First Report | Fantasia 2015

Assassinatioin Classroom-75The blending of animation and live action in Assassination Classroom is well done, aided by a smart design choice.

 

 

 

I’m back in Montreal at my favorite film festival, Fantasia, which specializes in genre films with a strong emphasis on contributions from the Asian nations (the festival’s title used to be Fant-Asia). The first Fantasia was held in 1996, organized by Martin Sauvageau, Andre Dubois, and Pierre Corbeil. The focus that first year was on Hong Kong cinema of the 1980s and 1990s, including premieres of films by John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Johnny To, and numerous films starring performers like Chow Yun Fat and Jet Li. The rest of the programming consisted of Japanese films, including both contemporary and historical films.

The success of the first edition of Fantasia underlined the appeal of these films to a broad audience. Success also indicated that people are willing to pay to see these movies on the big screen and in the company of like-minded people, rather than on home video (then) or streaming (today). Fast forward to 2015, and the Fantasia program includes a number of films from Asia, but also from the United States, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Uganda—a truly international film festival.

It’s also one of the least stressful festivals ever, as an attendee. Most of the films are screened in one of two theatres at Concordia University. The screening room is also in a Concordia building, and cheap housing and a variety of food choices are both available nearby. So, you can easily get everywhere you need to go at this festival on your own two feet, and you won’t lose valuable viewing time getting from one theatre to another while seeking out food. The screening locations are connected by underground tunnels (they’re part of Montreal’s famous Underground City) so you don’t even have to venture outside if it is raining.

Alright, enough about the festival itself. What about the films? The first film I saw at Fantasia this year was Assassination Classroom, a live-action version of the popular anime and manga series directed by Eiichiro Hasumi. The set-up is that a gigantic yellow octopus-like creature topped with a smiley face has destroyed the moon and is now set to destroy the earth, that is, if someone can’t kill him first. In the spirit of fair play, he offers to instruct a class of junior high school students in techniques of assassination (hence the title), further agreeing that he will not harm them in the process.

Assassination Classroom is a pure popcorn movie, with an episodic plot (indeed, it seems often to skip from one episode to the next without concern for maintaining any sense of conventional structure), lots of action and special effects, and a stock cast of characters. If that’s what you are up for, it’s a lot of fun, and it also has a heart, with the usual life lessons of any school story included amidst all the smoke and fury. The blending of animation and live action is well done, aided by a smart design choice. The octopus monster (which the students call Koro-sensei, or “unkillable teacher”) is dressed in an academic robe that covers most of his body, so you only see his happy face and the ends of his tentacles, demonstrating that the Alien principle applies to comic monsters as well—the less you see of them, the more effective they are.

Half of the fun in this type of film is seeing what the director will do with character archetypes—the shy girl and boy with hidden depths, the rebellious bishi boy that sets himself above the others, the loudmouth who always challenges the teacher—and Assassination Classroom sticks close to expectations in this regard. It has several surprises up its sleeve as well, including weaponized hair and a robot student who finds a novel way to win over her classmates. The film maintains a fast pace so that you get lost in the immediate action of the film (which generally keeps you either laughing, gasping, or both) and so you won’t worry about internal inconsistencies or, heaven forbid, the absurdity of the premise. | Sarah Boslaugh

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