Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shinsedai 2011: Shirome, Midori-ko, Kung Fu Master, and Man-Eater Mountain

This weekend marks the 3rd Annual Shinsedai Cinema Festival. The festival celebrates the best in Japanese cinema. On Friday night I took in two feature films and two of the shorts that the festival has to offer.

Kung Fu Master
In this hilarious 3 minute short, Japanese actor/comedienne Shaq lampoons classic Hong Kong martial arts films of the 70s. Directed by Daisuke Sato, Shaq plays three different characters, an old kung fu master, a young woman, and a young man, who are all vying for kung fu supremacy. Shaq plays each character to their maximum comedic potential. Kung Fu Master is exactly the type of silly comedy that delivers the big laughs and will leave a permanent smile on your face.

Real-life girl group Momorio Clover stars in this horror mockumentary that blends elements of films such as The Blair Witch Project with the sensationalism of reality television. When a television director (played by the films director Koji Shiraishi) offers the girls of Momorio Clover their own television special they could not be happier. Yet their demeanor quickly changes when the true nature of the show is revealed. Momorio Clover must spend the night in an abandoned school where the supernatural being Shirome inhabits. Known for its giant white eyes, Shirome is said to grant wishes to those whose intentions are sincere and damn those who are not. How will Shirome view Momorio Clover’s desire for pop supremacy?

Although it is a ghost story first and comedy second, the humor in Shirome really does overpower the film in the end. While there are some genuinely eerie moments, it does not offer the same level of chills as other films in the genre. The strength in the film lies in the humour of the secondary characters. One standout character is a specialist in all things Shirome. He not only walks around with his own chanting assistant, but he is also is prone to being easily possessed. His scenes, especially the one in the middle of the film, offer some of the funniest moments in the entire film. The ladies from Momorio Clover do a decent job in the film, but most of their responsibilities consist of looking scared and screaming at pitch that you will not soon get out of your head.

Man-Eater Mountain
This beautifully animated short is drawn and narrated by director Naoyuki Niiya. It tells the twisted tale of a police detective and his two officers who are hunting down a ruthless killer in the haunted place known as Man-Eater Mountain. What starts off as a simple police chase descends into horrific demonic madness. The first half of Niiya’s film is brilliant, everything from the way the story unfolds to the use of animation is outstanding. The last act of Man-Eater Mountain will either be the make or break point for most audiences. The demonic madness moments take things to the extreme and the grotesque, nearly pornographic, aspects tend to run on longer than necessary. Still, issues with the last act aside, Man-Eater Mountain is a fascinating short whose first two thirds more than warrant a must see recommendation. In fact it ended up being my favourite film of the festival.

Set in a near-future Tokyo plagued by a food shortage, director Keita Kurosaka’s animated film, Midori-Ko, examines how one’s beliefs can be tested in times of crisis. Since she was a young girl, Midori has been repulsed by the idea of eating meat. One day Midori discovers a strange vegetable that seems to have the facial characteristics of a child. Over time the vegetable starts to grow arms and legs as well. Midori becomes a surrogate mother to the creature but finds it hard to keep it safe in a world starved for food. Soon Midori finds herself not only protecting the vege-child from the strange scientist she works with, which includes an old man and his fish head female partner, but also the five creatures that created the vege-child.

Visually, Midori-Ko is absolutely stunning. Kurosaka creates a truly unique world unlike anything you have seen on film before. What makes this film even more fascinating is the fact that Kurosaka drew all 20,000 frames in the film by hand over a ten year period. The plot, though interesting, did not quite live up to the visuals. While I was engaged throughout, there were some aspects of the story that just did not make any sense. This was due, in part, to how lazily some of the characters are introduced. Certain characters just appear in a scene and it is up to the audience to figure out how they connect to the greater story. Still the relationship between Midori and the vege-child held my interest enough to overlook some of the holes in the plot. Though I wish the story was a tad stronger, it is Kurosaka’s visuals that make Midori-Ko soar. The film is truly a piece of art whose beauty transcends the screen.

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