Second Report | Fantasia 2015

The shammers_daugther_75For children and adolescents into period fantasy, The Shamer’s Daughter is a sure winner, and it’s pretty enjoyable for adults as well.

 

 

 

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If you follow young adult fiction, you probably already know about the Shamer Chronicles by the Danish writer Lene Kaaberbøl, which began appearing in English translation in 2006. The books are set in a medieval-like fantasy world with a central character who has an unusual gift: she can look into a person’s eyes and see into their past, including any transgressions they have committed. Like most supernatural powers in stories, this is both a blessing and a curse—while the shamer (so-called because most people have done things they are ashamed of and would prefer to keep hidden) can see the truth, that doesn’t mean anyone will thank her for it. Worse, like Sookie Stackhouse’s ability to read minds in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series (and the television version of that series, True Blood), people with evil intentions are not above forcing her to use this power for their own purposes.

The first film adaptation of this series, The Shamer’s Daughter, directed by Kenneth Kainz, highlights the equivocal nature of the power to see the truth. The title character, Dina (Rebecca Emilie Sattrup), has inherited her mother’s ability to read the past of others. She sees this as a curse because it makes her an outcast among children her own age, and even adults refuse to look at her as she passes through the town.

Dina’s mother Melussina (Marie Bonnevie) counsels her that she must learn when to use her gift (bringing to mind another misfit heroine of a YA classic, Meg in A Wrinkle in Time) but external events quickly overshadow Dina’s personal drama. Melussina, and then Dina, are called as witnesses in a royal murder and succession drama. Unfortunately, both can only tell the truth, which is not what the greedy, would-be successor wants to hear, bringing them into mortal danger. In case I haven’t made it clear, the central character is a pre-adolescent girl, and the central relationship is that of a mother and daughter, making this film a welcome antidote to the male character domination in American-produced films and television.

The best things about The Shamer’s Daughter are its production values. The locations are beautiful, the cast and set designs are beautiful (if a bit clean and dry for what seems meant to be a medieval world), but even this well-executed visual style is less effective than it might be, due to its derivative nature. No kidding, sometimes I thought I was actually watching a cleaned-up version of Game of Thrones, and the music frequently recalls Peter Jackson’s Rings cycle, with a bit of Harry Potter thrown in. The story is equally derivative (there’s even a reference to Macbeth early on), but in both cases it may be that only adults will be bothered by such things. For children and adolescents into period fantasy, this is a sure winner, and it’s pretty enjoyable for adults as well, particularly if you can tamp down your critical brain and just go with the story as it is presented on screen.

100 Yens_Love_75To end the evening, I saw Masaharu Take’s 100 Yen Love, a Japanese film about a woman who works in a convenience store where everything costs 100 yen (similar to a dollar store in the U.S.). Although not a perfect film, it includes most of what I like about Japanese comedy-dramas (I’m not sure if that’s the right label, but what I mean is stories about ordinary people that mix humor and harshness and are grounded in recognizable reality). In particular, it maintains a distinction between personal worth/growth and success or lack thereof in the world. In American coming-of-age movies, particularly those where a romance is a central element, things are usually brought to a wildly unrealistic conclusion—basically, the characters you are supposed to like get everything they want—which I guess is meant to reassure the audience that we live in a world that makes sense and treats people fairly.

As the film begins, Ichiko (Sakura Ando) is a big, unhappy lump of a person: lazy, overweight, ill-groomed, and directionless. She spends her time playing video games at her parents’ home with her much younger nephew. She’s 32, but seems more like 12 emotionally, with limited social skills and no plans for the future. After a real knockdown fight with her sister, who also lives at home and works in the family restaurant, Ichiko gets an apartment of her own (aided by an envelope of money from her mother, who is basically paying her to leave) and finds a job at the convenience store referred to in the title.

One day she notices a handsome boxer (Hirofumi Arai) training at a small gym. He’s also a regular customer at the store, known as “Banana Man” (because that’s all he purchases). He’s nothing great in the boxing ring (his smoking probably doesn’t help, and he’s aging out of the game as well), but the two start a hesitant relationship, perhaps based on the failure that characterizes both of their lives. After a traumatic rape by a co-worker (and although it is not shown graphically, the film makes it clear just how terrible and painful the experience is for Ichiko), she begins training as a boxer herself. Here the film temporarily kicks into a different style, and we see a lot of training montages as Ichiko moves from hesitation and awkwardness in the ring to a fair degree of accomplishment.

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Ichiko passes the test to fight professionally, which involves a written exam as well as shadow bowing and fighting before judges (you have to admire the Japanese for finding a way to ensure the competence of people choosing to risk their brain cells in a sport), and gets her first fight. I’m not spoiling anything to note that the result is more Rocky I than Best of the Best, but that’s the point—in this type of film, inner transformation does not always result in outer rewards. More to the point, in this type of film, it’s alright that not everyone gets to be a golden child, and delivering that message is more useful than a hundred stories of underdogs delivering improbable victories to the accompaniment of stirring music. Notably, Ichiko’s choice for entry music in her fight is the jingle for the 100 Yen Store, underlining her sense of where she fits into the world. | Sarah Boslaugh

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