Daria Gamliel for Cinetalk.net

Shunji Iwai has always had a home at the Fantasia festival. This year, the director was given the Career Achievement Award. Several of his older films were shown, along with his pandemic baby, The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8.

The Kaiju-will-defeat-Covid19 project is equal parts gloomy and cutely humorous. The film recorded with the help of the Zoom app (popular during the pandemic) opens with a view of Tokyo’s very empty Shibuya Scramble crosswalk, with a voiceover warning about social distancing. 

Shot entirely in black and white, with a small cast playing versions of themselves, the film explores the boredom, loneliness and hopefulness that people have felt during lockdowns spanning the globe in 2020, and on into 2021. The faux-documentary pokes fun at Youtubers, monster movie lovers, and the film industry.

People of all ages collect capsule toys (gachapon), and Iwai’s concept revolves around the “capsule kaiju”. These monsters that originally appeared in the Ultra Seven and Ultraman movie franchise, have gone on to inspire even modern “monsters” such as Pokémon (the creatures live in a ball resembling a capsule toy). Takumi (portrayed by Saitoh Takumi, who suits Iwai’s monochrome world because apart from acting, he also happens to be a black and white photographer) has the idea that if he raises a capsule monster, maybe he’ll be creating a hero to save the world from the Coronavirus

Unsure exactly how to raise his little creature, Takumi turns to Zoom to meet his friends online and ask their advice. Director-friend Higuchi (Higuchi Shinji, Shin Ultraman, Shin Godzilla, playing himself, sort of), speaks about kaiju as if they are an everyday, well-known occurrence in real-life Japan. In addition, he is quite blasé about having experienced visits from aliens since he was a child. The exchanges between Higuchi and Takumi are rather droll in that they are delivered with an offhanded, non-humorous tone.

Takumi is clearly bored enough to start a daily video blog about raising his capsule monster. This buys time for the aliens to return, because apparently capsule kaiju are poorly made and may not be able to rescue the planet from Covid.

The entire love affair between Takumi and his mysterious mini monster reminds us of how little boys grow up playing with figurines. Takumi represents quite perfectly their imagination and the way they talk enthusiastically about make-believe things as if they truly exist.

 

In other Zoom conversations, we meet Takumi’s friend, Non (Hold Me Back, 2020). She is cheerful, cute, and naïve. As the pandemic pandemonium sets in, it’s questionable whether the young actress has lost her marbles. This is a quiet nod to the decline of the human population’s mental health throughout the pandemic.

Iwai’s filmography is melancholic, but it’s always shown through a bittersweet lens. The 12 Day Tale has the same feeling. It’s playful and charming, but also rather sad. Thus is the state of the world the last couple of years. The project is also a thank you to front line heroes, with the objective of encouraging citizens to have faith in tomorrow.

 

Fantasia Film Festival 2020 runs from August 5th to August 25th, 2020.

The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 – On Demand until Friday, August 27th, 11:59 PM.

Official Fantasia Website