Fantasia 2017, Day 18, Part 2: Invasions Past, Present, and Yet To Come (Mumon, Bushwick, and S.U.M.1)

Friday, December 15th, 2017 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

MumonI ran up the steps in the Hall Building, hurrying from the basement where I’d just seen Geek Girls in the D.B. Clarke Theatre to reach the big Hall Auditorium in time to catch my second film of the day. The doors of the auditorium were still open, and I raced in and found a seat just as the movie began. It was called Mumon: The Land of Stealth (Shinobi no kuni), and I settled in knowing I had two more movies to see afterward. Mumon was a period film about ninjas fighting an invasion, and following that would come Bushwick, about residents of a Brooklyn neighbourhood fighting an invasion, then S.U.M.1, a German movie about people in a dystopian future fighting a (possible) invasion. A theme appeared to be emerging. (Two notes: one, Bushwick is now on Netflix in Canada and the US, so for those looking for a quick take on the film I’ll say that it’s a good enough movie I wish it were better; two, S.U.M.1 has now been given an expanded title, Alien Invasion: S.U.M.1.)

Mumon: The Land of Stealth was directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura (whose previous film The Inerasable I quite liked) and written by Ryou Wada based on Wada’s novel Shinobi no Kuni. It’s the sixteenth century, and Nobunaga Oda is trying to unify feudal Japan. Standing in the way is the Iga Province, home to the Iga ninjas who will kill anyone for hire. Most prominent among them is one Mumon (Satoshi Ohno), who is as lazy as he is skilled. But his amoral actions lead to a revenge-driven betrayal, setting up a battle between Oda’s forces and the ninjas of Iga. But who is one to cheer for in a battle of soldiers and contract killers?

There are some weighty elements to Mumon, posing questions about morality and loyalty and community spirit. Ninjas kill people for money, and being purely mercenary, the ninjas of Iga don’t immediately come together to make any kind of effective resistance to Oda. Mumon’s no exception, except perhaps insofar as his drive for financial reward comes about in part to keep his beloved wife Okuni (Satomi Ishihara, Hange in the live-action Attack On Titan films) in the style to which she is accustomed. The overall challenge, then, is for Mumon to grow as a person and rally his people as a community to fight off their invaders. That sounds like a fairly lightweight, if not simple, theme; but the movie goes some unexpected places.

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Fantasia 2017: Some Thoughts, Looking Back

Sunday, December 31st, 2017 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Fantasia 2017With another year’s worth of Fantasia reviews now finished, I thought I’d take the time once again to look back at what I saw and write a general overview of the films as a whole. Doing so this year, though, leads to thoughts about film on a slightly larger scale than just Fantasia alone.

I saw a bit more than fifty movies this year at Fantasia. That includes films from a range of genres, but I want to write here about the fantasy and science-fiction movies I saw. And more than that, I want to write about what I’m seeing in the cinema of the fantastic in general.

What I want to observe, mainly, is this: it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that we’re in a golden age of fantasy and science-fiction cinema. Obviously there are any number of summer blockbuster films coming out of Hollywood. But there are also epics from China, and lavish manga adaptations from Japan. And more than that, from around the world there are intelligent, gripping and more-or-less independent genre films being made. There’s a flood of work out there to watch. What surprises me, given all this, is how little I hear about it.

Distribution and marketing still play a significant role in determining what films make it to theatres, and, perhaps more important these days, what films get written about online. It’s easy to hear about a Marvel movie, or even about a major Netflix original movie. But there’s a lot out there beyond those things. You can’t help but notice, for example, that Netflix doesn’t carry the Japanese adaptation of Death Note; use that service and you’re stuck with the whitewashed adaptation for American audiences.

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Fantasia 2017, Day 1: The Bizarre Adventure Begins (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable)

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Fantasia 2017The body has a memory, memory activated by the time of year and the weather and the repetition of physical activity. Every year now as summer passes its midpoint, walking through Montreal evokes for me a sense of wonder and anticipation: a physical remembrance of the Fantasia International Film Festival. I’ve covered Montreal’s genre film festival for Black Gate the last three years, walking downtown during the days of the festival and then walking back at night marveling at the things I’ve seen. Last Thursday for a fourth year I set out for the Fantasia theatres at Concordia University’s downtown campus; and so here is the first installment of my Fantasia diary for 2017.

As always, I’m looking forward over the coming weeks to things I’ve heard of and things I’ve never heard of. I’m trying to figure out what movies I’ll have to pass on seeing in order to watch other movies scheduled against them, and then what movies I’ll be able to see on a computer monitor in the Fantasia screening room. This year the recipients of the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Awards are a little outside my immediate areas of interest — B-movie auteur Larry Cohen, luchador and movie star Mil Máscaras, and Cüneyt Arkin, star of over 300 Turkish films including The Man Who Saved the World (Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, also known as “Turkish Star Wars”). But who knows if I’ll find myself sitting in on a screening of one or more of their varied works?

This year I began my Fantasia experience on the festival’s first night, Thursday July 13, with a viewing of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. I arrived early, reaching the Hall Theatre at 8:30 PM for a 9:45 screening, and found a line-up of ticketholders already stretching a good 200 feet. The movie’s directed by Takashi Miike, a winner of last year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, with a script by Itaru Era based on the long-running manga by Hirohiko Araki. I happened to watch this showing in the company of the redoubtable Dave Harris of Pieuvre.ca; neither of us had any experience of the manga, but after the movie we were able to speak briefly with some friends of Dave’s who were fans of the comics. “11 out of 10,” said one, while another said that the movie was so faithful it replicated specific panels on the screen. So: if you’re a fan of the source material, you will like this movie. What about those who aren’t?

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