28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – WORLD FOCUS, PANORAMA & MASTERS OF J-HORROR
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – WORLD FOCUS AND PANORAMA
VICTORIA (Germany, Sebastian Schipper)
While this section of TIFF took focus on films that have screened around other international festivals with acclaimed status, award winning ones and other excellent works that created a global spotlight, ‘Victoria’, a German film from director Sebastian Schipper is among them. It won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Cinematography in the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, and also one of their list as a official submission for the 88th Academy Awards (though it lost out to ‘Labyrinth of Lies’) after receiving six categories of this year’s German film Award including Best Feature Film.
Like ‘Birdman’, ‘Victoria’ is also a one-shot wonder of a filming style with its final cut constitued of a single continuous take , shot over 134 mins in 22 locations by the cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who tributed as the first credit in the end of the movie breaking any conventional ways) and not just worked as an unimportant gimmick. The story about the titular heroine (played by Laia Costa in her impeccable performance), a small Spanish cafe waitress that runs into a group of men led by Sonne (Frederick Lau) with a plan over their debt to underworld criminals. The event then leads to a high-stakes heist thriller when the plan goes amok. Plays like a very different ‘Run Lola Run’ in a one-night experience, not only it worked as a gripping and compelling thriller with its thrilling pace, but also captured the strong dialogues and geographic narratives beyond the set.
THE ARK OF MR. CHOW (China, Xiao Yang)
Recommended by Shanghai International Film Festival, ‘The Ark of Mr. Chow’ sounds like a Chinese boot camp period youth fantasy over the premise of a group of brightly talented teenagers who were recruited for a special college program by an authority named Mr. Chow (played well by Sun Honglei from ‘Drug War’). But the new 33 year old mainland director Xiao Yang from Feng Xiaogang’s movies was not making a fantasy movie by any means. Instead, by his own personal experience as once a part of special government class program, he choose the satirical take on the Chinese education system and any government policies on that system.
The story moved around this special class where five of the young leads; Fung Ho-cheung (Li Jiaqi), 11-year old chubby-genious, Mike (Wang Yuexin), a handsome delinquent, Dafa (Liu Xilong), an eccentric peasant from the province, Way (Dong Zijian), an ordinary kid whose ambitious mom faked his grades and Zhou Lan (Zhou Dongyu), the only girl reserved to join the competition recruited by the film’s titular character over, who was a member of the first Youth Class, a program begun in the People’s Republic of China in 1978, over a prestigious International Math Competition. The film was actually more focused to its characters and their formulaic interactions in many similar themes, but saved with the lively performance and fine technical contributions, and nevertheless, it still can emphasized the underlined message about student’s personal developments beyond academic excellence and social awkwardness.
GURU BANGSA TJOKROAMINOTO / THE HIJRA (Indonesia, Garin Nugroho)
Read the full review here.
Read the Tokyo interview with the producers Christine Hakim, Dewi Umaya & Nayaka Untara here.
TO THE FORE (Hong Kong – China, Dante Lam)
This high profile cycling sports action drama from director Dante Lam, after his effort in the same genre with 2013’s successful MMA film ‘Unbeatable’ is also one of this year’s most successful film in Hong Kong and China box office. Starred three Asian heartthrobs Eddie Peng, Shawn Dou and Korean’s Choi Siwon, the film revolves around them as a professional cycling team ‘Radiant’ and the romance conflict over Shiyao (Wang Luodan), China’s track cyclist who’s struggling to make a comeback that leads to an even deeper frictions when their team’s financial difficulties took them to different teams against one another.
Although mostly playing it safe without diving darker territory, pure to a feel good sports action drama, inspired by one real life story of a Hong Kong’s cycling champion, Lam really showed his love to this cycling sport theme which rarely touched on into movies. One that many still remembered until now is of course Peter Yates’ 1979 Oscar nominee ‘Breaking Away’. Bringing one of his lifelong dream to helm a cycling sports movie, Lam, nevertheless, shaped ‘To the Fore’ with his signature in tension building as a stunning one over a detail aspect the Cantonese title depicts to one of cycling technique called ‘breaking wind’, refers to drafting or slipstreaming in performing ‘lead outs’, where a cyclist sacrifices himself by riding fast in front of a team mate who sits in close behind to gain the advantage of the wind block. The shots and editing are skillful to aim the cycling formations through dynamic angles, also with its aerial shots and the mountain set landscapes, plus the score by Henry Lai, resembled what ‘Fast & Furious’ did to car racing in creating excitements and adrenaline rush in sports themes.
OK DARLING / O KADHAL KANMANI (India, Mani Ratnam)
After Telugu (Tollywood) entry, ‘Eega’ in 2013 TIFF Indian film selections, ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’, written, produced and directed by the auteur Mani Ratnam comes from Madras, another region of Indian movies known as Tamil or Kollywood movies. Portraying a love story between a young couple in Mumbai (played by Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen) the film may looks just like another boy-meets-girl love story, but way deeper than that, it posed a modern issues against marriage and their traditional values – one that has been very unconventional in their cinemas, about a live-in relationship. As Ratnam said, the film was meant to be a reflection of the modern mindset of urban India nowadays.
Like other Mani Ratnam’s works, the film dove deeper beyond the wonderfully cute and lovable chemistry of its two leads, and also senior actors Prakash Raj and Leela Samson in the relevant supporting roles to bump this idea between younger and older society. The cinematography by P.C. Sreeram also added the touch in making the film as an unconventional love tale unlike most of their romances, and of course, the maestro A.R. Rahman’s music compositions, continuing his lifelong works with Ratnam. ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’ is truly this year’s one of the most beautiful Indian romance.
WHERE THE WIND SETTLES (Taiwan, Wang Tung)
As the veteran – 6 Golden Horse Award winner – director Wang Tung’s first feature in a decade and also his ambitious epic film, ‘Where the Wind Settles’ is a war drama about three Chinese soldiers who escape to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war where the Chinese Nationalist Party lost the civil war to the communist, where they find another struggles to continue their lives.
It depicts the director’s experience with his family on how the China’s post-war generations flew to Taipei as the new capital of the Chinese Nationalist Party regime declared by Chiang Kai-shek, but like most movies about a turbulent chapter in history, it merely played rather as a tragedy. The pessimistic tone lies over the nostalgic theme that made the film’s quite hard to follow, though at least, ‘Where the Wind Settles’ has handsome production design, while the Taiwan – China ensemble cast is another thing to look at.
DARK PLACES (USA – France, Gilles Paquet-Brenner)
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same title, ‘Dark Places’ actually had a potential premise as a twisty thriller. Also having great ensemble cast that includes Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Grace Moretz, Tye Sheridan, Sterling Jerins, Corey Stoll, Drea de Matteo and Andrea Roth, the movie tells a story of bookwriter Libby Day (played by Theron), the only surviving witness of a horrific massacre where she also lost her mother and sisters, that must once again went through her traumatic memories to prove the evidence from a club of amateur investigators led by Hoult on his brother’s – once believed was obsessed in a Satanic cult activity – innocence.
There are nothing really wrong about ‘Dark Places’ with its potential, but bad script and storytelling difficulties revolving the plot in two intertwined timeline structure felt rather too amusing than convincing, and also interrupting each emotional impact. The power of the ensemble cast might help, but there’s just too many loose ends to maintain the pace going smooth.
PADDINGTON (UK, Paul King)
Read the full review here
LAST KNIGHTS (USA, Kazuaki Kiriya)
There might be good clicks between the choice of Japanese director Kazuaki Kiriya from ‘Casshern’ and ‘Goemon’ and the film that was based on the Japanese-owned legend ’47 Ronin’. Also the idea on the star-studded international cast led by UK’s Clive Owen and USA’s Morgan Freeman – that exits the movie far too soon; there are New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis, Norway’s Aksel Hennie, Israel’s Ayelet Zurer, Korea’s Ahn Sung-ki and Park Si-yeon, Japan’s Tsuyoshi Ihara to Iran’s Shoreh Aghdashloo and Peyman Mooadi.
But unfortunately, despite those international lines of the cast and some piece of actions that still helps this medieval adventure, the movie brought nothing really new to its genre and moreover, by its overall looks, fell into Lionsgate’s B-movie territory instead of a convincing blockbusters.
BEASTS OF NO NATION (USA, Cary Joji Fukunaga)
In the unnamed West African village that turn upside down by revolution, a boy named Agu (played surprisingly with Oscar quality-performance by Ghanaian native young and first-time actor Abraham Attah) was forced to become a child soldier after a militia attack. Soon, over the hardships of war, Agu and the bunch of other child soldier found themselves initially recruited by The Comandant (Idris Elba, again on one of his most magnetic performance), an unholy drill sargeant that plays like a father but with his thirst for blood teaching them to be murderers, torturers and rapist beyond his no-holds-barred ideology of war. Drown in the never ending violent acts, Agu must survived his trial by fire without ever understanding the cause and consequences.
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, shot in Ghana over five week of unbearable havoc as reported, this first original feature film released by Netflix directed by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga might aim big for this year’s award season. Already won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, the movie indeed was an uncompromising look of brutal realism in war. At many times, Fukunaga carved it closer to a horrifying horror with its explicit goriness – torturing the audience emotionally and spiritually, making it a distinct cinematic experience just like the title itself. Beasts.
MASTERS OF J-HORROR
GHOST THEATER / GEKIJOUREI (Japan, Hideo Nakata)
Along with other Japanese well known horror movies as one of their strongest content in J-Cinema; Takashi Shimizu’s ‘Ju-On’ (2003), Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Cure’ (1997) and Hideo Nakata’s ‘Don’t Look Up’ (1996), this year’s special section also features Nakata’s latest horror ‘Ghost Theater’ which will be released later next year. Spreading new fear on horror cliche territory; a living evil doll – now a mannequin, there’s also a glimpse to ‘Don’t Look Up’ in its part of the plot about the rivalry between a leading female actress and a rising girl talent.
Begins with a prologue about the manneuqin whose head got decapitated by a man, father of two schoolgirls victim before he was taken by the police on the suspicion of murder, the film moves to twenty years later, where the mannequin’s head reappear as a theater prop in the new production ‘Whimper of Fresh Blood’ which based on the life of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess also a serial killer who murdered hundred of young virgins to bathe in their blood as anti-aging care to keep herself young. There, Sara (AKB48’s Haruka Shimazaki), a young actress stuck in typecast on playing dead corpse has finally landed in a leading role after the uncapable female lead Aoi (Riho Takada) struck by the evil mannequin during rehearsals, but soon she also encounters a dread rivalry amongst the fellow cast including the ambitious Kaori (Rika Adachi).
Playing his horror in the movies’ stage-set and theatre troups with well known-signatures, from the ghost looks – long black hair covering faces, white dress and overall – his power in portraying women characters, unfortunately can’t cover the film’s weakness in its script and lack of narrative tensions, while the fear vehicle, the sinister mannequin, also didn’t work that well. Leaving only a few scary moments, although there’s nothing really wrong about the cast, ‘Ghost Theater’ might still work for Asian horror-fans, but obviously nowhere near Nakata’s masterpiece ‘Ringu’ or ‘Dark Water’. (dan)