Starting the second day with the now twenty eight year old anime film Venus Wars is still a little baffling to me. Perhaps there’s a hidden theme hiding somewhere in its staff. Perhaps Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s (Dirty Pair et. al.) designs… Maybe animation director Toshihiro Kawamoto who also worked on Cowboy Bebop… Or maybe it’s like Jonathan Clements mentioned in his opening notes about Joe Hisaishi who went on to score for Studio Ghibli… Whatever the connection with the rest of the festival, the cinema was full and evidently ready for a dose of lovingly animated 80’s science fiction.
Except of course for the people who it seems fell asleep during several parts; probably during those shonky, inadvisable even then, live-action background sequences. Or maybe during the hugely inappropriate scene with a gay soldier that has no impact on the rest of the film. A masterpiece Venus Wars isn’t, but it moves fast, keeps the explosions coming and at least tries a little political subtext.
Next up was Fireworks - or to give its absurd full title: Fireworks, Should We See It From The Side Or From The Bottom? - a film that I had fully expected to be my stand out for SLA 2017. The near sold-out audience probably thought the same, yet despite the wealth of talent on display from directors Akiyuki Shinbo and Nobuyuki Takeuchi and studio SHAFT’s crystalline animation work both CG and traditional, the end result rings hollow.
No matter though as it was Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over The Wall showing next which was a film that, if the trailer was anything to go by, certainly looked the part of an animation prototype for The Night is Short, So Walk On Girl by studio Science Saru. And no I didn’t mishear yesterday, Science Saru does indeed work entirely in Flash whose vector-based system certainly gives Yuasa’s inimitable style a fluidity and sense of scale.
Lu was never going to win any awards based upon stills, but it is quite another thing in motion and combined with the family friendly, utterly enchanting story, it was this film rather than Fireworks that ended up stealing the festival for me, and it turns out a lot of the attendees as well: winning the festival audience award with votes tallied using lo-fi lolly sticks rather than previous year’s namfangled online polls.
The result was announced by Jonathan Clements before the last film of the day, the Tokyo Ghoul live action movie which the festival brochure charitably (hopefully?) affixes a PG rating to. As promised though, the film is a faithful - both narratively and stylistically - adaptation of the first few volumes of Sui Ishida’s popular manga. What it lacks in bombast it certainly makes up for in tone, keeping the dark and oppressive feeling of the manga while also making good use of special effects for the more outlandish ghoul abilities.
Equal to the subject material though are the actors, with the angular features of Masataka Kubota (who has also played Light Yagami in Death Note) emoting almost entirely with his lips throughout the film; or perhaps Fumika Shimizu who plays Touka and has since retired from the entertainment industry to join the Happy Science religious organisation, changing her name to Yoshiko Sengen, which, if I can remember Jonathan Clements’ translation, is along the lines of “Thousand Eye Girl”.
Regardless, while the audience had thinned considerably (and continued to do so throughout the film with no less than three walk outs), there was a member who sported a full and detailed, Kaneki-style face mask throughout the adverts and preamble; Tokyo Ghoul fans roll hard. The film certainly wasn’t the maligned trainwreck I had expected, but then neither did it have the liveliness or cheeky positivity that the other films in the festival have had - Killer Commando mono bike squad or no. The body horror was overwrought but the action was smart and compact, made more impressive for its supposedly low budget as well.
Day three, the last day not including overflow screenings, brings with it the last part of the Kizumonogatari film series as well as Mind Game, another Masaaki Yuasa film, while the focus on Madhouse is rounded out with Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis.