The time to cover the Fantasia Film Festival, one of the the greatest international film festivals in the world, has come again. While Fantasia Film Festival has so much to offer – an extra-ordinary international selection of films, we, once again, focus our lens on the selection of Japanese films of the festival.
While there are many Japanese films to discover at the festival – even for us, we can already provide eight recommendations for this year’s festival. Those who are not able to watch a lot of films and need to make a choice should, in our opinion, choose Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Labyrinth of Cinema above all else.
Labyrinth of Cinema is Obayashi’s magnum opus. It is a gift to the spectator, crafted in full consciousness it may be his final gift to give. It is a feverish presentation of facts about cinema, a fierce explication of his pacifistic philosophy, and, above all, an honest plea for love and a future without war and atom bombs – after a pika (flash) no don (boom). Obayashi’s Labyrinth of Cinema is not only the most important movie made by Obayashi but also the most important Japanese movie of the last decade.
While Shinichiro Ueda’s follow-up Special Actors is not able to reach the heights of his monster-hit One Cut Of The Dead at any point, Ueda still delivers a smartly constructed, highly unpredictable and fun exploration of the ‘rent-an-actor’ phenomenon and the necessity for the subject to pass through anxiety in order to manifest himself as a desiring subject.
No Longer Human is, when all is said and done, a great narrative. While Ninagawa’s narrative does not succeed in bringing the troubled mind of Dazai as sensibly to the fore as needed, her representation of the final years of Dazai’s life is still an enjoyable experience. This is not only due to Ninagawa’s visually pleasing composition, but also due to Fumi Nikaido’s performance, a performance that breaths life into the destructive dynamic between Tomie and her Dazai.
Air doll is a subtly positive drama dealing with the centrality of the signifier for the process of coming into being as a subject and with the contemporary societal problem of loneliness and subjective emptiness. Kore-eda, via his thoughtful and powerful visual composition, offers a sad and touching meditation on loneliness and subjective emptiness and the importance of love and desire to escape this subjective emptiness.
Fly Me To The Saitama is, without a doubt, one of the most crazy visual spectacles to have been made in 2019. But far from being just silly, Takeuchi and Tokunaga have succeeded in turning the contradictions, anachronisms, and the visually radicalized prejudices into a hilarious, witty adventure that touches upon the importance of being proud of one’s home prefecture. But the narrative would’ve been even better if Takeuchi had dared to mirror the visual silliness in his cinematographical style. Nevertheless, we duly recommend this high-school boys-love romance adventure to any Japanese cinema lover.
Hentai kamen, a hilarious tale about the power of used female underwear, offers a creative and pleasing take on the superhero narrative. The exaggeration that characterizes every aspect of the narrative ensures that Hentai Kamen remains, at all times, comical. The narrative’s wafer-thin plot is but a pretext to deliver a concatenation of great puns, to stage silliness after silliness, and to offer erotic absurdity after erotic absurdity. Yet, despite the thin-plot, the narrative works and the neurotic’s dilemma of “being normal or being perverse” keeps the spectator engaged throughout the entire runtime (General-note 1). That being said, Hentai Kamen is not for everyone – one could easily be turned off by the overacting or over-the-top silliness, but anyone who craves a taste of Japanese goofiness will get a three-star meal on a platter.
Life: Untitled (2019) directed by Kana Yamada [Review forthcoming]
Life: Untitled is an amazing narrative that will nevertheless, due to its subtle political nature, divide audiences. Yamada’s narrative, which culminates in a powerful finale, forces the spectator to face the failure of society and its male subjects to value the very subjectivity of women. Life: Untitled shows, in a confronting way, the necessity for male subjects to lay down their eroticizing gaze and meet a woman as a subject, as someone who is driven by unconscious desires and own demands as well as marked by her own failure of understanding herself.
Tezuka’s Barbara is, after all is said and done, a truly enjoyable narrative. With a fine sense of visual composition, Tezka has crafted a beautiful exploration of the addictive side of love. This moody narrative beautifully shows that addictive love, in the end, serves nothing but the egoistic needs of the addicted subject. It is a love that consumes the subject if the love-object is unable to be consummated. That being said, Tezuka’s Barbara does not fully realize its potential. A more tantalizing eroticism and a deeper psychological exploration of Mikura’s subject would have made the narrative into a truly inescapable confrontation with the egoism that characterizes love.