Up until this point I’ve been able to tie these little three film jaunts together into some kind of loose theme or experience, which, if nothing else, makes this little opening blurb easier to write. This time, however, I’m presented with a problem: how exactly does one tie together a kung-fu flick, an arctic Nazi zombie movie and an anime film?
The answer remains elusive, and I feel this may be the point at which I have to abandon the method all together and present the first of what will probably be several completely theme-less articles. So this time, let the downward slide commence as we begin our first random Fantasia grab-bag.
Shaw Bros. Kung-fu movies are a favorite of my particular circle of film nerd friends. Screenings of classic Shaw goodness at Fantasia are usually a sea of familiar faces, usually faces with far more experienced and knowledgeable brains than mine lurking behind them. I say this because I want it to be known exactly how remarkable it is that The Demon of the Lute left most of its audience completely dumb-struck.
Shaw Bros. Films are known for being a bit off-the wall at times, going into slightly ridiculous territories of kung-fu action. However, I think even the most seasoned Shaw aficionado isn’t prepared for Demon of the Lute.
While other Shaw films like Battle Wizard wade into a pool of ridiculousness, Demon of the Lute cannonballs in like a rowdy fratboy, presenting the audience with one insane concept after another. A giant axe-wielding, pink haired warrior who rides into battle on a chariot pulled by German Shepherds one moment, a game of kung-fu air hockey the next, all set to a score that’s equal parts rock guitar and Goblin-esque synth. The creativity and imagination of the minds behind the film is shining through every frame, and probably a fair number of their acid hallucinations as well.
It doesn’t look or sound like any Shaw movie I think anyone in attendance had seen before. A high-octane anomaly of some kind never considered for mass consumption, too insane not to enjoy, and too weird to ever forget.
The original Dead Snow was a fun enough tongue-in-cheek zombie flick out of Norway, a pretty ideal Fantasia movie that didn’t take itself in any way seriously and committed fully to just being gory, low-brow fun. The apparently long-awaited sequel recently hit screens at Fantasia, and pretty much everything nice you can say about this first one, you can say about the sequel.
Trading in small scale zombie horror comedy for large scale zombie action comedy, I’d almost call it the Aliens to Dead Snow’s Alien. While the first one took a small cast and a few locations and used them for scares and horror, the second goes full-on action movie, with the nazi zombie horde from the first film marching against a small Norwegian town. The over-the-top gore and gross-outs are aplenty and usually skillfully executed enough to keep a Fantasia audience more than happy.
And although I could easily rattle off a list of films that do the horror comedy route better, I would be hard pressed to find one that commits to its own ridiculousness more whole-heartedly. Dead Snow 2 seems more than eager to break every taboo, cross every line and go big in every regard, and I can’t help but admire its dedication to being the biggest, loudest, most ridiculous piece of schlock it can possibly be.
Shifting gears from the ridiculous to the sincere, we close this grab-bag on Giovanni’s Island, one of Fantasia 2014’s anime selection. While our last two films were over-the-top romps, Giovanni’s Island is dead serious, set on a small Japanese island in the immediate aftermath of WW2, and showing a family torn apart by Russian occupation and later internment.
It’s rare to see an animated film staunchly refuse to pull as few punches as this one, and indeed make as many precision-targeted strikes right at the audience’s feels. Despite whimsically portraying the main character’s boundless imagination struggling against the harshness of reality, Giovanni’s Island rarely shies away from showing that harshness as well. The realities of post WW2 Japanese life are shown in full, as families are pulled from their homes and thrown into Russian-run internment camps, or forced to watch as occupying forces take over their houses and workplaces.
And when the film isn’t reducing you to a quivering ball of emotion and anguish, it’s astonishing you with just how pretty anime can still be after all these years. The backgrounds and character models are stunning, often having a quality that gives the impression that the whole thing was drawn in colored pencils by one of those colored-pencil savants you see in your Facebook feed.
At times it lays the emotion on a bit thick, straying uncomfortably into melodrama with the occasional overly-picturesque montage, but Giovanni’s Island is if nothing else a gorgeously animated film that will probably reduce half the audience to heaving, undignified sobs.