Festival Watch
Fantasia International Film Festival 2004
Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent packs a wallop
Emru Townsend · August 29 | There's a joke that Canadians excel at the art of politely queuing for just about anything. But when it comes to the Fantasia film festival in Montreal, that talent is considerably stretched. During this year's festival, which spanned a mind-boggling three and a half weeks (July 8 to August 1), it wasn't uncommon for me to arrive two hours early for a screening and find a dozen people ahead of me.

There may have been a pragmatic reason: at one of the two venues, the first twenty people or so could comfortably stand or sit in the shade; everyone else had to put up with direct sunlight. More likely, it was because no one wanted to take any chances. Since its inception, Fantasia—referred to as a festival of genre or fantastic films in polite company—has been a venue for premieres (years ago, Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue played even before its Japanese debut) and films you might never get to see on the big screen again (I'm still aching over missing Wings of Honneamise in the festival's first year).

Fantasia has always had a strong animation component, and this year did not disappoint. More than a tenth of this year's 100-plus features were animated, as well as almost half of the 80-odd shorts.

Continuing its Satoshi Kon love-fest (Millennium Actress played in 2001, with the director attending), both Tokyo Godfathers and the first three episodes of Paranoia Agent played this year. I've yet to see Millennium Actress, but Kon has rapidly becoming one of my favorite animation directors. Set in the present day, his films could be shot in live-action, and they would work 90% of the time—but the loss to the remaining 10% would be incalculable. Kon's comic and dramatic timing, and his penchant for playing with time, would seem forced in live-action; the frame-by-frame control of animation allows him to get us into his character's heads or just kill us with laughter. I appreciate both his sense of playfulness and his willingness to look into people's darker sides; Paranoia Agent in particular manages to exploit both, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

I've read elsewhere that Wonderful Days (also known as Sky Blue) is Korea's first animated feature. It's not, but it's likely to generate considerable attention; much like manga's Korean cousin manwha, the visuals echo Japanese animation while maintaining its own distinct flavour. Director Moon-saeng Kim's film combines traditional animation, CGI, stop-motion and some composited live footage to tell a story of a post–eco-disaster Earth where the ruling class live in the high-tech and slightly antiseptic paradise ECOBAN, whose energy is supplied by converted pollution. The lower-caste Marrians provide the labour to keep ECOBAN running, but some are willing to fight for freedom—some are even crazy enough to dream of blue, clean skies. Wonderful Days' story is serviceable, though not compelling, and the love triangle that is crucial to the denouement is woefully underdeveloped, but it's a pleasure to bear witness to a new force making itself known. If Wonderful Days' creators are guilty of anything, it's of being a little too ambitious in terms of the story they were trying to tell. But I'd rather watch someone try to reach and falter than play it safe and succeed.
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