Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival, Diary #3

On November 5 Thursday (when we all remember, remembered!), I went to see two sessions of the fantastic Fantastic Planet film festival. The first of these was the Shorts Program # 4: Future attacks, and the other one was the “sushi western” Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, directed by Kurando Mitsutake.

The shorts program included seven films, all of which were, I think, quite good, but some more so than the others. The first film of the session, Burden ( (Michael David Lynch, 2009 – 10 minutes), was one of the most visually stunning films in the festival (and won the best visual effects award in the festival). The film tells the story of a ‘watcher’ with super powers called Calik, who decides to take action when the earth is invaded by aliens. Michael David Lynch (that’s a killer name for the film industry, I reckon) was there to present his film and answer some questions at the end. We’ve learnt that this was a student project and it cost around 50.000 USD to make and that he’s hoping to turn it into a feature length film.

Burden was followed by Spaceman on Earth (Shant Hamassian, 2009), which was a live action/animation parody of 50s sci fi films, and particularly their main characters. Next, we watched Marooned? (Ryan Nagata, 2009), which had a similar approach to 1950s sci fi, as it was shot in b&w and featured two space traveler characters in marooned (?) on a planet with savage inhabitants, it had a twist which turned into a terrorizing tale of amnesia, murder, and geekery!

After the first three films, which were all from the US, we watched the 26 minute long short from Taiwan: Intoxicant by John Hsu (2008). The film re-imagines the internet forum setting as an actual room where the real life people put notices in a board where their actions are controlled by moderators, then turns this into a setting for a tale of mystery, in which the forum is under threat of an attack by a hacker. Intoxicant won the best short film award, and probably deserved it, too!

The Un-gone (Simon Bovey, 2006) hailed from the UK and was set in a future when molecular transportation is possible. However, there is a dark secret behind this form of transportation, which Julian Salinger, the protagonist, finds out to his utter displeasure. The Un-gone was followed by the Australian short Oxygen (David Norris, 2008) was a dystopia, in which the world’s oxygen supplies are in shortage, and people live in airtight houses, in which air is supplied by the government. Xavier, a maintenance worker, is free to get out of his house with a special suit and fix people’s oxygen supply machines. Gradually, he finds out about a terrible plot to keep the society under control. I thought it was really well-made and the costume and set design was really successful. (It can be watched in its entirety on imdb)

The last film of the session was The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5 (Chema García Ibarra, 2008) was short little film from Spain, about a disabled young man, and his fixed belief in an imminent attack by

Robots from Nebula-5, for which he tries to warn his parents, to no avail.

After the shorts session, I went on to see Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf (Kurando Mitsutake, 2009), which I have been looking forward to after reading the blurb in the festival program – “imagine a Kill Bill on steroids!”. The film has a basic storyline, in which a nameless Japanese man, sets out to kill the man, Nathan Flesher, who has blinded him and killed his wife (after raping her) and his daughter. While Nathan Flesher is in prison, the nameless man (Kurando Mitsutake) learns the ways of the samurai and becomes a swordsmaster despite his blindness. On his way to kill flesher upon his release from prison, he learns that he’ll have to encounter seven deadly assasins and kill them. In his quest, he meets an American swordsman who calls himself the Drifter and who decides to help the “Blind Wolf’s” cause. So they start killing the assasins one by one, till they reach Nathan Flesher.

The writer/director/star Kurando Mitsutake defines the film as a sushi western, drawing its influences from the martial arts and spaghetti western films as well as 70s exploitation films. He cited films/series like Lone Wolf and Cub and Django among the films that inspired him to make this films during the Q&A. It’s easy to compare his films to Quentin Tarantino’s homage films like Kill Bill and Death Proof, as with the martial arts/western mixture in the formula and with the ‘restored grindhouse film’ aesthetic he is going for. However, Mitsutake made a short film called Samurai Avenger Lone Wolf Blood – Episode 24 as early as 2004, which formed the basis of the Blind Wolf and he claims he had thought about the “restored look” prior to the release of Grindhouse, and was worried upon hearing that Tarantino was making a film like the one he had in mind. Setting the questions of originality aside, Samurai Avenger provides a good 90 minutes of fun for the exploitation film aficionado, with its over the top violence (including a scene which involves a c section with a samurai sword!), litres of gushing/spraying blood, zombies, witches, and flashback explanations of several martial arts sword techniques, cheesy acting and one-liners etc. Although Mitsutake didn’t mention it among his influences, I thought the film also had an El Topo vibe going on with the Blind Wolf’s costume, the desert setting, and the general surreal mood.

It was surprising to find out that the budget was “way way way below half a million USD” (Mitsutake didn’t disclose the actual budget) as the special effects looked really good, but Mitsutake informed us that there were quite a number of volunteers and interns involved, so that kind of explains it. The film won the best film award and best special effects awards, quite deservingly. I got to have a chat to Kurando Mitsutake and had my picture taken with him too!

The diary will be concluded with the closing night of the festival. Coming soon!

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