Boyhood, Schmoyhood. While some of my more distinguished film nerd compatriots may be waiting with rapt attention for Fantasia’s more ‘conventional’ offerings, my attention is fixed on the more unconventional fare: the anime, the kung fu, the movies that avoid classification all together. Fantasia isn’t Fantasia unless you’re watching something you almost certainly couldn’t see at most other festivals, and this year’s installment looks to have that in spades. Here some of my top picks from Fantasia 2014’s stellar line-up.
The Demon of the Lute
Directed by Lung Yat Sing
Hong Kong, 1983
As I learned during 2012’s screening of the Shaw Brothers classic Fist of the White Lotus, very few things in this world rock quite as hard as classic kung fu movies in glorious 35mm on a big screen. Digital projection may be well and good, but as old-school movie buffs know, the feeling of watching an aged, maybe even slightly degrading, print of a classic film has its own distinct flavor, a quality that just can’t be matched by a DVD or digital projection.
The Demon of the Lute looks to be one of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences, a lost kung fu classic directed by a man with only two feature films under his belt, a far cry from prolific Shaw directors like Chang Cheh or Lau Kar-Leung. And even without the allure of 35mm projection and a relatively unknown director, The Demon of the Lute still has enough going for it to get most kung fu movie fans salivating, from appearances from familiar Shaw actors like Kara Hui and Phillip Kwok to the presence of a demonic lute strung with the flesh of dinosaurs.
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Several years back, Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo brought his first feature film, Timecrimes, to Fantasia. Timecrimes is, without any doubt in my mind, one of the cleverest and most interesting time travel-related films of the past several years, and it put Vigalondo on my list of directors to watch almost immediately. Now he’s back, unleashing his new film Open Windows on Fantasia screens.
‘Web capture’, films set partially or wholly through video chat windows, is shaping up to be the new big thing, with no less than two of the things showing at Fantasia this year, as well as being dabbled with in recent mainstream films like Earth to Echo. I’m a tad cynical about it, and with good reason. It seems like a desperate attempt to make the ‘found footage’ lighting strike again with a blind stab at innovation. Vigalondo’s involvement, however, gives me hope. Timecrimes took time travel, a concept which was already outstaying its welcome back in 2007, and put a fresh coat of paint on it to fantastic effect. Maybe, just maybe, Vigalondo can do the same for web capture, before a new coat is even needed.
Directed by Mizuho Nishikubo
With the retiring of anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, a lot of people are probably wondering who, if anyone, will step up to fill the shoes of the great master. It won’t be his son, that’s for darn sure. I mean, did you see From Up on Poppy Hill? Ouch.
But I digress. One name that’s been coming up more and more is Mizuho Nishikubo, who recently made the break from TV to directing features like the CGI production Atagoal and Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai. His new film, Giovanni’s Island, is, if the hype is to be believed, incredibly good, and another strong step in an already flourishing career. It is also somewhat rare to see a Japanese film, let alone an animated one, set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a time of serious social and cultural change in Japanese society.
The Creeping Garden
Directed by Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham
“Hey, there’s a documentary about slime molds playing” is, and I should know, perhaps the least sexy phrase in the entirety of the English language. Unless you’re Egon Spengler, of course. And yet, this thing has people buzzing. While Fantasia has only ever dabbled in documentaries occasionally, usually only showing a small handful each year, they’ve always proven to be winners. Just last year Rewind This! wowed audiences with its loving look at the history of VHS, and the year before that The Toy Masters opened the doors on the sordid history of the He-Man franchise.
The Creeping Garden is an even harder sell than those two, shedding light on the mysterious world of slime molds through time-lapse and microscopic photography. But between the apparently awe-inspiring footage and the soundtrack by Jim O’Rourke of Sonic Youth, The Creeping Garden is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about films of the festival.
Nuigurumaa Z: Gothic Lolita Battle Bear
Directed by Noboru Iguchi
As much as kung fu, anime and horror may be Fantasia’s wheelhouse, at the end of the day it’s the best place to go to just see something downright weird, and ‘downright weird’ might as well be the literal translation for Noboru Iguchi’s name.
Taking the age-old tradition of Tokusatsu (which technically refers to any film or TV series driven by special effects, but is these days more synonymous with superheroes) and putting a spin on it that only Iguchi could, Nuigirumaa Z centers on a young girl who fuses with her beloved teddy bear to fight the undead horde responsible for killing her parents. And if that doesn’t just say “Japan” right there, I don’t know what does. Given that Iguchi’s previous efforts include favorites like Robo Geisha, Tokyo Gore Police, and Zombie Ass, you can bet Nuigurumaa Z will throw buckets of over-the-top blood and guts over the insane mishmash of Tokusatsu, kawaii and J-Pop it already appears to be.
— Thomas O’Connor