Eighth Report | Fantasia 2015

arti 75The lack of facial expression on the puppets in The Arti: The Adventure Begins creates a surreal viewer experience and removes the “something extra” that any live actor brings to a role.

 

 

 

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You’ve probably never seen anything like The Arti: The Adventure Begins, which is a full-blown wuxia feature film made entirely with puppets. The story is standard wuxia—a brother and sister must reclaim their father’s honor, an undertaking which leads them into strange lands and conflicts with strange foes—and a hefty portion of the film is devoted to a martial arts tournament with colorful fighters. What’s new is the fact that all the characters are puppets, which is actually a sensible approach to the genre, given how unrealistic the typical wuxia film is anyway.

The Arti is a splendid technical achievement by the Taiwanese company Pipil Puppetry, but watching it is a bit of a chore (the puppets might have been more successful in a short rather than a feature film). The lack of facial expression on the puppets creates a surreal viewer experience and removes the “something extra” that any live actor brings to a role. You don’t get any of that with this film, just the same literally wooden expressions over and over. I was actually more impressed with the backgrounds than the puppet work in many scenes. The interiors look like a series of elaborate dollhouses, while the exteriors frequently look like a stage set, but the amount of detail included in both types of settings is truly remarkable.

Ryuzo 75Takeshi Kitano (a.k.a. Beat Takeshi) is well known for his violent action films, including Zatoichi and the Outrage series. In Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, he goes for comedy instead, taking up the theme of retired gangsters bored with civilian life. Ryuzo (Tatsuya Fuji), a former yakuza with the tattoos and missing finger joints to prove it, lives a quiet life with his son, a respectable salaryman. One day, a gang of young punks try to scam Ryuzo, claiming his son lost a substantial sum of company money. Feeling it his moral duty to restore order to the city’s underworld, Ryuzo decides to get the old gang together and teach the young punks a lesson, with predictably comic results. Ryuzo is not a five-star film by any means, but enjoyable enough if you like slapstick and jokes about the infirmities of old age.

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One of the most memorable films I’ve seen at Fantasia this year is Mamoru Oshii’s Nowhere Girl (not to be confused with the American rom-com of the same name). It combines two familiar themes in Japanese film—school bullying and martial arts—in a way that is quite unpredictable but still makes total sense once you’ve seen it done. It also achieves a remarkable shift in tone. The early part of the film seems to be an arthouse take on a school story, with long takes, minimalist backgrounds, and a classical soundtrack, while the latter part of the film offers a completely different experience.

nowhere-girl 75Ai (Nana Seino) is an outcast at her all-girls art school, where she seems to have no friends and is the frequent target of bullying. There are hints that she is mentally ill, or believes herself to be, due to a trauma in her past. She is granted many privileges by the school staff due to her obvious talent as well as her fragile mental state. The deliberate pace of the first part of the film induces a sort of meditative state from the audience (seriously, don’t bother seeing this one if you’re feeling impatient) and also intensifies the cruelty of each new act of bullying. To say more would be to spoil the conclusion, so I’ll just say that it is worth waiting for.

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miyagi 75Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kids franchise, is probably the individual most identified with martial arts among American movie audiences. Rather ironically, Morita, a comedian, was not a martial artist when he was cast in the role, and relied heavily on the Japanese karate master Fumio Demura while creating the Miyagi persona (Demura also acted as Morita’s stunt double). That’s the story behind the title of The Real Miyagi, a documentary tribute to Demura directed by Kevin Derek. It’s full of testimonial clips by former Demura students, rather fewer clips of Demura competing in the martial arts, and a lot of recent footage of Demura including way too much detail about his medical difficulties. The Real Miyagi was clearly a labor of love for the director, and fans of the martial arts will want to see it because of the subject matter. If you don’t already have that interest, however, nothing in this film will change your mind, and you won’t regret passing it up.

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ju-on 75The Ju-On films have proven to be one of the sturdiest Japanese horror movie franchises in recent history, with the eighth and reportedly final film, Ju-On: The Final Curse, released this year. The concept behind the franchise will be familiar to fans of Japanese horror: a house is cursed after a man murdered his family in it, and the curse infects others who enter the house or have contact with those who have been in the house. The murderer also microwaved his son’s pet cat, the kind of horrifyingly quirky detail that makes you flinch and laugh at the same time, and that combination of responses may be key to enjoying this film.

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The franchise has pretty much played out by this point, and Ju-On: The Final Curse relies way too much on jump scares and regular appearances of messy black hair and a pale-faced boy with a bowl haircut (Toshio, the murdered son). Even with the inspiration long since dried up, however, it’s an effective film for those who don’t mind its predictability. It’s also worth noting that there’s more than one way to enjoy a movie. A lot of theoretically scary moments in this film were greeted with laughter by the festival audience, but everyone seemed to be having a good time, so perhaps they got the experience they came for after all. | Sarah Boslaugh

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