The Gutter’s Own Carol Goes to Fantasia 2022!

I attended the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival remotely, but with a press card in my cap and a matcha latte in my hand. I was disappointed I did not get a chance to see the movie I was most looking forward to, Wai Ka-Fai’s new film starring Sean Lau Ching-Wan, Detective vs Sleuths (Hong Kong, 2022), but hopefully I will see it another time. I skipped some films I want to see, in particular Shin Ultraman (Japan, 2022) and Bodies Bodies Bodies (USA, 2022), because I am absolutely sure I will get a chance to see them. Some of these other films I might never get another chance to see and write about. Nothing I saw at the festival was bad. It’s all a matter of taste or what you are in the mood for.

So here are the ten movies I saw at Fantasia! 

Popran (Japan, 2022) dir. Shinichiro Ueda

Popran is the latest film from One Cut Of The Dead director Shinichiro Ueda. Most of the time, I would let a film about a man pursuing his disembodied penis pass me by. But this is Ueda and I trust him with exactly this kind of material. Akira Tagami (Yoji Minagawa) wakes up one morning to discover that his genitalia have flown away. He’s been a selfish jerk, pushing away the partner who helped him found his manga publishing company, his wife and child, his parents, and even his own dreams. While he pursues his flighty genitalia with a specially designed net–his “popran” travels at speeds up to 200 km/h–he comes to realize who he has wronged and who he wants to be. It’s kind of like A Christmas Carol, but his guide is his flying penis leading him not to poor decisions and regrettable incidents, but to his true self.  Sure, Popran has some slapstick comedy. Even I, someone deeply sensitive to broad comedy and Odious Comic Relief, would be disappointed if it didn’t. But overall it’s a kind of sweet look at a man trying to get back to who he used to be and who he wants to be. Popran doesn’t engage in the same kind of structural play that One Cut Of The Dead does, but it has a lot of heart. Over the course of the film, Tagami becomes someone who I do hope gets his popran back. And Popran pays attention to cinematic detail. A movie about an outbreak of flying genitalia doesn’t have to spend time showing Tagami’s transformation from the ideal hip CEO to a regular person through his clothing, but Popran does. 

The Girl From The Other Side (Japan, 2022) dir. Yutaro Kubo & Satomi Maiya

The Girl From The Other Side is an animated adaptation of Nagabe’s lovely manga and one of my favorite films at Fantasia this year. Artistically, The Girl From The Other Side is a tour de force.  The use of texture in the film is stunning–creating gorgeous animations of water and mist. The filmmakers even layer burning nitrate film stock over the destruction of a medieval village. The artists recreate multiple other visual media techniques from watercolor and ink to paint on canvas to even graphite drawings. And while philosophically I don’t mind style over “substance” in a movie, all this thoughtful, beautiful art is in service to the story. Shiva (Rie Takahashi)  is a little girl who falls asleep in the woods and is found by someone she decides to call, “Teacher” (Jun Fukuyama). He believes he’s human and wears an elegant suit and cravat, but is horned and covered in black fur with a long slender tail. Teacher takes her to his home to recover, but warns Shiva that he has been cursed and if they touch, Shiva will be, too. Shiva is from the Inside, where humans who have not been cursed live. Teacher is an Outsider. And so Shiva and Teacher live in a house in the woods between the Inside and the Outside until it’s not safe to anymore.

The Girl From The Other Side is both a Gothic fairy tale and an allegory about terror, authoritarianism, and fascism. You can watch it however you need to, but I recommend this lovely and lovingly crafted film. And I cannot recommend it enough if you’d like a quiet Gothic fairy tale about a lost little girl and a dapper man keeping each other human in a fearful, mysterious world. 

The Roundup (South Korea, 2022) dir. Lee Sang-Yong

The beloved Ma Dong-seok, who you might remember charging his way into your heart in Train To Busan (South Korea, 2016) or gently lit in The Eternals (USA, 2021), stars in (and helped write) The Roundup. The movie hearkens back to Hollywood action movies of the 1980s and 1990s where burly, muscled men did justice while cracking wise and punched crime while saving fellow citizens when no one else could. In this instance, like Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris before him, Ma Dong-seok’s Deputy Captain Ma travels to Vietnam to extradite a South Korean citizen who has turned himself in to the South Korean consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Ma’s captain Jeon-il (Choi Gwi-hwa) travels with him, ostensible to translate, but really for a 3 day vacation in Vietnam. Their plans are wrecked when they discover local South Korean tourists and businessmen are disappearing and the guy who turned himself in knows more than he is saying. Ma and his ever-changing array of printed shirts from the 2000s are charming as always. Son Seok-koo does a fantastically brutal job as Kang Hae-sang, head of the kidnapping ring. And I appreciate Park Ji-young performance as Kim In-sook, a chaebol wife with an utter commitment to getting the husband she doesn’t even really like back. The Roundup has some of the same flaws of the action films it hearkens back to, but it does make an effort to address them and to recognize local law enforcement jurisdiction more than 1980s and 1990s Hollywood action movies did. 

Demigod: The Legend Begins (Taiwan, 2022) dir. Huang Wen-Chang

Demigod: The Legend Begins is another of my favorite films from this year’s festival. Don’t let the bland English title fool you, Demigod is filled with wonders. It is a Taiwanese wuxia story performed with traditional budaixi / glove puppets by Huang Wen-Chang of Taiwan’s famous Huang puppeteering family.  Demigod’s hero, Su Huan Jen, aka, the Fragrant White Lotus, was found as a boy nearly frozen to death in the woods by Eight-Toed Qilin. Qilin saved Huan Jen and they live together in isolation. But Huan Jen is curious about his origin and has been borrowing books from the Fantastic Academy’s library to try to learn more. When Huan Jen saves the Lord of Globe Castle and borrows one book too many, Huan Jen becomes involved in a rivalry not only to rule Globe Castle, but the entire Martial World.

Taiwanese wuxia is flamboyant and wonderfully excessive compared to Mainland and even Hong Kong wuxia. Besides the wonders of the puppetry, Demigod’s sets and costumes are beyond technicolor. There is a murder mystery. And there are the chi blasts and light step kung fu. There is a secret room in the Fantastic Academy’s library that can only be accessed by solving a puzzle using the Sexegenary Cycle. There are stances and martial arts forms like the Cranial Ignition Technique. Characters spit blood and black poison. And not only are there sword fights, but Huang even pulls off a kung fu stool fight with puppets! The film mixes traditional puppetry with miniatures, digital effects, and even two suit actors–including one who performs a giant dragon-centaur. And if the credis are anything to go by, it looks like there are future feature films planned for the Fragrant White Lotus. 

Maigret (Belgium/ France, 2022) dir. by Patrice Leconte

This is the second detective film I saw at Fantasia this year. And it is likely one that will have a wide release in art house theaters and maybe even IFC or the Sundance Channel. After all, it’s directed by Patrice Leconte and stars Gerard Depardiue. Depardieu plays Jules Maigret, an inspector in Paris’ Brigade Criminelle. Maigret is a detective created by Georges Simenon in 1931 and beloved in the French-speaking world. Maigret has appeared in dozens of novels and short stories between 1931 and 1972. The film is adapted from Simenon’s 1954 novel, Maigret & The Dead Girl / Maigret et la jeune morte. Maigret has also appeared in multiple television and film adaptation. Now Depardieu joins actors as diverse as Charles Laughton, Rowan Atkinson, and Jean Gabin. I can’t say whether Maigret will appeal to people who like cozy mysteries, but I appreciated Leconte and Depardieu’s take on an inspector who is burnt out and haunted. Maigret lumbers through a 1950s demi monde of young women drifting through Paris like ghosts themselves. One woman (Clara Antoons) is found dead in an gorgeous but out of date ball gown. Something about this woman and her death draws Maigret in, but the real mystery might not be why the woman died but what is haunting Maigret. I should note that I appreciated the film’s exquisite attention to historical detail–from the clothing to the automobiles

Legions (Argenina, 2022) dir. Fabian Forte

Antonio Puyjo (Germán De Silva) is cursed. Where once he was a respected healer and mediator between worlds in Argentina’s Missionary Forest, now he has lost his wife, is estranged from his daughter Helena (Lorena Vega) and is committed to a psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires. His friends at the hospital have adapted his experience with a demon in the forest into a play and, fortunately, his doctors see this as a healthy creative project. He might even be released soon, his lawyer tells him, if Antonio can stay out of trouble. But Antonio receives a message that Helena is being pursued by the same demon that cursed him. And that she will be sacrificed beneath a blood red moon. So Antonio causes trouble.

Where The Roundup reminds me of 1980s action movies, Fabian Forte’s Legions reminds me of 1980s horror movies and horror comedies. Movies that are simultaneously satirical and gory, with practical effects and creatures. But Legions also balances on the line between folk horror and horror comedy. I’m just not sure if it needs more gore or if it needs more of its melancholy folk horror that reflects both Antonio’s personal loss and Argentina’s lost connection to its Indigenous roots and the forest. De Silva gives a heartbreaking performance as Antonio and I don’t want less of that. But the demon’s clawed hands and all the demonic vomit were disgusting fun. But even if the mix is sometimes off, well, Legions is an ambitious movie and I love it for that. As for the shamanic ritual, I’m not sure how accurate it is or how respectful of Indigenous practice it is, but I can tell that the depictions are well-intentioned. 

Cult Hero (Canada, 2022) dir. Jesse Thomas Cook

When top realtor and strong candidate for court-ordered anger management therapy Kallie Jones’ husband Brad (Justin Bott) goes into an Owen Sound, Ontario wellness center that appears cult-ish, Kallie (Liv Collins) has concerns. Kallie calls disgraced reality tv star, Dale Domazar (Ry Barrett) to bust the cult wide open and rescue Brad. Jesse Thomas Cook’s Cult Hero would be the third detective movie I saw at Fantasia if you include Dale Domazar when he still had his private detective’s license. That’s right, Dale Domazar, cult buster and Zap Rowsdower for a new century! We have not been abandoned to cults forces, my friends. Dale and his affordable platinum cult-busting plan stands with us and not even Satoris from The Final Sacrifice (Canada, 1990) could prevail! Cult Hero is another favorite film I I saw at Fantasia this year. And it’s another entry into the grand tradition of low budget Canadian exploitation films–from the tax shelter films of the 1980s to our friends at Odessa Filmworks and the guys at Astron 6 today.

Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness (South Korea, 2021) dir. Im Sang-soo

Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To The Land of Happiness was probably the best movie I saw during Fantasia 2022. Choi Min-sik (Oldboy (2003); I Saw The Devil (2010); Lucy (2014)) plays, 203, a prisoner dying from a terminal illness with only 2 weeks to live who wants to die on his own terms. Park Hae-il (The Host (2006); Memories of Murder (2003)) plays Nam-sik, a man who works in hospitals so he can steal the medication he desperately needs but cannot afford. Nam-sik helps 203 escape in a stolen hearse with a coffin loaded in the back. The film begins in media chase, as 203 is pursued  by the police. But the men are also pursued by two gangsters, a nameless ‘philosophical thug’ (Jo Han-chul) and a very chill but very focused on business thug (Im Sung-jae). The coffin belongs to gang boss and horrible wealthy person,  Ms. Yoon, played as a sepulchral kind of Marlene Dietrich, by the beloved Youn Yuh-jung (Minari (2020); The Housemaid (2010); Woman Of Fire (1971)). Ms. Yoon very much wants her coffin and its contents back. 203 is an unusual role for Choi Min-sik, at least for the South Korean films distributed in the American and Canadian markets. I have often seen him terrifying, one way or another, as in Oldboy or I Saw The Devil. But in Heaven, there’s a scene of tremendous tenderness and vulnerability, as 203 and Nam-sik are in a truck bed, scared but not alone. It’s such a pleasure to see Choi Min-sik in Heaven, even if he made me cry. 

I also saw two films by writer/director Satoshi Miki, both featuring his wife, the delightful actor, Eri Fuse.

Convenience Story (Japan, 2022) dir. Satoshi Miki

Kato (Narita Ryo)  is a screenwriter living with his girlfriend, Zigzag, in Tokyo. He is reasonably successful. You likely haven’t heard of many if any of his films, but he’s working with Shangri-La Pictures on indie features. Zigzag (Yuki Katayama) is an actress and she’s trying to make it, too. But it doesn’t really seem like Kato likes her. More like it’s just easy for him to stay with her. One day, when Zigzag has a big audition, she asks Kato to take care of her dog, Cerberus, who also lives with them. Kato doesn’t want to. He has a big meeting with producer Kunikida (Eri Fuse), her voluminous hair, and her assistant producer, who takes a shine to Kato. But when he gets home, he finally ventures out to a nearby convenience store to get a can of dog food for Cerberus. In a longer review I say, “Convenience stores, especially at night, are liminal spaces. They feel timeless, eternal, and between worlds. Convenience Story captures and builds on that feeling.” Kato enters a sort of twilight world with the first convenience store. He discovers a second convenience store, Lisow Mart, in a field outside Tokyo where he meets a woman, Keiko (Atsuko Maeda), and her husband, Nagumo (Seiji Rokkaku). Keiko falls for Kato and wants him to take her away with him. Kato, being mostly a schmoe, goes along with it–if he can ever leave. Written by Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling and Satoshi Miki, Convenience Story is a quirky comedy-drama, but it also has elements of Southern Gothic and neo-noir stories. But you know, in a rural Japanese convenience store. I could have done without some of the symbols and references, but it’s a good film. Harayuki Takada’s cinematography is wonderful. And the use of lighting is fantastic–from the slightly harsher fluorescent lights inside both convenience stores, to the subtle colors of the sunset over Lisow Mart in the field. 

What To Do With The Dead Kaiju (Japan, 2022) dir. Satoshi Miki

While I had some problems with the references in Convenience Story, I didn’t have them with the references in Satoshi Miki’s second movie at this year’s Fantasia,  What To Do With The Dead Kaiju. What To Do With The Dead Kaiju is a celebration of kaiju movies and tokusatsu series, that focuses on a question so many movies and series do not, what to do with the titanic corpse splayed out near Tokyo? Ten days after the monster dies from a mysterious blast of light, Prime Minister Nishiotachime (Toshiyuki Nishida) calls together his cabinet to discuss not only the logistics of removing the carcass, but the politics and even the potential tourist benefits of it. Meanwhile, the Japan Special Forces (JSF), created to battle kaiju threats with science and combat skills, and JSF Lt. Arata Onibata (Ryosuke Yamada), stand ready to dispose of the body. But there is a love triangle twist. Yukino Amane (Tao Tsuchiya), current kaiju expert for Environment Minister Renbutsu (Eri Fuse) and former JSF member, is in love with Arata, but she is married to the scheming Masahiko Amane (Gaku Hamada), current advisor to the Prime Minister and also a former JSF member. This brings tension not just to the cabinet negotiations, but it brings up events from three years ago when Arata disappeared into the photosphere and has never explained what happened to him. What To Do With The Dead Kaiju is fun times all around. I particularly enjoyed Eri Fuse’s performance as Minister Renbutsu and Joe Odagiri as the dreadlocked munitions expert, Blues. I also enjoyed the positioning and demeanor of the dead kaiju. And the film is lit and colored more beautifully than it has any need to be.  What To Do With A Dead Kaiju has a lot of references to Japanese politics, kaiju movies, anime and tokusatsu series, but you don’t really need to get them all to enjoy the movie. 

~~~

Carol Borden has not mastered the Cranial Ignition Technique and cannot handle the logistics of dead kaiju removal. She hs also written about all these movies at greater length on here and at Monstrous Industry.

This piece was originally published by The Cultural Gutter on Aug. 4, 2022.

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