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Hiff 2008: Part 3

October 1, 2008

Friday, again

Back to Helsinki. This time I had better luck; I had decided not to skip any afternoon lessons at school and take the 3:30 train. Unintentionally wise decision, considering I had forgotten about the accounting test that took place at 12:30.

I always thought Kiyoshi Kurosawa might be able to pull out a great movie if he left the ghost out. That’s exactly what he does in Tokyo Sonata (2008 ). Kurosawa crafts a slightly satiric downfall drama that becomes increasingly humoristic, even absurd. It all begins when a white collar father loses his job, and is too embarrassed to tell the truth to his family. Some of the plot turns don’t even attempt to be believable, but Kurosawa evens the affair with restrained visual style and relatively slow pace. The soundtrack works quite well. After halfway, during Koji Yakusho’s comedic appearance, there’s a long continous take where Kurosawa’s skill really shows.

One of the less amusing festival rituals in eating while walking. With too little time, too many movies, and a stomach telling you food is needed right now you have no choice but to combine actions to save time. McDonalds is your friend. Cheese burger would take too long – it was crowded – so I only take french fries. I also have a bun that I ”stole” from the school restaurant earlier today in my bag. Itadakimasu!

Soviet Union. 1984. Not a very good time and place, according to Aleksei Balabanov’s film Cargo 200 (2007), which, for some reason, I thought was about illeagal army operations. This turned out false assumption, for the most part. Rather than telling an important story it’s a fraction of hell, a few randomly chosen dark days in the countryside, later clashing with bleak industrial views. Balabanov steers the pic with great originality; it is impossible to foresee the upcoming events. Even more impressive is the terrific soundtrack. Characters and actors are good enough, although the female lead doesn’t always convince. Dark humour is constantly present.

Saturday

War plan needed. I have five movies scheduled for saturday, but, if possible, I’d also like to fight the hunger at some point. I walk into a pizzeria in Kamppi with hopes of taking use of their luch offer. But I forget it’s Saturday. Can’t help it, I don’t have time to find another restaurant as I need to be at Bio Rex at 1:00. I make it in time, although I wish I didn’t as I get to see the enormously irritating festival trailer for the 15th time. Do they really need to show that at the beginning of every film in Bio Rex?

More Cannes glory. Do-yeon Jeon scored the best actress award for her role as a suffering single parent in Secret Sunshine (2007). She gets to display some drastic changes in her character, but the performance is a bit hard to enjoy when every turn only aims at cheap melodrama. It’s a shame, as there are some good elements, like the first, humoristic 50 minutes, and Kang-ho Song, who is very good as a likable loser who falls in love with the lead character. Unfortunately, the majority of the film is so incredibly shabby that it buries all the positives. 2½ hour running time doesn’t make it any easier to endure.

A good film is now needed more than ever, but the ticket spells Sky Crawlers (2008 ), a potential crowd pleasing effort by Mamoru Oshii. This is fortunately not the case. Sky Crawers doesn’t go overboard with philosophing (like the director’s previous film; Innocense), but it’s pure Oshii from themes of identity and soul to lack of comprehensive answers. It’s not Oshii at his most effective, and suffers from some over-length, but it’s a fascinating piece set in unidentified time and place in the future. The numerous air battles are well done, and the final touch is given by Kenji Kawai’s terrific score. Big names Rinko Kikuichi and Chiaki Kuriama voice the most important supporting characters.

Time clashes rarely do good to cinema. Wong Kar Wai’s masterful wuxia drama Ashes of Time opened in 1994, after a long and problematic production. The stylish, emotional and a tiny bit insane film became a fan favourite, but never received a home video treatment it deserved. The available dvds all failed to do justice to the film. Part blame was to the available source prints, which were all in poor condition. Some of the problems could never be solved, as the film was shot using various film materials, not always very successfully. Instead of simply remastering the best sources available Wong decided to rework the whole film and release it theatrically as Ashes of Time: Redux (2008 ).

Financially it was a cleaver move; it didn’t take Sony long to pick the distribution rights. A better availability of the film in the future should be guaranteed. Unfortunately that’s were the good new end. The new remastering is a disaster. The image is now glazing orange / green, even dark at times. Dirt and scratches are gone, but so is film grain, at expense of sharpness of course. Digital touch shows in numerous new reflection effects. In the beginning there’s an apocalyptic cgi sun added next to the swordsmen. New and appalling opening and closing credits have been added.

Perhaps even worse is the ”improvements” made to the soundtrack. New surround effects in some of the fight scenes are only needless, but disrespecting Frankie Chan’s pitch perfect score is unforgivable. Much of the original music is gone while some has been remixed into inferior versions. Most of the time the images are accompanied by Yo Yo Ma’s new, dull desert drama music. Editing wise Redux omits several scenes from the original film, such as Leslie Cheung’s fight in the beginning, and footage from the ending. A couple of additional flowers have added to the film, for some reason.

It’s unbelievable how much these, and other changes, weaken the film. A bad movie it it still not, but a lot less effective. Stylistically it’s now more in line with Wong’s recent, more coherent drama features. This will probably appeal to overseas critics, but the bite is gone. This is, however, not the first time Wong adjusts his film. He already made an internatinal cut of Ashes of Time long ago, that omitted most of the fight scenes among others. This cut has been despised by fans, but compared to Redux it was a small compromise. Changes of the original cut ever seeing the light of day in remastered for seem close to zero.

More respect for original works can be found in Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008 ). Mark Hartley’s doc introduces the audiences to Australian exploitation films from nudie features to nature splatter and carsploitation. A large number of films are referenced, with a huge amount of fun clips that make you want to add some Aussie trash to your dvd shopping list, but the approach could be more indepth. Interviews consist mostly of 10 second speeches from the filmmakers, and Quentin Tarantino, who shares is enthusiasm in his usual motormouth fashion. Perhaps most memorable stories are shared by Dennis Hopper and his co-workers. We also learn that Wang Yu was an asshole with big ego.

One of the festival traditions, aside annual Miike and Ghibli features, is to have something less than sophisticated from Thailand. This year’s pick was Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew’s Chocolate (2008 ), which dumps the director’s regular star Tony Jaa in favour of having a female lead (JeeJa Yanin). The story of a autist girl who gets in trouble with the local gangsters and learns martial arts by watching Bruce Lee films on TV isn’t over-written for sure, but the basic idea – having a cute, 22 your old girl beating the shit out of 120 opponents – is fun of course. In your usual Thai style half of the villains appear to be transvestites. There’s also a hilarious, cgi enhanced slow motion shot of a fly getting electrified. The finale, which is a series of completely insane and incredibly painful looking stunts, sets the genre bar once again a bit higher.

Sunday

Back to backpacking mode. It’s the last day day of the festival. Since I still have a movies to see, and a train to catch, I have to drag my stuff into the cinemas once again. In practice it means I’ll be sitting on the end of the row set, where the visibility to the screen in less than ideal. But it’s better this way; I doubt other cinema goers would appreciate it if I sat in the middle and blocked the way with my carryings.

As mentioned before, Hiff has good relations to Studio Ghibli, and this time it really paid of. The festival got a special permission to hold a digibeta screening of their 1993 film Ocean Waves. Being a TV production no true cinema prints exist. The audience nevertheless thanked for the opportunity and filled every seat in the cinema. The endlessly fun and cute, but still somewhat realistic (compared to Ghibli’s better known fantasy films) school drama is about two high school students who fall for a Tokyo girl. Perhaps the most enjoyable film in the festival.

The end, according to my original plan. But then, a few days ago got the brilliant idea to match my film and train schedules as well as I could. Instead of waiting over an hour for the train I might as well go to the movies. But if I do that’ll miss the first train. Therefore, I have to go see two films. The latter one of them would be a festival advance of Son of Rambow (2008 ), a viewing decision I stared regretting already before film started. Originally I thought the idea of a British film where two kids who get to see The First Blood and start making their own adaptation sounded good. Obviously a result of festival exhaustion (in the lack of better excuses). The film provides a few good laughs, but is safely made family entertainment from a big studio with no courage or wits for a single surprising turn.

Therefore, the moral finale for 2008 Hiff was the re-viewing of Evangelion 1.0: You’re (Not) Alone (2007) in the small but cozy Kino Engel 1. A good film deserves more than one viewing, I always thought. Today I also have enough time to stay till the very end – something you rarely get to do when you stuff your days as full as I do – and see the preview of the upcoming part 2. It doesn’t look overly promising, but big anime trailers rarely do. I’ll be looking forward to it, and asking myself whether I should also purchase the original TV show or not. Maybe I’ll try to refuse the temptation.

Epilogue

Nobody likes epilogues, so lets keep it short. The festival sold 48 369 tickets, although the number will go above 50 000 once a couple of special screenings have been held around the country. Also thanks to the festival for handing out free dvds in screenings related to Asia. I picked Once a Cop, Big Bullet and Full Alert. I don’t know if it was due to appreciation towards the audience, or distributor having problems clearing their stock, but it was a nice surprise. Finally, below are listed the 24 films I saw on the festival. The list is arranged by rating. However, films sharing the same rating are in no specific order.

Ocean Waves – 4/5
Tokyo Sonata – 4/5
The Art of Crying – 4/5
Evangelion 1.0: You’re (Not) Alone – 4/5
Cargo 200 – 3,5/5
Sky Crawlers – 3,5/5
Chocolate – 3,5/5
Martyrs – 3/5
Death Note – 3/5
Uncle’s Paradise – 3/5
Ashes of Time Redux – 3/5
Gomorra – 2,5/5
Three Monkeys – 2,5/5
Heartbeat Detector – 2,5/5
Big Bang Love, Juvenile A – 2,5/5
Not Quite Hollywood – 2,5/5
Occident – 2/5
Lorna’s Silence – 2/5
Son of Rambow – 1,5/5
Captain Abu Raed – 1,5/5
Secret Sunshine – 1/5
Appleseed: Ex Machina – 1/5
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – 1/5
Vexille – 1/5

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