Fantasia 2017: Cocolors (Japan, 2017)



Blind faith in the reality of an outside world pushes Cocolors’ protagonists ahead in a mission to see what they’ve been told that they cannot. Toshihisa Yokoshima’s animated gem constructs a dystopia where children still act like kids despite their full-body protective gear, and the frailness their society’s inhabitants have inherited. Living underground after a natural disaster, Aki tries to bring hope to himself and everyone around him, but his words fall flat. His friend, Fuyu (re)invents the traditional Japanese art of woodblock printing. He is missing just one special ink color to complete his piece. Alas, it only exists “out there”.

Fatalism is pit against naive optimism in a toon shaded digital animation world (toon shading creates flat color areas – similar to woodblock printing techniques – instead of rendering objects with 3D volume). Set to a lovely score by Abe Ryudai and Hirose Kiyoshi, Cocolors premiered in Japan as a multimedia performance where Continue reading


Fantasia 2017: Rage (Lee Sang-il, 2016)



Without knowing in advance about the premise or plot, Rage throws at-first disjointed events and characters at the viewer. The connections slowly unfurl with a manhunt revealing three possible identities of a murderer. If however, the viewer goes into this 142-minute drama cum suspense thriller with the notion that it is a horror film, this isn’t the case. Perhaps by design, the mis-typing of Lee Sang-il’s film gives it the advantage of surprising its audience. It is Shunji Iwai-esque in its epic-length and treatment of subject matter. It follows multiple characters – misfits – whose confusion and grief propel their coming-of-age. Scenic Okinawan locations are juxtaposed against the neons of Tokyo, and the viewer is drawn into the relation between characters and environment.

Rarely seen in Japanese film, the gay community is surprisingly well showcased. Rage tackles several still-taboo subjects in this area, such as online hookups, what constitutes a ‘family’, and how to deal with chosen-family burial. The exchanges between characters in this story arc are Continue reading

FANTASIA 2017 : Tokyo Idols (Japan, 2017)



Japan’s idol industry may appear very strange to Western music fans. In North America, it’s common for the star to be guarded and fenced in, away from their fans’ grubby paws and selfie sticks. In Japan, idols hold events specifically designed to allow human contact and photo ops. Japanese pop stars (and their management) in the Internet era attempt to bridge the communication gap with face-to-face interaction. The relationship between idols and their fans is portrayed as “a religion” in Kyoko Miyake’s Tokyo Idols. The story about real-life idol Rio begins at a concert. The screen fills with lightsticks while audience members perform synchronized dance moves. This scene would be familiar to anyone who has attended pop concerts in Japan. It is so very Japanese that Western viewers may not recognize or understand the strange fandom behavior.

Tokyo Idols gives a glimpse of many behavioral concepts that would be entirely foreign to non-locals. Without elaborating too much of the whys, Miyake has created a little gem of a documentary about the sometimes absurd rituals in Japanese pop culture. Even to locals who don’t follow what’s ‘cool’, the interaction between fans and their idols might seem obsessive and unhealthy. However, idols have given a place in society to many people who otherwise would never fit in. Such commusho appear in the lyrics of one of Rio’s songs. A fan explains that commusho are people with “communication disabilities”. In recent years, these socially awkward folks have become more Continue reading

Fantasia 2017: The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (Japan, 2017)



Anyone who has been to Tokyo would recognize the array of neon lights and their reflections in nearby bodies of water. For the uninitiated, Yuya Ishii’s The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue is an accurate introduction. The colorful, bokeh’ed opening sequences are at once beautiful and romantically lonely. In a megalopolis of over 35 million people, is it even possible to feel alone? Protagonist Mika muses that falling in love with Tokyo is like committing suicide. Somewhere across town, Shinji, is almost obliviously on a similar quest for love and for self-validation.

Through the use of complimentary colors and various techniques to demonstrate sensory contrasts (noise vs. silence, motion vs. stillness, etc.), we watch Shinji and Miki fumble through a relatively mundane life. The themes of death and hope Continue reading

Funeral Parade of Roses (Japan – 1969 – 4K Restoration)



Apparently acknowledged by Stanley Kubrick as an influence on A Clockwork Orange, Toshio Matsumoto (1932-2017)’s Japanese cult film, Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), is released theatrically in a brand new 4K restoration.

Shot in glorious black and White, Funeral Parade of Roses follows the adventures of Eddie, a popular transgender figure active at nightclub Genet,  in the infamous Shinjuku district.  Eddie befriend a group of young revolutionaries, artists and filmmakers during a period of social unrest.

A personal rendering of the Oedipus myth (one sequence features the Japanese poster to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex),  Funeral Parade of Roses has much to do with avant-garde and contemporary art in portraying the subculture of 1969 Tokyo, especially Shinjuku. It uses constant fractured narrative (Matsumoto was Continue reading