Last year I attended only one film, Dororo, at the New York Asian Film Festival. Though we did try to see L Change the WorLd, too, but it was sold out. In any case, this seemed like a big mistake in retrospect. There are tons of films from all different genres. Everything from pulpy mysteries to sex-centric surrealism to over-the-top samurai action to sweet romance was up for grabs at this year’s Asian Film Fest. Many of these films one might not have a chance to see otherwise. So with that in mind, and a little help from the NYAFF guide book, we set out to see some unique flicks.
I missed out on all the movies last year including Dororo but that is because if it were not for bad luck I would have no luck at all. On the other hand, Narutaki and I insisting on seeing the L movie no matter how many times life seemingly tried to let us dodge it is our own fault. But this year we are in it to win it and are hitting up a bunch of the movies playing. My priority number one was to see the 20th Century Boys movies not only because they are most relevant to the blog but also because I really enjoyed the manga. All the other movies are interesting experiments. I was not sure how many I would like but I was ready to be surprised.
For everyone who has not read the manga, 20th Century Boys, is a tale of a childhood fantasy of defending the world from evil turned into a real-life nightmare. Kenji Endo is a failed musician who works a dead end job at a convenience store while taking care of his sister’s baby. He slowly get involved in a global conspiracy involving a charismatic cult leader only known as Friend. He soon realizes that Friend’s plots mirror his childhood story that he made up with his friends in elementary school leading him to believe that one of his old friends must be behind this mad apocalyptic scheme. Kenji has to gather his old friends, his buried memories, and most importantly his old conviction to fight deadly assassins, horrific plagues, and a giant robot. We end with a little glimpse at the second arc but the majority of the film is the first. We see Kenji’s slow growth into a hero. We get Yukiji being awesome. There is a good mixture of humor, action, and mostly importantly, detective work. Sure Shogun had more chances to be bad arse in the manga but we captured all his crowning moments of awesome and that is awesome. Over all a fun movie with a huge explosive cliff hanger ending. It certainly leaves you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next film.
I went into the 20th Century Boys movies having only read a little bit of the manga. I was pleasantly surprised to find it very pulpy and a bit tongue-in-cheek at moments. Though it admittedly gave me chills in certain revealing moments of the mystery. The cast was nicely picked, atleast for the characters I knew, each one exuding their mannerisms and subtle characteristics from the series. Kenji is such a down to earth character, he is truly a very average guy caught in in the most out of the ordinary circumstances. As for the characters I didn’t know yet, I was thoroughly engrossed in them, especially the awesome Shogun! Just as the characters in the film are frustrated by the memory that is nagging at the back of their minds, so do you the audience feel as if the answer is right in front of you but you can’t quite make it out. This first film was a great ride with much twisting and turning, humor, and chilling mystery.
Part two takes off 15 years after after the disastrous Bloody New Year’s Eve. We find a teenage Kana living in a world where Friend is a hero and a major political force in the world. Just like her uncle before her, Kana is quickly embroiled in Friend’s latest horrifying plans. Can she stop Friend from assassinating the Pope before Friend’s numerous minions can kill her first? Can she learn who Friend is and what he actually wants? And what happened to everyone who stood up against Friend on that fateful night so many years ago? The addition of Detective Chouno is the sort of understanding but goofy character Urasawa likes to put in his manga. Also, I like Kyoko and her main purpose to be the overreaction girl. All and all both movies were an excellent adaptation of the 24 volume manga series thus far. I could nit-pick about what they decided to leave out or change but I felt that both movies captured the spirit of all the major events of the manga. With a series that long things will inevitably have to be cut, condensed, and changed. They frequently condensed several revelations that would come over the course of the series into one big revelation. The casting was exceptional; most of the characters were as if they jumped right from the page.
After that incredible cliff-hanger in the first film the second one couldn’t start soon enough! Since there is a jump in time the movie doesn’t give you all you need to know creating mounting suspense and speculation in your mind as the story continues with a relatively changed cast. Kana is quite different from her uncle Kenji if only because of the world she is currently growing up in but mostly because of her history. Her almost uncanny sharing of her past with the police officer Chouno rings quite false which really took me out of the film. But the actual character isn’t a bad addition considering his connections to the past as well. The ending once again has some startling implications that make waiting for the final film quite agonizing. The second installment of the 20th Century Boys trilogy feels very different from the first and also doesn’t really get its legs until about halfway through. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I didn’t like it, but I definitely found the first part to be superior in not only its story telling but also in the characters that it centered around.
We decided to see Be a Man! Samurai School on a whim, seriously with a title like that can you resist, and it turned out a bunch of people we knew had the same idea. We ended up in a theater with a bevy of bloggers from: Ogiue Maniax, Subatomic Brainfreeze, Anime Almanac, datacomp, and Omonomono. I was unaware until reading the program guide of its manga roots. Either way I was hoping for some ridiculous and funny fighting action and Otokojuku didn’t disappoint! The films starts off with Togashi being hit by a car while running through the woods. He is more distraught by the pretty girl driving the car than actually being hit because he can’t be late for Samurai School! The rest of the film moves between scenes like this with goofy moments and scenes of awesome fighting. One of the great things, boasted by the director before and after, is the lack of using special effects making some fights like the cliff scene even cooler. There is nothing to dislike about Be a Man! Samurai School it delivers exactly what it promises.
I was tempted to just make the review of this movie the kanji for man in a bold red font at 132 point type but decided instead to write an actual review. Be a Man! Samurai School is based on the Shonen Jump manga Sakigake!! Otokojuku. It is the story of private school that makes boys into TRUE JAPANESE MEN through the harshest male cheer-leading curriculum you will ever bear witness to. The movie follows the new freshman class as they deal with insane instructors, brutal upperclassmen, and demonic rivals bent on destroying the school and all of its students. Momotaro Tsurugi, Genji Togashi, and Ryuji Toramaru work on trying to be the manliest men ever where as Hidemaro Gokukouji slowly tries to transform himself from meek and mousy to self-confident and unbreakable. Apparently it is a brief overview of the highlights of the beginning of the manga done as well as anyone could dream. Everyone’s favorite part was without a doubt the scenes where Shigeru Chiba from Fist of the North Star narration fame (and to a lesser extent Hayate narration fame) would cry out and then explain any techniques used by characters and any special events in the movie. Overall this is a fun movie that mixes fun action with hysterical comedy. Before the movie were were treated to a awesome little mock sword duel by the director and one of the stunt men and they were gracious enough to do a little Q&A after the movie as well.
It was somewhat crazy getting in and out of Lala Pipo. Apparently there was the Heritage of Pride March and Parade before I got to the theater so the was a tremendous crowd surrounding it despite the fact that the parade was long over. Also it was Yani Mentzas’ (of Vertical Inc.) birthday I got to see the man of the hour himself, as well as Ed Chavez, super intern Ko, and Erin and Noah from the Ninja Consultants. The movie itself is a black comedic look at the lewd nightlife of Shibuya and a series of depraved failures. Lala Pipo is the Japanese Magnolia with two extra spoonfuls of perversion. We have everyone from a overweight freelance writer who talks to his penis, to a charming but sleazy sex trade recruiter, to a woman who falls in love with the sex trade recruiter, to a sexually charged wannabe Tokusatsu hero, to a house wife who does porno. All their lives are interconnected and yet extremely isolated and lonely by their own design or madness. Normally realistic fiction type movies like this don’t really interest me but the humor really makes it enjoyable despite its depressing and often brutal subject matter. There are some rather surreal scenes but they are always for laughs and almost always exceptionally funny. After the movie we went out from some drinks and pleasant conversation putting me home around 3AM but it was well worth it.
Cape No. 7 was the only non-Japanese film I went to see this year. It was the biggest film in Taiwan in 2008 actually becoming the highest grossing film of all time in the country. The film is a quirky music and romance dramady set in a small seaside town. There are many interconnected stories of love going on involving the eccentric townspeople. The main one surrounds Aga who has recently come home after failing to make a break in music in Taipei. After being roped into a job as a mailman he comes across a package with an undeliverable address. Instead of returning the box to the post office, he opens it and finds a series of old love letters. Simultaneously, Tomoko is working for an entertainment agency that insists she stay in the tiny town and help manage the local opening band for an upcoming summer concert. As their paths cross, it causes both of them to access their past failures, find positivity in the world, and of course learn about love. The entire cast is very entertaining and punctuated the slow main romance with silly and sweet love moments of their own. All of this culminates in a great musical performance. This movie ran a bit hot and cold for me. It was kind of a rollercoaster of how I would feel from one scene to the next. This happened less at about the halfway point when some issues were resolved. And the ending was one that I am such a sucker for: positive, happy, people coming together. Overall, it was a good experience.
Overall I enjoyed all four movies I saw so I consider my time at the New York Asian Film Festival as time very well spent. Also it once again gave me a chance to talk to some other anime bloggers and podcasters. Subatomic Brainfreeze also looked at some of the splatter house films that we did not go see if anyone was curious. As always his wright ups are fun looks into what ever he experiences. I am very much looking forward to seeing what selection of movies they have next year.
This year’s film fest was well run and seemingly went on without a hitch. We only attended screenings at the IFC so I can’t comment on the set up at the Japan Society. Each screening had a giveaway before hand often being administered by a very hyper, fast-talking man. I actually ended up winning a t-shirt at the screen of Cape No. 7. Also, I may look into getting some of their special screening passes next year if the selection is just as varied. Since an event like this is quite out of the norm, I couldn’t recommend it more. Take advantage of your location and go to the NYAFF next year if you didn’t attend this year!