TIFF 2013

And now, capsule reviews from my day at the Toronto International Film Festival:

A Touch of Sin

The intent of the movie seems to be to take tropes from wuxia films and apply them to the conflicts and problems facing modern-day China: corruption, crime, marital infidelity, directionless youth. A Touch of Sin is an anthology movie: four stories about four people from four Chinese provinces. So you get these stories about four problematic lives with extra added violence.

It didn’t do much for me. It probably would have helped if I had more context about the broad cultural understanding and symbolism around those cultural conflicts. And it didn’t help that it had all the ponderous pacing of a typical East Asian art house film. It wasn’t bad. Just kind of dull.

And oddly inconsistent. I could never get a handle on the structure of it. It’s four separate stories and there’s (nearly) no characters carrying over between them. Sometimes two characters share a scene (like at the end of one character’s story, that character gets off a bus, but the shot lingers on another character we’ve never seen before, then clumsily switching to a new scene featuring them). Other times there’s just an abrupt scene change to new characters. It just left me with the impression that the director didn’t know what he was doing.

The violent bits added a bit of comical levity to the whole thing, which made it a bit more watchable. Hard to say if comical levity was what he was going for, though.

The Wind Rises

Pretty much the reason I picked this day to go to Toronto. I love Hayao Miyazaki. He hasn’t made a movie I haven’t liked. He’s even made a few I’ve profoundly and deeply loved.

This was a movie I liked.

And I liked it quite a bit, despite its flaws.

It’s the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the guy who created the World War II Japanese Zero fighter plane. So it was always going to be a bit problematic. Miyazaki straddles his usual lines of “war is bad” and “airplanes are awesome!” while going to some pains to acknowledge the contradiction in this case. He tries to link Jiro to other famous aeronautical engineers, Giovanni Battista Caproni and Hugo Junkers, who are also depicted as being not entirely onside with their fascist governments (that’s a bit of a real-life understatement for Junkers). Caproni comes to Jiro in dreams (those scenes reminded me a little bit of The Cat Returns), which is a bit odd, but I was happy enough to go along with it.

Speaking of, Jiro’s sister Kayo quite a bit reminded me of Mei in My Neighbour Totoro, even when she’s like in her twenties and a medical intern or something. Still, she’s pretty good at stealing her scenes.

Aside from airplanes, the film centres on the romance between Jiro and Satomi, a girl he helps during an earthquake, and whom he chances to meet again while on a retreat. The whole thing hit me kinda hard, because, you know… resonance. It’s very touching, even if the stoic nature of Japanese romance is a bit brow-furrowing in spots.

The ending is a bit abrupt, but given that this is based on real life, I’m not sure there is a tidy wrapping-up point. You never get to see Jiro actually designing the plane he’s famous for. It ends on a dream with Caproni, skipping over the messy entirety of the war. Which is probably for the best, but it makes it feel less well-constructed than you’d expect from a Miyazaki movie.

Overall, it’s lovely, and it’s Miyazaki and you should see it. It’s a good film, just not a great one. And to give Miyazaki credit, the balance he’s trying to pull off is really hard. It’s not his usual thing, plot- and tone-wise, and I don’t know if he’s entirely successful, but you can tell it’s something he’s passionate about. So I’ll give it to him.

Quick side note: the foley art and sound design is really cool once you figure out what they’re doing.

Also: Jiro is voiced by Hideaki Anno. You know, the Evangelion guy. Weird. He’s pretty good, though.

Asphalt Watches

I hate to break it to you, but you will probably never get to see this movie.

It’s a full-length Canadian animated film by and about a couple guys on a hitchhiking road-trip across the country, starting in BC.

And one gets the feeling various substances were involved in its creation.

I’m not going to say it’s good or anything, because that would be a lie, but bits of it were actually enjoyable. I was a bit worried because the start of the movie is way weird and makes almost no sense, with talking puddles of oil and songs about boiled hotdogs, but it does settle down a bit and you can tell they actually get better at the whole animating and storytelling thing as the movie goes on. Characters start to have character and bits of it are funny.

So good on ’em.

I just wish they’d gotten to Ontario in the movie. The movie ends somewhere in Saskatchewan, probably because they hit their two-hour runtime and decided it was as good a place as any to stop. But I was sad I didn’t get to see any places I’ve actually been.

R100

I love Midnight Madness.

R100 is the story of a mild-mannered salaryman with a penchant for violent S&M play. He sighs up for an S&M service where scantily clad women will show up unannounced and beat him mercilessly for his enjoyment. But things get a little out of hand, as one might expect.

It’s also a film within a film, and the title refers to the Japanese rating the film’s supposed 100-year-old director thinks it should have. Because this shit messed up, yo.

It’s weird. And fun. The film’s actual director, Hitoshi Matsumoto (or “Matchan”) is a very strange man. This is his (I think) 3rd movie I’ve seen at TIFF, and each one is weirdly twisted. This one is no different. Just when you think it might get kind of horrible, it totally stops taking itself seriously and you just enjoy the whole ludicrous ride.

Side note: how many weird-movie-directing middle-aged comedy dudes have screaming fangirls? I wouldn’t have thought any, but apparently there’s at least one.