Well, you know what they say about good things and ending and this one has. Today was the final day of the Philadelphia Film Festival and, just as soon as I'm done writing this, I need to pack my stuff up so I can hit the road bright and early in the morning. Today was another three film day and, once again, all three were excellent. On the slate: the live action adaptation of Cutie Honey, German hitman film Soundless and the well nigh unclassifiable Survive Style 5+.
I had actually seen both of today's Japanese films before hitting them here at the festival but this was my first - and likely only - chance to see them projected with an audience and I couldn't pass that up. Cutie Honey is a fun romp, an excuse for Hideaki Anno to shoot the rather attractive Erikoh Satoh in as many states of dress and undress as possible. Yep, the fan service runs rampant in this though Satoh plays the character as such an innocent that she somehow manages to come across as largely sexless despite her rather obvious assets.
For those unfamiliar with the story Cutie Honey is adapted from a long running anime about a girl brought back to life and given super powers by her doctor father through the use of nano-technology. She's a sweet, bubbly girl who loves her clothes and just happens to be the only one in the world who can defeat the evil Panther Claw Gang who want her nano-tech for their own evil uses. This is a Japanese costumed hero flick in all its glory: director Anno both pokes fun at the genre conventions - think bad Power Rangers make up effects - while also obviously revelling in them. The action sequences are surprisingly good and frequently very funny, the entire cast sparkles, and director Anno - best known as the mind behind Neon Genesis Evangelion - takes one of his patented turns into abstract philosophy at the end of the flick to prevent it from being entirely disposable fluff. The Japanese super hero thing can be very much a love or hate proposition and in this case I am firmly on the love side. Cutie Honey is a popcorn flick of the highest order.
Up next was the German hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold flick Soundless. This film does something very difficult: it take sa set of genre conventions that have been played out again and again and executes them so well with just enough of a new spin to make them exciting again. You've seen this story before: a hitman pulls off a stunningly difficult job with ease but along the way spares the life of a beautiful woman who he later falls in love with and who then greatly complicates his solitary lifestyle while simultaneously a former client is seeking to put the hit on the hitman himself.
In terms of plot Soundless offers nothing new, so why did I enjoy it so much? A good number of reasons. First, the film is just fantastic to look at, with a great sense of style. Tom Tykwer is along on this one as a producer and his influence shows through in the sense of energy and excellent soundtrack. Second, the execution - if you'll pardon the pun - is near flawless and inventive with all three kill scenes showing me things I'd never seen before. The crossbow sequence is a personal favorite. Third, the film focuses on character at least as much as on action, which gives an unusual amount of depth to things - what action is there is deftly handled but those looking for a little more will find that as well. And fourth, the actors - particularly Joachim Krol as the hitman and Christian Berkel as the unorthodox cop in pursuit - are excellent, creating a gripping set of characters and an easily believable world. Berkel, in particular, I found fascinating and hope to see more of.
Soundless isn't free of flaws. There are some leaps in logic, some plot holes, and the romance doesn't ring quite true - the woman is far too trusting of a strange man she meets shortly after waking up to find the assassinated corpse of her former lover - but they aren't serious enough to distract from the main body of the film itself. Soundless is meant to be a bit of a ride, and it's a good one.
The final film of the night, and the festival, was Survive Style 5+, a film I have reviewed at length already so I won't rehash what I've already said here, just head to the review archive if you're curious. My appreciation for the film only deepened on second viewing and it was fantastic to see this thing crackle on the big screen with an appreciative audience.
And now things come to an end ... the festival here was a fantastic experience on all counts. The venues were good, programming was fantastic, the mood relaxed, and I've become a bit of a fan of the city itself. It may not have the same profile as some other larger festivals around the world but Philadelphia certainly has the goods ...