Bleary-eyed filmgoers across Melbourne woke up on a Sunday to find another great selection of films at the 60th Melbourne International Film Festival to satiate their never-ending lust for celluloid. Some of the best festival buzz came around Page One: Inside the New York Times and the “must see” Martha Marcy May Marlene which, unsurprisingly, completely divided the Twitterverse on the merits of its slow-burning narrative. The highly anticipated The Turin Horse had a few technical snafus, including incorrect projection and reported instances of the house-lights strobing for the last part of the film. Not a great way to witness the end of existence. Meanwhile, another post-apocalyptic film, Korea’s End of Animal, also had an unintentionally popping soundtrack, indicating that the end of times is not something we are meant to experience smoothly. Yet isn’t that what we love about cinema: the warts-and-all imperfections of watching light and shadow flicker on a screen in a darkened room?
There are a handful of Japanese manga artists that have elevated the medium into something beyond its original intention, and as we are reminded in the opening narrative, Osamu Tezuka is one of those figures. Yet while Tatsumi is undoubtedly meant to evoke his presence, the autobiographical showcase of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work is also something else entirely. Largely credited with creating the gekiga style of alternative comics for adults, the film is unabashed in its love for the medium. At the time of their writing, Tatsumi’s works were controversial, groundbreaking and hard-hitting. Eric Khoo’s feature animation brings to life five tales of post-war Japan framed by narrative segments from the artist himself, and is a completely fresh and original take on the biopic concept. Using Tatsumi’s stories “Hell”, “Beloved Monkey”, “Just a Man”, “Good-Bye” and “Occupied” – along with elements of Tatsumi’s own autobiographical manga A Drifting Life – this Singaporean production, animated in Indonesia with Japanese dialogue, is an engaging and fully immersive trip through memory and experience. In discussing the original autobiography, critic Greg McElhatton commented that “one almost feels at times like this isn’t so much an autobiography but rather a guidebook for time-travelers heading to 1950s Japan”. This is exactly what the animated version of Tatsumi feels like: a capsule of an era preserved perfectly, not simply capturing the aesthetic look and feel of a time, but the cultural and personal experience of actually being there.
Tatsumi does not currently have an Australian release date.
Terri is something of a curiosity.The eponymous 15-year-old small-town student (newcomer Jacob Wysocki) lives with his ill uncle James (Creed Bratton, US TV’s The Office) as he struggles through the day as an overweight pyjama-wearing outcast. The only person who seems to understand him is the school principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids). Terri is like a really slow and awkward version of Napoleon Dynamite, and despite being peppered with some levity, it isn’t exactly uplifting. Indeed, it is difficult to know exactly what it is Terri is trying to say. The performances of teenage isolation and uncertainty, especially from relative unknown child actors, are actually quite good. Yet beyond setting up the world in which Terri inhabits, there is an aimless direction to the narrative which may be totally on trend right now, and accurately represent the headspace of the characters, but it doesn’t make for fascinating viewing either. Reilly provides some decent servings of mirth throughout the film, reminding us of the comic-serious roles he took on earlier in his career before the run of forgettable Will Ferrell-style comedies that have followed a generic path.
Terri does not currently have an Australian release date.
End of Animal
Never has the end of the world looked as grim as it does in Jo Sung-Hee’s debut feature, End of Animal (짐승의 끝). A bleak and often oppressive view of the end of times, but a mesmerising and gripping one as well. As Sun-Yeong (Lee Min-Ji) heads to her hometown to give birth in a cab, she is joined by a mysterious man in a baseball cap (Park Hae-Il, A Million). He seems to have an uncanny knowledge of their personal lives, and predicts that all electrical equipment will cease to function shortly. This comes true in a blinding flash of light, and a handful of people are left wandering around the remote Korean countryside looking for a roadside rest-station. Equal parts Cormac McMarthy’s The Road and The Bible, End of Animal begins as a mystery to be solved: what has happened? Who is the mysterious man? Who is the father of Sun-Yeong’s child? The answer to the latter may be where the deeper meaning of the film can be found, but like all good road movies, the enjoyment is in the journey. Yet like a nightmare, the players continue to travel but their ultimate destination eludes them. A microcosm of the world can be found in the handful of people that populate the minimalist locations, and if this is some kind of nativity play by way of 21st century Korea, it is not one written by the voice of a god expecting his first born child. It is a dark, uncaring and vengeful deity that is working to an agenda humans, in their ties to physical needs, will never understand.
End of Animal does not currently have an Australian release date.
The Melbourne International Film Festival continues until August 7, 2011.
For more news and reviews from the Melbourne International Film Festival, keep checking The Reel Bits over the next two weeks.