Day 2 of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival has come and gone. Four films back to back. It's a bit harder on the bum than I remember. With TIFF we had time to run around and stretch our legs. TAD is jammed with so much goodness you're out the doors and back in line chatting it up with other festival patrons, interviewing with puppets and embracing the mint chocolaty goodness of Girl Guide cookies. Yesterday was another excellent day of genre goodness. It started slow with Frostbite but then things got rolling with Shinobi, which I had wanted to see on the big screen since seeing it on DVD, then Kiyoshi Kurosawa's next brilliant film Retribution further established him as a horror/suspense icon, and then the dizzying madness of The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell capped off the evening with absolute hysterical post apocalyptic political madness.
Read on minions...
Frostbite – The Swedish Comedy/Horror Vampire film started off the day. One should note the intent with placing ‘Comedy’ before ‘Horror’ because I believe the trailers that we have been seeing focus more on the horror aspects of Frostbite and that is doing the viewer a disservice as I could affect viewer reaction at further screenings. Frostbite first and foremost is a comedy, believe it or not, then a horror film. Overall it is an entertaining film. Not great. But good.
It’s just that Frostbite starts running into problems about midway through. While it had so much going for it, it felt incomplete and abruptly cut short of reaching any satisfying conclusion in any of its storyline threads. Also the flow of the narrative is really disrupted by horrible editing – especially as things being to roll in the third act. Vampire. Dialogue. Vampire. Dia- Vamp- Dia – Vam – D- V. Argh!!!
And I don’t understand why so many viewers were hung up on the talking dogs and rabbit. Honestly the story arc with Sebastian as he is infected with the Vampire pills was the only shining light of the film and probably the truest to the intended theme of the film. And yet this is also where some of the film falls apart as well. Sebastian is the physical manifestation of all Vampire lore and legend that we have come to know. He doesn’t like crosses. He can’t drink anything that isn’t blood. He shuns from crosses. His reflection slowly disappears. And his hand burns when he shakes the hand of his girlfriend’s priest-father. Then why doesn’t that happen to any other Vampire in the film? Does it suggest that anyone will physically manifest and mental suggestion or idea of what we know about something? Or, was some just lazy.
And if you’re going to set your film in a landscape where night lasts for a season then please make use of it. Frostbite happens, what, over two days, maybe three? And yet there is no sense that there has been any lead up to the event forthcoming. No urban legend, no folk tale, no warning. This movie could have happened in any other setting, in any other city or country where night comes when it is supposed. And perhaps there would have been more impending terror had there been sunshine during the day. Night is coming. Hide. But… no.
Shinobi - The tragic love story of two Shinobi from opposing clans that are untimely forced to square off against each other at the whim of the Emperor. Oboro and Gennosuke are requested to lead their best fighters into battle. The outcome will decide the heir to the throne. Or so they are told. Secretly the Emperor has been convinced that the two Shinobi clans pose a threat to the rule of the kingdom and it is only a matter of time before they wage war on the kingdom.
To compare Shinobi to other martial arts costume epics would be doing it a disservice. Shinobi has much better realized characters, with a stunning array of martial art styles, and deeper character development than any of its predecessors. It is beautiful and stunning to look at. The martial arts sequences, though more fantastic than previous films, are sharp and bloodier.
Retribution – An excellent, excellent ghost movie that revisits some familiar themes and images from previous Kurosawa films and yet somehow makes them fresh and frightening all over again. Overlapping the story of one being haunted by their past, and the inability to run away from it, Kurosawa brings genuine scares into his picture. It is wonderfully textured with grit and grime, drawing further distinction between what is physical and what is spiritual. His use of light and shadow is brilliant subtly changing each at the appearance and disappearance of ghosts for each victim. It’s beautifully crafted altogether.
Will it work on further western audiences? Japanese film has always been, for the most part, an exercise in endurance. Kurosawa’s pacing of his films has always been very deliberate- and always necessary. I say that because there are few filmmakers out there that understand that the extra heartbeats that you wait for something to happen is the most important time in setting up the scare. Those extra few seconds are excruciating but so rewarding when something finally happens [Can I get a hell yeah for small basin of water scene? I knew I could].
Eliciting probably more laughs from the audience than were expected you can sense, and I understand also from conversations that I had with others of the Press ilk, that the Asian female ghost plot device is tiring on the western audience. Kurosawa is not to blame for this. It’s our own damned fault for studios jumping on the gravy train and bringing over each and every property from Asia that has a dark, long haired female ghost in it. And yes, Asian cinema does seem to beat a dead horse once and a while as well. Let’s just agree that change is warranted on both sides of the Pacific but what type of ghost it is that is doing the haunting should really be the least of our worries. Just a side point; save for the advances in hair coloring technique that I keep being reminded about on television, I understand that a lot, almost all, of females in Asia have dark hair. Sorry, you just can’t escape genetics sometimes.
Beach Party on the Threshold of Hell – Festivals like TAD are made for films like this. Films, like this, that are bold, ambitious, crackling with such kinetic energy and yet so far out there that it probably wouldn’t find its way through the radioactive residue of typical western cinema fare. BPotToH is a kinetic mash of political satire, Mad Max, and Annette/Frankie Beach Party movies that thrills and delights the senses.
And forget Hilary Clinton. If Jane Seymour were ever to run for President of the United States I would change my citizenship just so I could vote for her. Seymour is eternally gorgeous.