with it). Lady Jiji likes “elderly dandies.” Mme. Juon Mejiro is the most important person in the building; she is a manga artist who is never seen. She’s like some kind of oracle – the residents slip questions under her door, and she answers the same way. She has banned men from the building. The others have no problem with that, because men make them so uncomfortable anyway. So do fashionistas. They turn to stone (petrify!) when in the presence of either.

Kuranosuke (Masaki Suda), the cross-dressing son of a politician, meets this gang after helping Tsukimi out of a jellyfish-related jam. She tells them that his name is Kurako; his clothes, makeup and wig are convincing enough that they accept him as a woman. Somewhat surprisingly, they don’t say anything about his deep voice until well into the film. Kuranosuke explains to Tsukimi that he wears women’s clothing because he cares about fashion and has no interest in going into politics. Under his wig he has fashionably blond hair; at school the girls flock around him, eager for his attention.

The nerds of Princess Jellyfish live here, in Amamizukan. Nice, isn't it? They have to band together to keep the building from being demolished.

The nerds of Princess Jellyfish live here, in Amamizukan. Nice, isn’t it? They have to band together to keep the building from being demolished.

Developers want to tear down Amamizukan, and other nearby buildings, to improve the area, and make it all shiny and modern. (Some might wonder, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”)
Kuranosuke’s father assumes that supporting development will improve his political fortunes.

The Sisterhood is not happy about this at all, but they seem resigned to it; they have always felt powerless. Kuranosuke encourages them to make an effort to fight back, and not to just accept the decisions that others have made.

There are many themes in Princess Jellyfish. Among them: evil politicians and developers, which is connected to the old “you can’t fight City Hall” trope; feeling like an outcast, finding a place to fit in, the long-lasting scars of being bullied, longing for absent mothers. Some really old U.S. movies with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney had a “we’ll put the show on right here in the barn!” trope and Princess Jellyfish has a modern approximation of that.
Note for K-drama fans: Chieko is in charge of the building while her mother is in Korea. As Chieko puts it, “she went there to chase Lee.” That would be actor Lee Byung-hun. In the manga Chieko’s mother is chasing Bae Yong-joon (Yon-sama) who became a huge star in Japan and elsewhere, because of his role in the popular Korean TV drama Winter Sonata. The Korea Times has more information about the Yon-sama phenomenon.

BTW: Masaki Suda plays Karuma Akabane in Assassination Classroom, another film, based on manga and anime, that was shown at Fantasia this year.

PRINCESS JELLYFISH
Director: Taisuke Kawamura
Screenplay: Toshiya Oono, Akiko Higashimura
Cast: Rena Noonen, Masaki Suda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Chizuru Ikewaki
Company: Asmik Ace Entertainment

Saturday, July 25, 4 p.m., Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com