Hawaii International Film Festival Dispatch: ULTRAMAN SAGA, CHINESE TAKEAWAY

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Hawaii International Film Festival Dispatch: ULTRAMAN SAGA, CHINESE TAKEAWAY

Note to self: The weather in Hawaii is significantly better than in Toronto. Come here more often.

The Hawaii International Film Festival kicked off two nights ago with a typically excellent lineup focused on Pacific Rim film. I'm here officially as a jury member for the narrative features and time thus far has been largely consumed by those films - which I can't, in good conscience, talk about in public before the awards are announced - but I have seen a couple pictures well worth discussing thus far.

Ultraman Saga
Being at a festival like this presents the opportunity to enjoy the latest in the long running Ultraman series the way it should be experienced: On the big screen in a room full of small children, most of whom seemed to speak Japanese.

The director was on hand to present the first North American screening of a film that balances the cosmic focus of Ultraman's recent history with the Earth focus of the early works. It's an overly complicated plot if you take the time to break it down, but what it breaks down to is fighter pilot Taiga -- who has an inherent distrust of Ultra-folk thanks to a childhood trauma -- has been drawn from his universe to ours where he discovers an Earth almost entirely depopulated by an evil force. The exception is a group of small children being protected by an all hot-female squad of the Earth Defence Force. Taiga attracts the attention of Ultraman Zero, who wants to bond with the Luciano pilot, and must team with the already present Ultraman Cosmos to fight off the present danger. And Ultraman Dyna is kicking around in statue form. You can figure out where that's going.

What you get is loads of Ultra-action featuring a load of giant monsters, a special effects ethos skewed slightly more towards dodgy CGI -- as opposed to dodgy miniatures -- than I would like from an Ultra-film, only one pop music diversion (which is less than expected), hot girls in tight uniforms, a shamelessly feel good ending and the shocking realization that Noboru Iguchi's Karate Robo Zaborgar is less a parody of contemporary tokusatsu film than it is a really damn good example of the above. Seriously, Iguchi's production values are pretty much on par with this -- and remember, this is the premiere tokusatsu franchise of all time -- to say nothing of having a much tighter script and better action. Go figure.

hiff-2012-chinese-takeaway-still.jpgChinese Takeaway
Lie, cheat or steal. Well, preferably not that last one, because they deserve to make their money, but do what you need to do to see recent Argentinian critical and commercial hit Chinese Takeaway. Because it is simply fabulous.

The always reliable Ricardo Darin (The Secret Behind Their Eyes) stars as the solitary owner of a Buenos Aries hardware store. He's a little bit OCD, a little bit misanthropic, and his carefully controlled life is blown up when his conscience won't allow him to leave a freshly arrived Chinese man -- who doesn't speak a word of Spanish -- stranded at the side of the road. So he takes him home instead, expecting that he'll just need to drop his companion at the Chinese Embassy the next morning to be done of the whole affair. This, of course, does not happen.

Yes, Chinese Takeaway boils down to your basic fish out of water story but the sensitivity of the story telling, the richness of the characters, and the restrained brilliance of the performances -- good lord, Darin should do more comedy, he's fabulous -- makes it one of the best films of the type ever made. Really. Kwenton Bellette wrote a more detailed review a while back, so take the time to check that out if you'd like, but really, do not miss an opportunity to see this one. It's a crowd pleaser in all the right ways.

(The Hawaii International Film Festival continues through October 21.)

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SzmigielOctober 14, 2012 9:16 AM

I have been enjoying the Ultraman Zero series of films and like the universe hoping angle that helps bring Tsuburaya franchises together. Good to hear the series is still holding up.