Last year, I had the privilege of attending the virtual edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia Fest). It’s one of the most interesting film festivals I’ve been to, and a large part of that is due to the wide range of genre films the festival usually carries. From Fantasia’s annual Circo Animato anthology to Phil Tippett’s stop-motion magnum opus Mad God, and even major blockbusters like The Suicide Squad, there’s something for everyone. And that continues with this year’s selection of films. Here are seven films from this year’s lineup that I feel will be worth the watch during Fantasia Fest 2022.
Director: KC Carthew
“Sumi (Viva Lee) and her polar-bear mother live in a snow-laden, post-apocalyptic world. Guiding them is the north star Polaris as they travel to where it shines the brightest, but their journey is interrupted by roving bands of warrior women. Captured and separated from her mother, Sumi uses her wits and magical powers to attack and stage a bloody escape. Once free, she’s scared and ready to defend herself in the wilds of this wintery land, but finds the kindness of a solitary woman, and she’ll discover an otherworldly companion in the Frozen Girl (Khamisa Wilsher) who changes her destiny. The small but fierce Sumi will learn about trust and friendship as she makes her way to the north star.”
To be honest, “a girl and a polar bear surviving a post-apocalyptic blizzard” is all I needed to sell me on this movie. that opens Fantasia Fest 2022. But the promise of an unorthodox mother/daughter bond is another major draw. Movies about family drive deep into the gooey center of my heart, and the sci-fi elements are just the cherry on top.
What To Do With The Dead Kaiju?
Director: Satoshi Miki
“The battle is over, and a brittle sense of relief settles over Japan. It has been ten days since the cataclysmic defeat of the gigantic monster that had wreaked havoc in Tokyo. The public alarms have ceased and the conscripted army is demobilizing. The mysterious force that slayed the beast, where no human military technology could, remains an enigma, but right now the main task is to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. There’s one piece, though, that presents a challenge—the enormous, rapidly decomposing carcass of the creature. Officer Arata of the Japan Special Force is assigned to the clean-up task force, an assignment made all the more complicated by political opportunism and romantic entanglements.”
Kaiju films are one of the more interesting subgenres of horror and science fiction. Many of the giant monsters that terrorize the Earth are often metaphors for larger issues; Godzilla, for example, is a walking symbol of the horrors that nuclear bombardment wrought upon Japan. What To Do With The Dead Kaiju? looks to take a humorous approach to the usual genre conventions, especially with its premise. Everyone runs into a few obstacles with their job; imagine how big the obstacles might be when your job involves the corpse of a giant monster.
Directed by: Toshiro Saiga
“As a child, Manami attended her father Takuma’s boxing matches and marveled at the scarlet shoes he wore. Unfortunately, he and his wife died in a terrible accident while he was preparing for the long-awaited championship. Now a single mother of a daughter she adores, Emi, Manami has decided to follow her father’s footsteps and is back in the ring after her husband died of a long illness. However, her mind and body are not there and she is humiliated. Sinking into poverty, barely able to feed Emi and losing every job she has, her mother-in-law gains custody of her daughter. Overwhelmed by grief and anger, unable to catch her breath, she falls to her lowest point. However, her coach comes to pick her up from the Fukuoka Red Light and promises to make a champion of her so she can reconnect with Emi.”
Though I’m not a fan of sports, I love boxing movies. From Martin Scorsese’s classic Raging Bull to the Rocky films (especially the Creed trilogy) there’s something so raw and engaging about watching an underdog punch their way to victory. Not only does Red Shoes look to continue Fantasia’s trend of intriguing Japanese cinema, but this marks one of the few boxing films with a female protagonist. And lead Aya Asahina is no stranger to genre fare, as she’s been a part of the Netflix adaptation of Alice in Borderland.
The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai
Directed by Takashi Koizumi
“After three centuries of peaceful isolation, the foreign ships have arrived and broken Japan’s spell of solitude. As the nation moves inexorably towards the Imperial restoration and a new era as a modern, globally engaged state, it is torn by conflict and chaos. Deeply rooted beliefs are clashing. Japan is split, East from West, and civil war is brewing. Trapped between these Imperialist and Shogunate forces is the Nagaoka domain in central Echigo province, site of the strategically vital Enoki Pass. Tsuginosuke Kawai, chief retainer to Lord Makino, wishes fervently that the people of Nagaoka be spared the horrors of war, and advocates neutrality and negotiation. A canny and perceptive man, Kawai nonetheless assures that the domain is well armed. His wisdom and discipline, and his love for his family and his fief, make him a sturdy rock amid the raging currents around them, but can even he resist the torrential rush of history?”
A friend jokingly said that the three ways you could get me interested in a story are if it involved superheroes, spaceships, or samurai and Fantasia Fest 2022 is hitting all of those. This is due to the work of Akira Kurosawa leading me to seriously pursue journalism, not to mention the hours I sunk into Ghost of Tsushima. What makes The Pass stand out is two factors. The first is Koizumi’s previous work: he actually served as Kurosawa’s assistant director on Ran and Kagemusha. The second is that Tatsuya Nakadai, who was the lead in those films, is portraying the role of Kawai. In short, this may scratch a particular itch for history buffs as well as Kurosawa aficionados.
Directed by Yugo Sakamoto
“Working the cash register at a convenience store? Cooking food at a nondescript diner? Serving up sweets and smiles at a maid café? For cheerful Chisato and mopey Mahiro, two teenage girls with opposing personalities, the options for the part-time work they seek aren’t all that appealing. After all, they’re already making good money as a pair of ruthlessly efficient killers for hire. The policy of their shadowy employer, however, requires that upon graduation from high school, they each develop a cover story. That means sharing an apartment and finding menial jobs. At the same time, they’ve run afoul of a psychopathic yakuza boss and his bratty son and daughter. As the conflict escalates and the blood starts to flow, will Chisato and Mahiro get the job done?”
The idea of teenage assassins has been previously explored in film before, but this looks to take a different approach. After all, most assassins don’t have to work odd jobs to make rent. Plus it sounds delightfully gonzo – a maid cafe and a convenience store? Those are perfect places to have a fight scene!
Directed by Kohei Yoshino
“The anime industry of Japan is enormous, with 200 new TV shows and two trillion yen in revenue each year. For seven years, soft-spoken yet strong-willed Hitomi Saito has climbed the ranks, and is set to direct a series for the first time. At the same moment, the difficult but undeniably brilliant director Chiharu Oji is set to make his big comeback after almost a decade. The hit series that made Oji famous is what inspired Saito to jump into the anime field, and her goal is to match, and even surpass, his success and relevance. Her chance has arrived. Their two programs are both scheduled to debut in the same prime-time Saturday slot, and after Saito challenges her rival on stage at an anime convention, the two production teams each set out to outdo one another, because there can only be one number-one!”
Seeing a satirical look into the creation of such a series sounds like a fun concept. Not to mention that much like other creative fields, the anime industry comes with its own challenges. I look forward to how Yoshino tackles those challenges.
Directed by Shinji Higuchi
“Giant, unearthly monsters are appearing in Japan, and the government has created the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, an elite agency dedicated to confronting and defeating this invasion by extraterrestrial lifeforms. But when an invisible electrical monster attacks the countryside, a giant, silvery alien being lands on Earth. The titanic superhero, soon to be codenamed Ultraman, destroys the deadly beast quickly enough—but accidentally kills SSSP officer Shinji Kaminaga during the battle. Secretly assuming Kaminaga’s appearance, Ultraman joins the SSSP to help defend humanity, but as more menacing monsters from space arrive, the cosmic conflict can only become more confounding!”
Ultraman is taking North American pop culture by storm this year and it’s the same for Fantasia Fest 2022. Not only is the Tokusatsu icon slated to headline an animated Netflix film in addition to the ongoing Netflix anime series and a fleet of comic miniseries at Marvel, but he’ll soon receive a modern update in the form of Shin Ultraman. The film reunites Higuchi with Hideki Anno after their work on Shin Godzilla, which put a modern spin on the King of Monsters. Given Anno’s abashed love for Ultraman, I’m confident he and Higuchi will deliver a movie that appeals to Ultraman fans old and new.
All images and synopsis provided by Fantasia Fest 2022.