Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2019

TJFF 2019 took place June 6 to 27. I attended only 2 screenings this year, the opening night murder mystery, MASQUERADE HOTEL, and train-themed drama, Our Departures. Both films were excellent, with great scripts and equally great acting.

MASQUERADE HOTEL

Released 2019

Police detectives go undercover at a fancy hotel after deciphering a message that a serial killer’s next target will be at that location. Hotel supervisor Yamagishi is tasked with training Detective Nitta to be effective and convincing as front desk staff, but their backgrounds and personalities are very different and they frequently butt heads. Gradually, over the course of multiple subplots, they learn to appreciate each other’s input and become better at their own jobs from the experience.

The details of the crime investigation were too complicated for me, so I didn’t feel that I completely understood it. Also, if it were not for one lucky coincidence, they might not have identified the killer in time.

On the plus side, I related very strongly to the depiction of the hoteliers’ dedication to their work. My own job also has a significant customer service aspect. I am a bit of a workaholic who constantly strives to help my clients and make them feel comfortable, so that stuff really clicked with me.

Our Departures

Released 2018

Akira’s life is uprooted after the loss of her husband. Only 25 years old, she suddenly finds herself a single mother with no home and no steady income. After connecting with her late husband’s estranged father, she decides to follow in his footsteps and start a career as a railway driver.

This film is quite the tearjerker, more than I expected. Obviously, there’s the death of the husband, but beyond that, it’s the subtle ways that Akira and Shunya are affected by what’s happened, even as they do their best to move forward, that’s affecting. No one would fault Akira for feeling sorry for herself – she definitely did not sign on for this – but she doesn’t wallow in self-pity. However, there’s a moment when another character shows her kindness, and that was when the floodgates in my eyes couldn’t hold the onslaught any longer. If you have a chance to watch this, be warned!

Liz and the Blue Bird (Liz to Aoi Tori)

Released 2018

This Kyoto Animation film has the same setting as the Sound! Euphonium anime series. However, the focus here is on two other members of the music club, while the leads from the TV series hardly show up at all.

Ultimately it is a simple story, but told with a lot of nuance in the relationship between the two main girls and a lot of detail in the glorious animation. Speaking of animation, the parts recounting the fairy tale of “Liz and the Blue Bird” (the musical piece the band was rehearsing and a story the girls were fond of) had a whole different look, somewhat evoking the whimsical feel of a Studio Ghibli film.

I personally found the movie to be a little bit plodding, which was also my complaint about Sound! Euphonium. But at least here it’s dragged out to 90 minutes instead of 13 episodes. Additionally, Mizore and Nozomi are a more likeable pair than Kumiko and Reina. Therefore I was able to enjoy Liz and the Blue Bird regardless of the fact that I wasn’t crazy about the original series.

INUYASHIKI

Released 2018

I have not read the original manga series, but I did enjoy the 11-episode INUYASHIKI LAST HERO anime from 2017. This live-action INUYASHIKI movie features a great cast, including Noritake Kinashi and Takeru Satoh in the lead roles. The acting is good too. The ending is a departure from the way the anime went. I don’t know which version is more faithful to the original.

I’m not fully convinced that there’s an anti-ageist agenda going on, but the movie is certainly an effective illustration of how wonderful or frightening great power can be, depending on who wields it.

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel – I. presage flower & II. lost butterfly

Released 2017 and 2019, respectively

Prerequisite: Fate/stay night original series and/or Unlimited Blade Works or other familiarity with the franchise prologue.

Strongly recommended: Fate/Zero.

The Heaven’s Feel movies offer no recap of the events that start the story, including the initial attack and introduction of Saber, other than a brief montage in presage flower that’s more artistically evocative than explanatory. It is assumed that you have seen it all before, and will make no sense if you haven’t.

Heaven’s Feel is Sakura’s route. We had a glimpse of Sakura’s traumatic childhood in Fate/Zero, and her story definitely needed to be told. Unfortunately, Sakura’s quiet personality makes her kind of weak as a main character.

As expected, these films (parts I & II of a trilogy) are stunningly gorgeous, the best-looking rendition of Fate/stay night yet. While presage flower provides some set-up, lost butterfly features extended battle action scenes. By the end, a lot of troubling revelations come to light. I’m definitely looking forward to the final film, although I don’t really see how this can end well.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Released 2019

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Long in the making, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is the live action Hollywood adaptation of a manga from the 1990s. I came to the movie as someone who has not read the manga nor seen any prior visual adaptations, and I really enjoyed it! I watched in IMAX 3D and found it to be an immersive experience that held my rapt attention throughout.

The motorball and fight scenes were exciting and were presented in a way that made it easy to clearly follow the action.

If I stop to think about it, there may have been some plot holes, and certainly points which could have been fleshed out more, but none of that seriously detracted from the overall enjoyment of the film.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD

Released 2018

3.25 stars (out of 4)

We intended to see the first screening of ONE CUT OF THE DEAD at the JCCC back in November, but missed it due to a nasty snowstorm. Thankfully, we got another chance to catch this comedic gem last week, weather permitted.

What starts off as a campy single-take horror film, in which zombies suddenly invade the set of a movie, becomes much more when the making-of details of that production are subsequently revealed.

So with a story about the people making a low-budget horror movie, which is itself about a film crew making a movie, this is essentially a show within a show within a show within a show. And that’s about as meta as it gets! ONE CUT OF THE DEAD is very cleverly put together, and the zombie action and film-making satire are tremendously funny as well. I think everyone in the audience had a smile on their face when it was over.

MY HERO ACADEMIA: TWO HEROES

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

The recent North American theatrical run of the MY HERO ACADEMIA movie proved to be a resounding success. The original screenings in September were so popular, additional dates were added in early October, eventually earning more than $5.7 million US and ranking the film in the Top 10 of highest-grossing domestic anime films of all time!

So how was it? Well pretty good, actually. It was generally a lot of fun; familiar characters were true to their personalities without it feeling tired; the new girl was cool; and a nice plot twist kept the story from being as predictable and simplistic as it could have been.

The film might have had too much recap, though, enough to be a little tedious for someone who’s been following the anime series. But I can understand that they needed to make the movie accessible to uninitiated viewers, so that’s kind of unavoidable.

What did confound me was the totally unnecessary coincidence that practically all of Deku’s class was in attendance at I-Island for the I-Expo for various reasons and Deku didn’t know about it. It should have been common knowledge that the winner of the tournament was invited. And absolutely no one talked about their holiday plans? As far as I could tell, it had no bearing on the story whatsoever; if Deku had expected them, it would have all been the same. So I’m just scratching my head at that narrative choice.

I was also surprised at how the college-aged voice and middle-aged voice of All Might’s friend sounded completely different! It seems rather odd to hire 2 different seiyu to voice 2 adult versions of the same character. (The screening I attended was in Japanese with English subtitles. The English dub might not have this peculiarity.)

THE LAST RECIPE

Released 2017

3 stars (out of 4)

Last week, we attended the Toronto Japanese Film Festival closing night screening of THE LAST RECIPE. Hard to believe it has been a whole week already, but anyway…

Mitsuru is a gifted chef who can remember and replicate any dish he’s ever tasted. Talented to a fault, his exacting nature previously got in the way of the success of his restaurant, so now he makes ends meet by re-creating custom meals for high paying clients. He receives an unusual request to find the final recipe of the dishes that were to be served to the Emperor during his visit to occupied Manchuria. Although Mitsuru is skeptical about the job, the offered reward is too great to refuse, so he begins an investigation into the life and works of a renowned chef named Yamagata.

Chronicling Yamagata’s past quickly becomes a journey of self-discovery for Mitsuru as well in this historically detailed and satisfying film. Stories set amongst the politics and espionage of 1930s Manchuria are always interesting. Of course, there’re also lots of images of beautiful food. Yeah, you bet we were hungry after the show!

Chihayafuru Part 3

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

Unfortunately, my sister and I never got the chance to watch Chihayafuru Part II, but since we have seen the anime in full, it wasn’t difficult at all for us to jump right in to this film. On the other hand, we attended the screening with a friend who was completely uninitiated in the franchise; he was still able to enjoy the individual parts and follow the gist of the overall story, but I would strongly recommend watching Parts I & II first if you aren’t familiar with the manga or anime.

As with the first installment of the live-action trilogy, there was some over-acting in the earlier, quieter parts of the film, but once they got going with the karuta drama, the characters seemed a lot more natural.

The soundtrack, once again by composer Yokoyama Masaru (Your lie in April), was really good! My favourite was the piece with the cello and strings after the team first tied up their sleeves; it was so affecting!