Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Dreams On Fire (2021)

Dreams On Fire (2021)

Director (and writer): Philippe McKie

Cast: Bambi Naka, Masahiro Takashima, Akaji Maro, Saki Okuda, Shizuku Yamashita, Medusa Lee

A vibrant and intoxicating look into Japanese dance and subculture communities. – IMDB

Dreams On Fire is a 2021 drama about the journey of a young dancer Yume who moves from her small-town against her grandfather and mother’s wishes to Tokyo to make it big in dancing however along the way, she meets a few good and bad people that assist and hinder her journey.

From the director of short film Breaker previously shown at Fantasia Festival, Philippe McKie has the North American premiere of his directorial feature film debut with Dreams On Fire that casts dancer Bambi Naka in her first leading role in the role of Yume. Yume’s journey through Tokyo isn’t exactly an unexpected one however, it is unique to the Tokyo landscape as it leads her from one place to the next that exceeds the hostess club that she lands her first job at to a lot of underground bars and clubs from fetish to cosplay and so on. Through the process she learns about the hurdles of becoming of a dancer on all fronts both from the people she meets to the things that happen to her, something like building a social media following having its importance and the importance of image, making her simple dream of being a dancer much more complicated than it seems. Much like most dance films, it all dials down to a big dance battle that almost rounds out as the movie also starts off in a dance battle.

With the different locations, the music style and dance styles all vary and change making the movie every more so colorful both literally and metaphorically. Along the way, Yume also breaks out of her shy shell and really openly expresses herself more and more. The film shifts through these locations mostly showing different dance scenes, dance studio, the hostess club where she works and anchoring itself in her little rental room which is an empty little box with a table and computer and nothing else, truly highlighting the starving artist part of her journey. The part of the charm of the film is the underground settings, each with their own distinctive elements starting with the gold and chandelier almost tacky cosplay hostess club that Yume’s starting working at where the people there are mostly horrible as expected to the darker settings from S&M club and her introduction into different music like heavy metal and folk. The film really dives deep into the diversity of Tokyo’s underground scene.

A good part of Yume’s journey is in the people that she meets along the ways. As much as she meets bad people like the hostess club boss who threatens her often to keep coming to work and has a lack of respect in general, she also meets a lot of good people along the way who appreciate her talents and while doesn’t quite understand her journey, refers to other dance-related gigs and jobs however, perhaps its the people the she meets on her own paths that are the most charming. Of course, that’s not to say that Bambi Naka as Yume isn’t great because she does a great job and it helps that her dancing abilities are really outstanding and the growth throughout the film moving from one dance choreography to the next is embodied so well. The one that definitely stands out is her dance studio teacher played by Genta Yamaguchi who is a colorful person in general. Every scene is so fun and light-hearted and absolutely bubbly. Much like later on when she meets ChoCho (Medusa Lee), a Chinese fashion school graduate that moved to Tokyo to be in what she believes is the no.1 fashion location and ends up teaming up with Yume with her costumes. Not to mention that, I strongly believe that the jacket she wears in final battle is the one that is in Breaker (not sure if anyone can confirm this or not?).

Dreams On Fire is an absolutely journey that keeps to familiar outline of a dance movie and yet also breaks out of it by highlighting its locations and stepping up the diversity of music and dance as it moves through so much variety on the artistic level. The movie is a trip, not only for Yume but the viewer. At times, the cinematography is also a trip from rotating camera angles to aerial shots to long neon-lit alleys or distorted dreamy sequences used blurs and bright colors. Overall, Dreams On Fire is an absolute treat.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2021)

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Droste no hate de bokura, 2021)

Director: Junta Yamaguchi

Cast: Kazunori Tosa, Aki Asakura, Riko Fujitani, Gota Ishida, Yoshifumi Sakai

A cafe owner discovers that the TV in his cafe suddenly shows images from the future, but only two minutes into the future. – IMDB

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese indie low-budget one-take time travel sci-fi comedy Japanese. Look at those hyphens. A few of those things might even sound like gimmicks but let us not forget the success the surprises that One Cut of the Dead (review) brought using a similar low-budget one-take concept. While its hard to say that this one is as clever as that one but comparing a zombie movie to a sci-fi comedy is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. While time travel and time loop films usually are rather complicated deal with a lot of loopholes most of the time, but this plot execution flips it around to feel like a much more simple sci-fi element and focuses it more on the events and people involved.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is another type of beast in itself. Its fun and extremely enjoyable in all its absurdness and time loopy elements that at some point, it almost feels like it might lose itself and not exactly know how to get out of that loop to wrap up the plot and somehow, it does using something as simple as TV and PC monitors and a delayed surveillance camera link creating a 2 minute void. The concept feels so simple and other than wondering who actually has monitors with such long cables that you can run up and down the stairs with a screen within one setting, there’s a lot of credit to give for a movie filmed entirely on iPhone in one-take.

There’s something so great about simplicity in films. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes dials it down. All it takes is 2 screens facing each other and a constant growth in the cast from one person to two and slowly the group forms with friends and employees each offering up their thoughts on how to use this 2 minute advantage. As each person in the group pitches in their thoughts on how to profit from the future, they soon realize that its unreasonable to go too far ahead as they have to keep the loop consistent. 2 minutes might not feel like a lot of time and yet, it creates a lot of busy work as they use it to pull minutes ahead in time to utilize the future to teach the past selves that help their present situation. Its a pretty clever execution overall. Perhaps, it might not work if you dissected the film in depth but I do have to admit that at a certain point, the loop just got a little hard to track but the plot itself was so engaging that it sold the time loop element convincingly.

While the films general time loop concept seems like a much simpler affair, the cast here is what brings in a lot of the charm. The cast itself consists mainly of members of a theatrical troupe and this is their debut as film actor in collaboration with the voice talent Aki Asakura for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. While film might be new to the cast, they all deliver really well. The main character Kato (Kazunori Tosa) is a fairly quiet character that constantly brings in his reluctance to know about the future to the other people while he’s contrasted by the other much louder and colorful characters that are both friends, customers and employees who push the whole thing forward as they start off testing out the time loop in ridiculous outfits and little tasks to eventually bigger plans of how to expand the time loop and the many ideas to help them make money in whatever small way. This eventually to leads to a much more “dangerous” situation as they pull in others. While no one ever feels like they are any sort of the threat and the film never feels like it has the ultimate peak and turning point like other films, somehow the film does wrap up in both an absurd and heartwarming way.

Overall, Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes might almost sound like a gimmick playing with the one-take as the jump-off point but its so much more than that. A simple time loop concept with a fun plot that pushes itself further and further in plot set in one location, albeit an entire building, and a charming cast of basic characters keeps both the sci-fi and comedy elements fresh and entertaining. Its a fun little ride from start to finish, no matter how absurd it might seem. Don’t forget to stick around to see some of the filming process inserted in the credits with a hilarious looking moment as they scrabble up the stairs with cables, cast and crew, really showing how one takes really take the entire team to make it all happen.

*Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is on demand on Fantasia Film Festival’s virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*

FNC 2020: Red Post on Escher Street (2020)

Red Post on Escher Street (2020)

Director (and writer): Sion Sono

Cast: Sen Fujimaru, Riku Kurokouchi, Mala Morgan

It follows a film-maker who holds auditions for his net project. Several of the actors who fail to win roles participate as extras. – IMDB

While Sion Sono is a well-known director from Japan, its one that is a bit of a blindspot in my watch list. Red Post on Escher Street is an odd film. It almost feels like one long audition reel with a lot of different groups of friends and touching a little on the different backstories from a widowed young girl and her family to a group of friends who do theatre shows today or a group of extreme fangirls of the director of this film, etc. Looking at both sides from the auditions to the different people behind the scenes like the director’s story and the executives funding the film and their influence and all coming to the finale where the film is being made and all these people who didn’t get the roles become these extras and it all goes to a crazy finale. The whole thing feels like a lot of something and nothing and almost feels like its not very significant and yet, there is something so charming and entertaining about the whole ordeal which is what makes Red Post on Escher Street such a fun movie experience despite its long runtime of almost 2.5 hours long.

Red Post on Escher Post highlights a film set and the difficulties plus the differences in viewpoints. The director wants to find his roots and a new muse of sorts that he had with a previous actress that he worked with however, things are set up in a certain way to be coerced to have the investor’s wishes of casting his own choice of cast. The pressures on all sides and the different backstories of the people all reflected and come together by the end. It all gets so ridiculous at the end and yet so hilarious as we have the shoot all fall apart when the extras want to fight for their chance and follow their dreams, each warped in their own thoughts and this whole string of people running down the streets. I’m sure the Red Post Box is meant to have some significance but its really great how it shows up in different scenes as a purpose for various events whether its finding certain items or delivering their audition application forms or whatnot.

Red Post on Escher Street is a movie to just experience. Its hard to say that anything is especially outstanding but yet it all seems to work together in a rather over the top way. Some of it doesn’t all make sense but then the script is done that by the end a lot of the randomness comes together in subtle details in dialogue and a little reveal for one of the characters. The scenes and outfits are colorful and the characters themselves are also quite catchy and oddly intriguing. Among the tons of serious movies in this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema, its quite the palate cleanser to have a movie that discusses a very serious themes of grief, loss, chasing dreams, oppression but all wrapped up in this colorful and oddly comedic tone.

Double Feature: Gwen (2018) & The Garden of Words (2013)

As we get back to more frequent double features, we head into the next letter in our alphabet run as we get to G. G selections on Shudder are rather slim pickings so I went ahead and started up 2018’s slow-burn film Gwen and then paired with also a shorter title with Japanese animated film by the same director as Your Name, The Garden of Words. Let’s check it out!

Gwen (2018)

Gwen

Director (and writer): William McGregor

Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Mark Lewis Jones, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Elfyn

A folk tale set in the hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. – IMDB

Gwen is a slow pace Welsh horror drama set during the Industrial Revolution, mostly set in the isolated hills where this family of a mother and two daughters live on their farm. Unfortunate situations keep happening as the older daughter Gwen holds up the family and strives to survive while dealing with the farm animals dying mysteriously and her mother being overcome with a mysterious illness. Its a dark story and well-portrayed in its landscape and setting under its dim lighting and gloomy shots.

If we look at the characters, Gwen is played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox who does a really great job in this character. Its a quiet movie so dialogue is much less and there’s more of an observation of the situation and she does that very well. At the same time, her mother is played by Maxine Peake who also captures her role fairly well. There’s some rather “creepy” moments for lack of a better word. The movie itself isn’t exactly scary per se but it is a little unsettling at parts.

Gwen is for the patient audience that doesn’t mind a slow paced horror drama. Its not scary in the jump scare sense but more of a slow unwinding unsettling feeling that goes with where its set and the gloomy darker environment that surrounds this tale.

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Takeshi Maeda,

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. – IMDB

The Garden of Words is a 45 minute Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the person behind Your Name. Its interesting to see that this story also features two strangers Takao and Yukari who the latter is the mysterious woman who we actually don’t know the name until much later when her identity is revealed. The Garden of Words is something of a coming of age as the two characters have their own personal struggles of being a bit of a loner or misunderstood and finding it hard to know how to move forward. It uses the 15 year old boy, Takao’s passion for being a shoemaker and shoes in general as a metaphor for life.

Because of that focus, there’s a lot of scenes that capture the feet with how they sit and position their feet or walking through the streets, etc. Makoto Shinkai is a nice storyteller. His stories, at least the two to date that I’ve watched, has been rather meaningful. Its always about some element of life and adds a hint of romance in it that helps the characters grow. While this story isn’t quite as complex, it does take a level of careful execution to allow the story to work in the realm of keeping one of the character’s a mystery until giving her identity reveal. At the same time, Shinkai always gives these rich in color and beautiful animated scenery. In this case, its capturing the realistic rain fall set in the beautiful garden and capturing the light beams  and such.

The Garden of Words is a mere 45 minutes and because it doesn’t have a overly complex story but still with a little mystery, it adds enough to move the story in a quick paced. Its well-animated and has a rather careful metaphor. The story focuses on two characters with an age gap and while there are some elements of it that feels a little odd at first, its a rather interesting friendship that happens between them. Its a bit unlikely but then its not the friendship itself but rather how it develops emotionally perhaps. The Garden of Words is a quick viewing that’s definitely worth your time if you liked Your Name. Its not the same sort of story but its still a pretty good watch.

That’s it for this G double feature!
Have you seen these two movies? Thoughts?

Double Feature: Your Name. (2016) & The Guardian Brothers (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time, we are looking at two foreign animated films. The first is one that was previously reviewed as a part of the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon and originally posted over at my co-host Drew’s Movie Reviews’s blog for Your Name. The second is a Chinese animated film by Light Chaser Animation Studios called The Guardian Brothers (on Netflix, but called Little Door Gods everywhere else), which is their debut movie from the studio before getting to one of my favorite movies of 2019, White Snake (review).

Your Name. (2016)

your name

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Voice Cast (English ver.):  Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh, Kyle Hebert, Cassandra Morris, Ben Pronsky, Ray Chase, Laura Post, Glynis Ellis, Catie Harvey, Scott Williams

Two strangers find themselves linked in a bizarre way. When a connection forms, will distance be the only thing to keep them apart? – IMDB

There’s no doubt that when we think of Japanese animated films, Studio Ghibli is the first one that gets the most recognition. Yet in the sea of Japanese anime, there’s a lot of smaller films with a lot of great ideas that are starting to appear on the international film market and Your Name is one that definitely had a lot of recognition when it was released. Adapted from director Makoto Shinkai’s novel of the same name which was published only one month prior to the film’s premiere, Your Name stands out because of all its elements being done very well: story full of reveals and twists, emotional moments, music score and of course, its rich animation.  

Your Name has incredibly rich animation. Each scene has a lot of intricate details. Whether its setting up how the sunlight beams through a scene or how the night sky and the comet and lights contrast in its night scenes, every scene is set up to look beautifully authentic, especially in its outdoors nature scene that almost looks like a realistic snapshot full of colors, instead of an animation. Paired with its music score by Radwimps which runs fittingly throughout all the scenes, especially during the montage moments between the two main leads and the little things that happen to go through time quickly, it adds so much to each scene and tone. 

The story here written by the director Makoto Shinkai is based on his own novel which makes it even more of a personal offering and easier to portray the film the way that he wants. Your Name carries a rather complex story packed with swapping bodies, time elements and a few surprises along the way. Its execution is possibly the most important element put to the test in order to make each of its reveals timed perfectly to make it have the most impact and Shinkai does it so masterfully that it manages to make each one unpredictable and pulls the story into another direction and packing in a lot of emotions and tugging some heartstrings as this is at the centre of it all, a love story by the end. At the same time, props to Shinkai who also starts off the story in a light and fun way of introducing these two characters, Taki and Mitsuha with their different backgrounds, locations and genders who learn to discover each other physically and emotionally, adding a lot of charm and humor. At the same time, every supporting character also has its own purpose in propelling the story forward and making sure that some conversations help explain the odd predicament that they find themselves in. 

Overall, Your Name is an outstanding animated film. While I only managed to listen to the English version and would have preferred to see the original Japanese version with English subtitles instead, the story doesn’t lose anything because it has some unique ideas and excels in so many elements that put together, it becomes a memorable movie experience. Yet again proving that 2010s brings forward an eye-opening offering of international films and expands into some unique ideas outside of the big American studios like Disney and Pixar offerings. 

The Guardian Brothers (小门神 , 2016)

  The Guardian Brothers

Directors: Gary Wang & Paulette Victor-Lifton

Voice Cast (Eng. Version): Dan Fogler, Edward Norton, Bella Thorne, Nicole Kidman, Mel Brooks, Meryl Streep, Steve French, Cristina Pucelli

There’s a crisis in the Chinese Spirit World — humans don’t believe in gods anymore! A Door God, facing unemployment, ventures into the human world to prove his worth, leading to unexpected encounters and transformations for humans and spirits alike. – IMDB

Much like its recent film offering, Light Chaser Animation Studios creates stories that play with certain Chinese beliefs, traditions as well as stories. In this one, it uses the belief of spiritual guardians  just like how American movies would use Santa Claus and the loss in belief, affect the future in the human world and pulling the two worlds together. At the same time, it also surrounds the story during Chinese New Year and a familiar tale of a creature called Nian that is the origins of why many Chinese New Year traditions are now used like firecrackers and such. Light Chaser Studios, using these source material, creates a rather fun story which is very much fittingly a fantasy comedy and has equal doses of both, while still managing to add some family drama in between of a mother and daughter relationship and carrying on their family restaurant against the more popular commercial restaurant.

The English version of The Guardian Brothers is packed with a great cast. Right off the bat, Meryl Streep has a unique voice that I’ve always loved and she does a stellar job as the narrator which carries the story really well. The brothers are voiced by Dan Fogler and Edward Norton who fittingly also has one who is more funny and the other much more serious respectively. While Bella Thorne definitely does show up in a lot of different movies more and more and her voicing the role of a little girl, Rain really has its own fun. I talked about her roles a little when I reviewed Midnight Sun (review) and yet again, it is wonderful to see her take on something other than the norm and further breaks her out of this acting box that she was stuck in for a while. Of course, it does help that Nicole Kidman is casted to voice her mother. Of course, I can’t leave this without talking about the villain or just the evil corporate businessman voiced by Mel Brooks, which really is present but more as hurdles and gets whats coming to him as with most animated films aimed towards children (maybe not too young as some darker elements here and there) do to emphasize the importance of being good.

If there was anything to criticize for this one, it might be just the pacing and at times the execution feels like the story jumps around a little too much that pads out what could be a fairly straight forward story. However, the animation is really colorful and imaginative. It manages to grab a good color palette suitable to the atmosphere and what is going on. Its a nice offering and one that is incredibly suitable for Chinese New Year (which was actually when I first watched it not knowing that it was a Chinese New Year movie).

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen either of these animated films?

First Love (2019)

First Love (2019)

First Love

Director: Takashi Miike

Cast: Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi, Shota Sometani, Takahiro Miura, Becky, Jun Murakami, Nao Ohmori, Cheng-Kuo Yen, Chun-hao Tuan, Mami Fujioka

A young boxer and a call girl get caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme over the course of one night in Tokyo. – IMDB

With over 100 directorial credits under his name, Takashi Miike movies are always ones to look forward to. Some obviously deliver more than others as he churns them at such fast speeds. There are a huge variety of what he does whether its adaptations or original stories. However, there is no doubt that he always manages to bring some nice cinematography and most of the time, some quirky characters to life as well. With that said, his latest full feature First Love is one that embodies a very well-made movie as it brings everything you’d expect in a Japanese action crime film: action, blood, crime and quirky characters, humor; all into the mix in this rather fast-paced 2 hour movie that doesn’t even feel that long with everything that goes on. 

First Love

The action presented in First Love is fantastic. Each of the characters have their own form of weapons as the two sides, Yakuza and Chinese triad, collide together as they both start chasing down the two innocents thrown into this to find some drugs that obviously don’t have. Each side hunting down for a different objective and hidden motives and each character surfacing with their intents throughout. At the same time, each have their different personality, quirks, humor that all pulls together with their different weapon of choice: katana, shotguns, crowbars, etc. You name it and its all there to create this very violent romp but also deliberately clumsy in some ways that it breaks through some of the intense action scenes. Its perfectly balanced to make it a very satisfying watch. Especially when its paired with a great soundtrack to match the chase and action scenes. 

First Love

There is an incredible amount of cast here. A lot of people that gets involved in the whole ordeal. The main female lead Monica (Sakurako Konishi) and male lead Leo (Masataka Kubota) are actually the quieter characters here as they get propelled through the story and have a rather toned-down attraction to each other as they move through this. Monica is a bit odd as she has some weird hallucinations which actually are rather absurd at times but eventually becomes rather comedic. As for Leo, Kubota takes on this role as a boxer who doesn’t seem to be very passionate about his profession until the doctor tells him that he is about to die which makes him lash out and causes him to be caught up in this mess. There are a lot of subtle changes within his character development. Its definitely another great role after seeing his appearance as Skin in Diner (review).

However, if we were to talk about the supporting characters that show up, they definitely have a much bigger contrast that creates some really fun moments. Julie (Becky) is a woman whose boyfriend gets killed and she’s out to revenge with a crowbar who is completely bonkers. She definitely stands out here in both her appearance and dialogue. Aside from her, there is the yakuza underling (Shota Sometani) who tries to work the yakuza and Chinese against each other but becomes this hilariously clumsy character that creates a lot of problems in the path of reaching his goal and its a standout character here even if he plays the bad guy role. And thats not even getting to the one handed shotgun wielding Chinese man (Cheng-kuo Yen) or the female assassin (Mami Fujioka). All very colorful characters to discover! 

Overall, First Love is an awesome movie. It has both great execution and pacing. There are a palette of colorful characters to discover and a fantastic balance between dark humor, action set through one night in Tokyo between the organized crime rivalry. Highly recommend!

You can find out where to get this film HERE

Music Obsession: November 2019

 

Music Obsessions (17)

Its hard to imagine that I survived the crazy that was October and in a blur, we have arrived in November. Surprisingly, I find some really fun music to get through all of the crazy which is great because music is what keeps me alive in my downtime. I’m just going to jump right in. Some of this was found through some of the little events I went to during the past month, others are just randomly in Youtube when I had time to peruse my subscribed channels.

Let’s check it out!

Flip – Theo 朱正廷

Its no surprise that out of the nine members of Nine Percent, well, the ex-Nine Percent now, my favorite member ever since the Idol Producer show is Theo. He is a fantastic dancer and even when I watched him in the different variety and reality shows, he just has a great personality, so I’m happy to see him finally coming out with his own EP.

Senkyaku Banrai 千客万来 – Daoko & Miyavi (‘Diner’ Main Theme)

I watched Diner during Festival du Nouveau Cinema. You can find the review HERE. Its one of my top 5 films of the festival which pretty much tops the movies and a part of its style has to go to its great soundtrack. While I couldn’t find a ton of the music, I did find its main theme and its very awesome music video. The video is full of energy and a fantastic bridge part that just elevates the entire song even more. Its great!

Bomba – UNINE

As Nine Percent disbands to their separate path, 2019’s group to come out is UNINE from Season 2 of Idol Producer. While I didn’t finish the show and now its locked for iQiyi subscribers only (which I’ll get back to eventually), UNINE is a group that I’m seeing their members show up in different reality and variety shows lately so I looked a little more into their music. I can’t say that I think the members are as talented as Nine Percent but UNINE does have a nice balance of talent and Bomba is a pretty fun song while I was looking up their songs. Plus, they are just a few months old as a group so they still have time to put out more stuff.

Call of Heroes 危城 – Shin 信

We are going back a few years now to 2017 as I rediscover this song which I’ve never actually added onto my Favorite playlist on Youtube. Shin is a really great singer and as I watch him and his daughter in the Chinese variety show When I Grow Up currently, its actually made me want to revisit his music as he is incredibly talented. One of my favorite songs from him, other than the song that put him on the map, is this one.  A lot of high energy music this time but I’ve always been a fan of songs with the traditional Chinese music sort of flair mixed into it.

帥到分手 –周湯豪 Nick Chou

So..I fell out of the Taiwanese music scene for a while and as I start diving back in to catch up TV series and movies and such, I’m also obviously getting back to music and the most random find which just appeared on my Youtube suggestions was this song. Don’t know this singer, never heard of this song but it looked fun so I checked it out and its been just playing on repeat. I do have to say that some angles of him looks like Jackson Wang and his style reminds a lot of Alan Kuo. Apparently, I’ve missed some good stuff. I’m not sure if its the lyrics or the tune or the energy but its really good and once I catch up with some other stuff, I’ll be going back to hunt down more of Nick Chou’s songs.

都是你害的 All You Did – 畢書盡 Bii

In the whole Taiwanese drama catch-up phase and after a really fun conversation with my good friend visiting from out of town, I ended up FINALLY starting up Bromance which made me want to rediscover Bii who plays a supporting role in the drama. Bii actually is a pretty decent actor but he is a phenomenal singer. He writes his own songs and you can see the growth he has had from the first time that I listened to his music to now, which I have a pick of his for next month probably.

That’s it for this Music Obsessions!
What have been listening to lately?

FNC 2019: Diner (2019)

Diner (2019)

Diner

Director: Mika Ninagawa

Cast: Tina Tamashiro, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kubota Masataka, Hongo Kanata, Okuda Eiji, Maya Miki, Anna Tsuchiya

Kanako Oba uses a mysterious site to apply for part-time work. As a result, her life is soon in jeopardy. She is forced to work at the restaurant Diner as a waitress or she will be killed. The restaurant is membership only and their customers are all contract killers. – MyDramaList

If John Wick’s elite assassin world was moved to a diner exclusively crafted to serve their culinary needs with experiences specific for their business and and pleasure with the Japanese over the top flair, this is what Mika Ninagawa’s Diner would best relate to. Engulfing its scenes by flamboyantly dangerous characters, techno, punk and classical background music to pair with its scenes and constrasting sharp color palettes in a dark underground setting, its a feast for for the senses on many levels.

Mika Ninagawa’s vision for Diner is visually stunning. From its pink lettered neon lettering to its stylistic introduction for each characters and its choice of how each of them interact with the female lead, Kanako Oba (Tina Tamashiro). There’s a lot of style and substance in Diner from how the culinary experience is shown to the different over the top meals are done to the reactions as well as how the action scenes are done. It has a lot of the fun and over the top elements of Japanese films that add a certain level of weird but fun especially when matched with the different killer and the rooms they eat in, each matching the killers personality.

Talking about character designs now, the main story revolves around Kanako Oba where Tina Tamashiro does a lovely job at playing this quiet and shy girl whose life is mostly summarized in the opening scene rather uniquely blending with its background music, which honestly sets the tone for what to expect, and tackles the main issue of her shyness and unknown desire of what to do in life because she feels unwanted until she sees a colorful picture of Guanajuato that makes her try to find a way to get money to go. In terms of character design and possibly development, her character is the focal point and also the most developed throughout this story. However, opposite her is male lead playing the Diner owner and head chef also an ex-elite assassin, Bombero (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who is very tough on her because those preceding her have died due to the dangerous clientele. Bombero is a fun character mostly because he has this subtlety to his character that relies a lot on his observation and what he does but then also has this loneliness that he closes himself off to because of the company he keeps.

Flamboyant characters are a center of Japanese films when it comes to over the top elements and here, the assassins themselves, as shallow as their characters are with not a lot of back story to work with, are perfectly suited to simply push the story forward and give those little hurdles or connections with Kanako Oba to surprise and frighten her in this new setting. It all works up to the point that every killer has a weakness and tipping point and it all leads to the final dinner where it discusses the decision of change of crime lord that runs the Yakuza entirely which of course, doesn’t run smoothly and has some crazy action sequence. Of course, there are a few selected assassins that get a little more screen time than others and one of them called Skin (Masataka Kubota) really takes his role and runs with it in such an impressive way.

Diner is a really entertaining sort of film. While the culinary element might be done a little more to fit a culinary experience title, there is still a lot of impressive balance between the crime thriller and the whole setting in a diner. Its a straightforward story and not hard to imagine where all this leads but keeps it on the fun level. Most of its characters are fairly shallow in development and yet, due the film’s length and staying on path, they achieve what the film needs to set up these main characters to deal with this final group. The action scenes are well choreographed and there’s some ridiculous moments, not to mention the ending result is a bit of a headscratcher logically, however, somehow because of the over the top elements in Japanese films, anything is possible so its easy to let it pass.

Diner has a second screening during Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 15th at 8:35pm at Cinema du Parc. You can find more info HERE.

FNC 2019: Family Romance LLC (2019)

Family Romance LLC (2019)

Family Romance LLC

Director (and writer): Werner Herzog

Cast: Ishii Yuichi, Mahiro Tanimoto

A man is hired to impersonate the missing father of a young girl. – IMDB

How far would you go to create a certain feeling? Family Romance LLC is a company that finds professional actors to create a certain moment crafted to their needs whether its a stand-in husband at a ceremony or setting up a surprise moment to relive an experience or in this story’s central story, a father returning to know a daughter. It takes a look at how a person’s desire to escape loneliness and feel wanted or important can lead them to create these fictitious moments and where does it stop.

Family Romance LLC approaches its rather personal material in a well-rounded structure. It focuses on the main story which is a mother hiring a man Ishii (Ishii Yuichi) to be the father of her 12 year old daughter Mahiro (Mahiro Tanimoto) who has left them since she was 2 and the following outings this “father-daughter” go on to build their relationship while seeing how this man Ishii reports back to the mother. At the same time, it gives another side of the story of Family Romance LLC and that is the other types of services that it offers for other people in need which gives a broader extent of how far these services can go and the boundaries and limits and how it is run on other levels.

While that is the case, Family Romance LLC will at times feel disjointed as it jumps from one scene to the next whether in his main vein or the little cases of different people that approach Ishii hiring their different actors for their different emotional voids. At the same time, its hard to determine whether this is a documentary or a drama as the main cast are non-professional actors sharing the raw story based on “rentaru furendo”, an actual type of agency like Family Romance LLC that exists in Japan. Perhaps its because these actors, mostly focused on Mahiro and Ishii that makes this film feel ever more realistic and at times, see that their attachment does form and how it will end as father-daughter relationships is something that can be replicated not exactly an act that can be forever. Especially as these two, despite their awkward interactions growing slightly better by the end, do spike some connection to these people and wonder whether on any level these lies are better especially for the daughter who may have believed to have found her father again but to inevitably have to lose him at some point depending on how far this act can go.

Family Romance LLC is a tough film to watch. Its not for everyone especially in terms of pacing and it blurs that line between cinema and reality. It looks at the society and the emotional voids that individuals will have as well as how far they will go to replicate feelings, relive moments and create this fake sense of security or happiness and find their own bliss. However, it also emphasizes on the actor hired, Ishii Yuichi and as much as this is a business and he can’t love or be loved (something along those lines), emotions are part of being human and he has to know where to draw the lines, no matter how difficult and as subtle as those feelings are portrayed, those struggling moments add a lot to the film as Family Romance LLC shows many sides of the story. For this premise, which is hard to portray, director Werner Herzog makes the best of it and delivers a fairly immersive film that will make you ponder on how far the lonely society will go and how significant emotional voids are in life.

Family Romance LLC has another screening at Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 19th at 9:20pm at Cineplex Odeon Quarter – Salle 10. You can find more info HERE.

Restaurant: Ichigo Ichie Izakaya (Montreal, Quebec)

Its been a while since I’ve shared any restaurant visits. I actually had quite a few to share but haven’t gotten around to it. We will do those if the time presents itself, however, this past weekend, I went out for a Bachelorette Party dinner at Ichigo Ichie Izakaya, which is the restaurant portion linked to Yokato Yokabai where I had previously talked about in a Weekly Adventures HERE.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Located in Plateau Mont Royal, the best way probably is to take the Metro to Mont-Royal station and take  few minutes walk over. Ichigo Ichie Izakaya is a Japanese pub so we had reservations for the 10 people and gave us a big table on the side. I can’t say that there’s a lot of good stuff to say about the group seating there as the cushioned seats were too low (maybe I’m too short) and then the ventilation wasn’t quite good so it was very hot as its also quite near the kitchen. They need to add some kind of vents around that spot probably.

Putting all that stuff aside, we’re there for food and drinks and of course, spending time to celebrate our friend’s upcoming marriage so let’s talk food.

Cocktails

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Cocktail: Nashi

I can’t remember exactly what was in this drink called Nashi but it tasted a lot like those Lychee jelly that used to come in those little plastic cups which was pretty delicious. There were quite a few very interesting cocktail blends here that I’d definitely want to go back and check out if given the chance.

Main Meals
(shared among 3 people)

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Garlic Fried Raisu – Soy and garlic fried rice, shiso, sesame seeds

Garlic Fried Rice was my choice. Its always more substance to have some kind of rice or noodles so its why I chose this one, plus, it fit with what I could potentially eat, which was good because the other carbs choice was one that I couldn’t eat. This one was pretty decent. Simple, for sure but the rice and the garlic and how it was fried had really good texture. There was a lot of garlic and yet wasn’t too overpowering either.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Ebi Mayo (I think) – Jumbo shrimp tempura, crushed almonds & sweet chili mayonnaise

Tempura is the sure fire at any Japanese restaurant. If you can’t get this right, then you can forget about it. This one had 2 jumbo shrimp tempura which was cut into pieces on the bed of crunchy noodles or something. I don’t remember why you call it. Everything worked really well even the spicy mayo that actually gave it a nice kick.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Butabara – Grilled Pork Belly skewer, Japanese curry seasoning

Pork belly is something that I like getting when I go out and seeing as Yokato Yokabai has the option to choose pork belly in their ramen, I figured it would also be a good choice for this section. We spent a little time cutting up the pieces so everyone could share. The Japanese curry seasoning was quite powerful and rather spicy however, it was pretty delicious also.

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Carbonara Udon – Stir fried udon noodles, bacon, onsen egg, mushroom, spring onions, creamy sauce

Finally, Carbonara Udon was my friend’s choice which I completely forgot had creamy sauce so I had to skip it. My friends however did enjoy this one. They said that the sauce wasn’t too heavy and it was pretty delicious as well.

Dessert

Ichigo Ichie Izakaya

Matcha Tiramisu

Suffice to say that, I had to skip out on dessert as well, even though there was an option for Yuzu sorbet (but I was pretty full at that point) so my friends got the Matcha Tiramisu to share. It felt like it wasn’t exactly what they were expecting and from what they said the matcha layers were fairly bland but then the matcha layer on the top was too thick.

OVERALL…

I’ve never been to a Japanese pub as Ichigo Ichie is categorized at. The cocktails are really cool and they have a nice selection of drinks. Everyone at our table, who took other drinks also seemed to enjoy it. The service was also pretty good. Our waitress was very helpful and friendly and answered a lot of our questions whenever and happily went to seek out answers when she didn’t know the answer to it. The food itself was pretty decent as well. Its a tad overpriced in my opinion but its meant to be tapas style so meant to share and it all came out to an alright bill at the end. With that said, paying for food is always more enjoyable when you enjoyed the meal and I was pretty happy with the food presented. There’s a lot of interesting dishes on the menu which could merit a second visit.