Leeds Film Festival - Day 13

L Change the World (Japan) (wiki)

L is one of the principal characters from the popular manga/anime series Death Note. Last year, the first two live action films were screened in Leeds, and, not knowing enough about the series I decided to leave them in favour of other films. Now that I am partway through the first DVD of the series, watching this film is kind of familiar, but not, with an enormous chunk of cat-and-mouse thriller missing from my brain that fills in the blanks between the rest of the anime and the films.

L Change the World is meant purely as a cash-in spin-off to the main Death Note story arc - which is very briefly - a student called Light acquires a Death Note, dropped by a bored death god Ryuk, for fun. Whoevers name is written in the booklet dies in whatever way is described. Light goes on a personal vendetta against all the criminals in the world, and the power gets to him. L is a mysterious detective who is assigned to bringing him to justice, without giving away his face or name. The anime is then a huge game of chess, with considered move against counter move between the two principal players.

Only L makes it through to this film in any major form; Light and Ryuk have cameos only, and the Death Note is burned pretty early on, but not before L condemns himself to a death by writing his own name in it. Why he sets a timer of 23 days, and why he tops himself anyway is left unexplained. He takes on the case of a virus outbreak, where a synthesized fusion of influenza and Ebola is inflicted on a Thailand village. Without an antidote, the virus is not released into the general populous as the owner would have no protection against it themselves, but a scientist is working on one, and many people want a hold of it.

It's a 'fan indulgence' film; I would think that those not familiar with the Death Note canon will become a bit confused about L's weird way of sitting, walking and holding things, and the character relationships that exist at the beginning assume a certain knowledge on the part of the viewer. When I saw it, there was much giggling from the audience; sometimes in light-hearted moments, but more often when it was trying to be serious and ended up just being a little silly. And that's what let it down the most; you couldn't take it seriously enough. 5.5/10

Detroit Metal City (Japan) (wiki)

This is more like it. Take the seriousness of L away and replace it with some hard death metal rock and a lot of laughs, and you get something approaching Detroit Metal City. Negishi is a country boy. Lanky and effeminate with a bowl haircut, he loves to make light, bouncy tunes about love and cuddly things. However, at some point during his time in music school, he ends up the lead singer of an up and coming death metal rock band DMC, unable to leave because of his timid attitude and sadistic boss.

Though he loathes the music he has to sing, when he transforms into his alter-ego - Johannes Krauser II - he becomes a devil-like creature full of hate-fuelled passion and loathing, which is ideal for the stage; the teen followers of the group lap his act up, no matter how gruesome the lyrics are. As with may devout worshippers, they end up considering him a demi-god.

DMC follows Negishi's path through the uncertainty of who he is, trying to win over his death metal-hating sweetheart whilst trying to keep the best of both of his worlds, with a dash of satire thrown in, poking at the way that kids will follow anything when it's cool. It's fast, colourful, crazy and full of laughs, and has received bids from the American film companies to be remade for a western audience. 8/10

My Name is Bruce (US) (wiki)

Bruce Campbell is well-known to horror fans the world over, playing many parts in various flicks including The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness. His most well-known non-horror part was of 'Elvis Presley' in Bubba Ho-Tep. This self-sendup of Bruce the man is directed by 'the Chin' Campbell, where he plays a slimy, drunken version of himself relegated to starring in inferior sequels to his earlier films and living in squalor in a caravan with his alcoholic dog.

In a backwards American town of Good Lick, a rabble of teens go on a rampage through a graveyard and wake the Chinese spirit Guan-Di, guardian of the Chinese labourers lost in the mines and god of Bean Curd. Guan-Di as is usual in these sorts of films, terrorises the people whenever they come close, usually by removing their heads. After seeing Bruce kill off a load of zombies in one of his films, they mistake it for his purpose in life, and bring him under a certain amount of duress, to the village to rid them of the spirit. Bruce is up for a bit of that, but only because he thinks it's all a set-up by his agent, and by the time he's realised the danger he's in, its a bit late.

My Name is Bruce is a great film. I'm not much of a horror fan, but it was clear that the send-ups of both Campbell and the genre as a whole was done with a lot of love and attention, with loads of little back-references to his old films cropping up all over the place, but not so many as a horror novice would not be able to enjoy it - I certainly did. Oh, and Grace Thorsen, who plays Campbells love interest, is gorgeous as well. 8/10

Gachi Boy - Wrestling with a Memory (Japan) (info and trailers)

Igarashi is a high-scoring school prodigy, who unexpectedly turns up at the Hokkaido University Wrestling club with the intention of joining. The club is a man short, since losing their star performer to an uncompromising girlfriend, and the university is threatening to shut them down because frankly, their unconvincing staged 'fights' are rubbish. Igarashi arrives dutifully each day, enthusiastically taking polaroids of everyone and making lots of notes about his new colleagues, but seems to progress little with the training. It isn't until later that the mystery is revealed; Igarashi injured his brain after falling off a bicycle, and every morning he wakes up with no memory of the previous day, his second-class substitute being a bulging notebook of everything he needs to know post accident, which he must read every morning to have a chance at functioning normally.

Gachi Boy manages to be funny, slapstick, and also a little touching; the effect on his father, trying to encourage him to finish his degree, or when the team members are split into those that do know of the situation and those that do not provide real moments of emotion; Igarashi makes the mistake of omitting the fact that the fights are staged, so he gives each fight all he can, which lands him in trouble during the official competition that makes up the conclusion to the film, where not going by the script could end in someone getting hurt. It's all there, and though it drags a little in places, it is solid entertainment. 7.5/10


And that's the LFF over once more. Looking back over the 100 films I managed to see this year, there seemed to be more middling and duff films than in 2007, maybe because that was a strong year, or perhaps this was a weak one. But there was also many films that were really good, and I hope that I can encourage some readers to go out there and support them. Obviously, I went a little bit mental in the name of blog whoring, but there is a world out there of stories to be told, and it's up to us to look as well as listen.

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