Scarlet Innocence (2014)
Best Acted, Film Least Recommended to See with Parents
The Dead Lands (2014)
A film about aborigine New Zealanders, that feels like The Lion King meets Apocalypto. The film started with a fire alarm, so we had to leave the theatre, and the fire brigade was called. After a while we were allowed back in, and the film began. What proceeded was a mediocre film, which was predictable throughout. The cinematography was mildly good, but, again, it felt like a lesser Apocalypto. The post-screening Q&A was introduced by a tribal dance (link to the video) and all the actors and directors seemed incredibly passionate and friendly. The audience seemed to love it as well, but their was nothing in the film for me. Infact it made me very tired, I must have fallen asleep 15 or so times during the film, only to be woken up by a character shouting OOGA BOOGA.
Most Enthusiastic and Passionate Cast, Most Sleep Inducing
Tokyo Tribe (2014)
One of my most hyped screenings as I am a colossal Sono fan ever since seeing the four hour Love Exposure at 1am on Film4. I have seen eleven of his films and none have disappointed thus far. Sono is a constantly improving director which I would admit is probably my favourite. The film begins with a ten minute shot, accompanied by monotonal rapping and concluding in violence and nudity. What I love about Sono is that he gets the balance of nudity, violence and exploitation, so none of them are overused and exhausted. The whole film was incredibly enjoyable, although the film comes into it's own during the last 30 minutes. What happens during the final third is classic Sono, with non-stop, full throttle, laugh-a-minute exhilaration.
The crazier the ideas of his films are, the better they turn out to be, so when I heard Sono was directing an Epic Gangster Rap Musical, I was overjoyed. The whole film was great, even if the rapping did absolute nothing for me. The film may even top WTF lists in years to come it was so insane, however it is definitely not for everyone.
The screening was part of Midnight Madness, so I the film and Q+A finished about 2am. Instead of being tired, I was pumped, humming "Tokyo Tribe, Never Ever Die" until I got to the flat. The audience was crazy, clapping moments of the film, and heckling the sponsored adverts. If you ever get to see a Midnight Madness screening I would advise to do so, there is nothing quite like it.
Favourite Director, Craziest Film, Most Enjoyable Film, Third Best Film
Cruel Story of Youth (1960)
This Nagisa Oshima film was showing as part of the Cinematheque, which was showing classic and restored film throughout the festival. This has been a film I had recently wanted to see, due to its notoriety and that it kick-started the Japanese New Wave. This free screening was accompanied by an unexpected introduction from Claire Denis, who greatly admires the film and how it was unique for the period.
The film has aged slightly, as the synopsis of "two reckless youths falling in love, and concluding in tragedy" has been repeated ever since. Yet the film is largely forgotten, unlike Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses" which has only got more infamous and controversial. The story concerns a young woman falling for a young man, even after he slaps and rapes her. The woman resists at first, but eventually succumbs to his male stature in a hybristophilia type way. The youth portrayed in the film are selfish, audacious, full of hatred for older citizens and without a care in the world. None of the characters are sympathetic, but provide a good character study of the type of people I wouldn't know anything about. It also provides a snapshot into a time of the late Post-War Japan period, with rioting and lost youth. It's a film that I would recommend if a fan of film history, but not enjoyable whatsoever. Seeing as this is Oshima's second feature, I am very impressed.
Oldest Film, Least Likeable Protagonists.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
My most anticipated film of the festival is Studio Ghibli's latest. Directed by Isao Takahata, formally known for 'Grave of the Fireflies' and 'Pom Poko', who was also there for the after-screening Q+A, which is possibly the most star-struck I have been. He's not just another over-rated celebrity, but a genuinely talented and respected old man. Did I mention I've seen every Studio Ghibli film to date (excluding The Wind Rises)? Well it was time to begin, and well... It was even better than my exceedingly high expectations.
The film grabs you from the very first scene and does not let go until the closing credits, by which time I was so close to tears. The film itself has a sad story of homesickness and nostalgia, but its the pure overload of gorgeous images that really got to me. Every scene is drawn as an unbelievably beautiful water-colour painting, that fitted the tenth century setting perfectly. The themes of longing for the past is universal and affects every person in the world. These may be the reason why the phenomenal world of Princess Kaguya is one I want to experience again and again.
This may be the beginning of another Ghibli golden age, but don't get your hopes up, as Takahata said during the Q+A that it's more likely he won't direct another Ghibli film, than he would. I could see Takahata was about to cry as he was saying this.
Best Film, Closest to Tears, Most Timeless Film, Best Animated.
Coming Home (2013)
Zhang Yimou's newest film is very much a tear-jerker. Not me, but the audience was sobbing like crazy. It chronicles the return of a rebel prisoner to his amnesia-suffering wife in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Gong Li's character does not recognise her husband when he does return, causing him to go to great lengths to get her to recognise him. The film is primarily a family drama, where everything that can go wrong, does, for maximum dramatic effect (like Hanake's 'Amour'). It is filled with cultural history of a largely forgotten period of history. Yimou usually shoots on film, focusing on large stories and epic landscapes, so I found this his least impressive film, as its shot on digital and focuses on a small family. The film is disappointing for me, as I know Yimou is capable of unforgettable epic films like 'Raise the Red Lantern', and 'Flowers of War', but this is very much a step back in his career than one forward. The film does have some shining moments, such as a beautiful piano scene, and the letter reading, but the overload of sad scenes made me groan far too often.
Gong Li is the best thing about this film, giving a truly wonderful performance. All the acting is great from the three main leads, but I wasn't feeling the film as much as the constantly sobbing girl I sat next to. The Yimou Q+A afterwards was really quite brilliant. Despite only making films from the mid-80s, he does feel like a true master of cinema.
Song of the Sea (2014)
This wonderful film is directed by Tomm Moore, the man who created one of the most gorgeously animated films ever made with 'The Secret of Kells'. From the trailer, it looked like the animation style was identical, although the story is quite different. The film is about a brother and a sister who go on an adventure to save the magical fairies who have turned to stone. On the way they must dodge vicious owls, and take guidance from a wise man with a long beard, each hair of which contains a different story. Even though 'Song of the Sea' is clearly aimed for children, the creators have conveyed so much heart, emotion and power into the film its impossible not to be stunned, amazed and moved. It is equally as good as 'The Secret of Kells', which is very high praise indeed. The Q+A with the director was very fun, with the children in the audience asking better questions than some of the grown-ups.
Second Best Film
In Her Place (2014)
'In Her Place' is a South Korean drama directed by first-time director Albert Shin. The film is about a city woman who travels to rural Japan to live with a teenage girl and her mother. The protagonist soon changes to the teenage girl, when its revealed she is pregnant. Albert Shin is a Canadian director who went back to South Korea to make this remarkable film. The action takes place mostly around a small house in the desolate village of Gungnam, so there are no fancy sets and thus the film focuses on the characters. The whole film is a brutal character study that is physically exhausting, in particular, a devastating scene towards the end. None of the characters were likeable (the directors intention), so I found the film to drag, even if it includes one of cinema's biggest "Oh Sh*t" moments. Well done to Albert Shin for an astonishing debut.
Biggest "Oh Sh*t" Moment
'Luna' is a unknown and unhyped British film directed by David McKean. What persuaded me to buy tickets is it has one of the best trailers I have ever seen. Turns out the trailer gave away all the best parts of the film. Luckily for me I only watched it once (and I suggest you do the same). The story begins as a couple, Grant and Christine, who have recently lost their baby, visiting friends in a remote woods. When their baby passed away, their world deteriorated and they created a sort of fantasy world. As they visit their friends, Fraya and Dean, the fantasy world slowly returns as they struggle to differentiate fantasy from reality. Its quite an incredible film, based slightly off a true story. The characters and the actors portraying them feel like real people, providing a gripping character study. The bizarre and artistic animations are also faultless, adding to the creepy otherworldly aesthetic. 'Luna' will scare, move and will make you think. It stayed with me a while, and is definitely worth watching.
Made me think the most post-watching, Most Interesting Film
'Confession' is a thriller by first-time director Do-Yun Lee, who looks about 14. Collaborating with the cinematographer of Oldboy, and some fine South Korean actors, Lee has made a thriller to the standard of South Korean master-works 'I Saw the Devil' and 'The Chaser'. The script reminds me of Infernal Affairs, while the atmosphere is reminiscent of 'Memories of Murder'. All of this for a directorial debut! Safe to say this was originally filler, but turned out to be the biggest surprise of the festival. If I was to say anything bad about it, it would concern the acting of one of the actors while crying (which wrongfully made me laugh several times) and the ending should be cut by 15 minutes. I am incredibly impressed with this film, and can't wait to read the reviews when its fully released.
Best Debut, Biggest Surprise
The final film I saw of the festival was Frederick Wiseman's 'National Gallery'. A sophisticated 3 hour documentary about the National Gallery in London. I find art mostly dull and uninteresting, but Wiseman's documentary did considerably change my thoughts. The three hours was cut down from 170 hours, and takes place during the winter of 2012. Wiseman takes a look at the many wonderful pieces of art and the behind-the-scenes management of the gallery. What did surprise me is how he made the film look so good when using his own artificial lights would be banned due to them fading the pictures (I asked him this in the Q+A once the film had finished, and he said it was because he used a RedOne camera and edited like crazy afterwards). It's quite unexpected how beautiful the inside of the art gallery looks like on film, with gleaming floors and beautiful works of art on the walls. The staff talking about the art really impressed me, and showed me how a simple painting can have an unbelievable story behind it. The film may be too long, but its one of the most relaxing, peaceful experiences possible and is easy to chill throughout. The final dancing scene was a specific highlight, and one of the most gorgeous scenes at the festival. Wiseman is seriously old, but I hope this is not his final film.
Best Documentary, Most Relaxing Film, Longest Film