Fantasia 2015, total films seen: 30
This has certainly been one of the best years in terms of the Asian film selections since I began extensively covering it starting back in 2011. I didn’t realize it until now but I actually saw the most films this year than any previous year and it could’ve been more if it weren’t for other activities and fatigue. It’s impressive that I feel this year also had the fewest duds for me. I would probably say only a handful of films were very disappointing and/or not enjoyable. This was coming off last year, where I didn’t like many of the films.
If I were forced to choose my pick of the fest it would probably be Port of Call. It’s not enjoyable in the sense that it had action or comedy but the excellent acting and the emotional gut punch was what really made me appreciate this film. I was actually planning on doing something else after this film but felt too sad after watching it and went straight home. 100 Yen Love was a slice of life Japanese drama with very strong acting that managed to elevate a predictable and mundane story.
There were also some very funny comedies. Poison Berry in my Brain was a stand-out romantic comedy that actually had real moments of insight. Princess Jellyfish, another manga adaptation was also super hilarious with loveable characters. Although it may not be categorized as a comedy, I frequently found The Case of Hana & Alice to be hysterical and also very charming with the central friendship between teenage girls being the focus. All three of these films got the Recommended label. Ryuzo and the Seven Henchman was pretty decent as a comedy but fired blanks at times. Love and Peace was fine and certainly unpredictable and weird but I’ve yet to see a Sion Sono film that I can wholeheartedly like without reservations. I had a mixed reaction to Assassination Classroom which actually ends with “To be continued” but the Fantasia audience seemed to enjoy it. Comedies I missed were First Strike and Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory.
The action genre was also well served with crowd pleasing films like Big Match (some MMA style combat), Deadman Inferno (Yakuza vs Zombies with Karate School Girls and Samurai weapons) and Assassination (shootouts and knife fights in period settings evoking westerns and film noir). Unfortunately, I found Kung Fu Killer and Golden Cane Warrior (from Indonesia) to be disappointments in the martial arts category with distracting camera work and nothing really new to offer. The Arti: the Adventure Begins ended up being one of the more entertaining wu xia movies and it used stop motion and glove puppetry. I did manage to catch the last minute screening of Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends. Very good action and some very nice scenery but not much story or character development. The main villain’s weakness is too convenient although it has a decent explanation. Ninja the Monster was boring with a lame monster.
Crime thrillers were also strongly represented. Gangnam Blues was a well done recommended crime drama with a sprawling narrative set in the 70s. Robbery was quite unpredictable and also funny at times. A Hard Day was a great thriller that consistently raised the stakes throughout its running time. Wild City was very good and also had lots of intense vehicular chases, fights and shootouts. Shinjuku Swan was interesting and entertaining despite some overacting and a silly reveal.
Animation was a disappointment for the most part other than the previously mentioned The Case of Hana & Alice. Miss Hokusai had fantastic art but its story lacked direction. I did see Crimson Whale but didn’t see On the White Planet.
Although I don’t have anything against horror, with so many films to watch at Fantasia I inevitably opt for other genres over horror. I didn’t watch Ju-On: The Final Curse or Fatal Frame. I saw the previously mentioned Deadman Inferno although I’m not sure I would classify it as horror since it’s not scary and is more of an action comedy. I did catch Office which I enjoyed more for the catty office politics, which set up the slasher part of the film.
Non-hyperlinked movies mentioned above are likely covered in Mini reviews.
I did not see Tag, Nowhere Girl, The Ninja War of Torakage, Nutcracker 3D, Strayer’s Chronicle, Attack on Titan, The Royal Tailor, Tazza: The Hidden Card, Black & White: The Dawn of Justice.