Fantasia: Rise of the dark horse

Rise of the dark horse

Yoshimasa Ishibashi's Milocrorze: A Love Story is sure to be one of this year's Fantasia highlights
Photo: Courtesy of the Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia celebrates 15 years of unearthing the world's most thrillingly original genre movies

It arrived at just the right time. Between the rise of geek-friendly filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, who never missed a chance to give shout-outs to Asian cinema cult figures, and the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat being drafted by Hollywood, it made perfect sense for a festival like Fantasia to be launched in 1996.

Initially catering specifically to fans of Hong Kong martial arts and gangster films and to aficionados of Japanese giant monster movies and anime features, Fantasia introduced local audiences to such influential directors as John Woo, Stephen Chow, Johnnie To, Takashi Miike, Hideo Nakata, Park Chan-wook and the late Satoshi Kon, to name but a few. Soon enough though, the festival opened up to non-Asian works and to increasingly diversified kinds of films – basically everything from horror and action flicks to documentaries and artsy dramas.

Fifteen years later, it’s hard to imagine a Montreal summer without Fantasia – let’s hope we never have to go through another 2002, when the festival had to be cancelled due to emergency renovations at the Imperial Theatre. Now calling Concordia University’s Hall Theatre and J. A. de Sève Cinema its home, Fantasia has grown into a world-class event where one can see the most talked-about titles from the international film festival circuit, as well as discover obscure curiosities from the next generation of cinema greats.

MILOCRORZE: A LOVE STORY

Certainly one of the most anticipated pictures at Fantasia this year, Yoshimasa Ishibashi’s debut feature, Milocrorze: A Love Story, will not be the first of his work to be screened at the festival. In 2001, the Japanese director came to Montreal to show segments from the TV variety show Vermilion Pleasure Night, including episodes of The Fuccons (a.k.a. Oh! Mikey), a hilariously absurd sitcom starring mannequins.

"I love Montreal so much that I even feel like living here," says Yoshimasa Ishibashi, who also visited our city in 2004 to show The Fuccons at the FNC. "I remember that the audience in Montreal enjoyed my films so much last time, so I’m really honoured and looking forward to screening Milocrorze there."

In many ways, Milocrorze is a showcase for actor Takayuki Yamada, who plays the three very different yet equally iconic lead characters: youth counsellor Besson Kumagai, who comes off like a cross between Frank T.J. Mackey and Austin Powers; Tamon, a mild-mannered man who turns into a vengeful samurai when the girl he loves is kidnapped; and Ovreneli Vreneligare, a poor sap who had his heart broken by the titular Milocrorze when he was a little boy. "[Takayuki Yamada's] talent is to be able to switch from one personality to another so quickly," reckons Ishibashi. "I’m so in love with his powerful presence that my feeling may be apparent in the film."

Milocrorze: A Love Story blends fantasy, romance, comedy, irresistible dance numbers and badass action sequences, climaxing with a show-stopping six-minute combat sequence inspired by traditional Japanese painting and kabuki theatre. "What I always have in my mind is to attempt something new in each genre," explains the filmmaker. "For Milocrorze, I wanted to make a film with variety like an omnibus, yet not an omnibus, and also a film in which audiences can get a sense of participation and have fun, like at an attraction in an amusement park. The important thing in film or theatre is often the story or its meaning, however what is more important to me is to feel."

When we reached Ishibashi last week, his movie had just been shown at the New York Asian Film Festival. "It was a great success," he says. "I was so impressed and moved by the fact that [the audience] seemed to deeply understand Japanese culture. I hope my film will be seen by more and more people in North America."

OTHER FANTASIA 2011 HIGHLIGHTS

After hosting the Canadian premieres of Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in 2010, Fantasia scored another coup this year by convincing Kevin Smith to present his Red State up here for the first time on the opening night of the festival. Starring the great Michael Parks, Red State is, in Smith’s own words, a "four-million-dollar, EC Comics-like, part-horror, quasi-action art-house and out-house exploitation flick about church vs. state."

Other highlights of this year’s festival include the world premiere of Carl Tibbetts’ Retreat, a Polanski-style U.K. thriller starring Cillian Murphy; South Korean crime thriller The Unjust, the latest from Ryoo Seung-wan, who’ll also host a master class; Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, a sci-fi comedy co-produced by Edgar Wright and starring Nick Frost; Shinji Imaoka’s Underwater Love, a Japanese musical/fantasy/porno (!) shot by Christopher Doyle and scored by Stereo Total; The Wicker Tree, Robin Hardy’s long-in-the-making sequel to his 1973 classic The Wicker Man; Takashi Miike’s Ninja Kids!!!, an alternately goofy and brutal manga twist on Harry Potter-style kiddie flicks; and The Theatre Bizarre, an horror anthology film featuring segments directed by Tom "Sex Machine" Savini, Richard Stanley, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Jeremy Kasten and Montreal’s own Karim Hussain and Douglas Buck, who’ll all attend the screening, along with legendary (and batshit crazy!) actor Udo Kier.

And that’s just from the first week! We’ll have more on the rest of the Fantasia 2011 selection in our next issues. As Stan Lee would say, "Stay tuned, true believers!"

Fantasia Film Festival

July 14 to August 7

www.fantasiafestival.com

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