Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 12

Karate-Robo Zaborgar (Jpn) (wiki)

The Power Rangers have a lot to answer for, not least a slew of terribly cheesy/brilliantly cheesy (delete as appropriate) Saturday morning kids shows. But even they cannot be blamed for this attempt to take the format to the nth level. Zaborgar is a human-sized robot inherited by Daimon, a scientist's son, on his fathers' death. He has guns in his mouth, and small cars come out of his feet. And he can do Tai-chi and Karate. And he's a motorcyle in his spare time. Controlled by a helmet that Daimon wears with what appears to be a shower attachment on the side, Daimon and robot quickly form a bond taking over from inept police and getting rid of crooks, but when strangely alluring sexy half robot Miss Borg comes along to wreak havoc on behalf of evil organisation Sigma his simple feelings of right and wrong are suddenly muddied.

Even by the high standards set by Japan, KRZ is batshit mental, and relentlessly so. Think about every single stereotypical trait of crazy Japanese films, and to a wider extent, culture. Obsession with bodily function, skimpy women with lots of boob and crotch shots and fights peppered with impossible feats of gravity to name but three. KRZ has all these and more, and flaunts them almost as if to say to the rest of the world: this is how you see us, so this is what you get, kicking them merrily in the crotch while they say it.

Whether this brand of unrelenting action is for you or not I can't say. I just sat there in helpless, slack-jawed mirth. Its unabashed confidence leaps out of the screen at you, and even though the elements are all from a dozen other cheesy films, it's entertaining right to the final scene - a decisive fight between father and son on a massive pair of metal breasts. 7/10

Colorful (Jpn) (wiki)

Almost as an antidote to KRZ, Colorful exemplifies the quieter, gentler side of Japanese cinema, unfortunately one that is rarely seen and thus rarely considered representative of the animé medium.

To be fair though, Colorful is part of a pretty niche corner. If I could sit it alongside some other examples, last years' Mai Mai Miracle, and maybe Shinkai's Children Who Chase Lost Voices (which I'll see Saturday) would go into the same group, alongside Haibane-Renmei, Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday, i.e. quietly powerful pieces commenting on aspects of family, relationships and life, love and death, and all ones that I rate highly.

In Colorful, someone (we are deliberately not shown his face or hear his voice) reaches a waiting area in a perceived afterlife, where a sharply-suited childlike figure waits to intercept him before he takes the train to limbo. Purapura tells the man he did a terrible thing in his life, and that he is to be given a fresh start, another chance. He is to inhabit the body of Makoto, a young boy who has just committed suicide, waking up in a hospital bed just after the body is vacated.

'Makoto' inherits a loving but destructive family, whose members are slowly causing it to fall apart. Father works long hours, and his lack of backbone means he is taken advantage on. Mother had an affair, and his new brother shunned the old Makoto because he was doing badly with his studies. School is little better, but at least most of the kids don't go near him for what he did, save for some figures who seem to have had an influence on his mental state. Given only six months, Makoto must try and make sense of this young boys' life and try and put some things to rights, and also work out what he did in his own life.

Bodyswap films tend to be comedy-led, but this one is played with a more serious tone, although some moments of warm humour do show themselves. The action is minimal, concentrating on the strained relationship between the family and friends and Makoto's rediscovery of himself and what it is to be alive. Artistically, it uses a muted palette of pastel shades and an unstylised form to produce a look and style reminiscent of the works of Yoshitoshi ABe, restricting the use of computer graphics to incidental background features such as the flow of water, where it belongs. Though much of the film is played at a slow pace, I did find it almost as rewarding as the films mentioned above when taken as a whole; it's pleasant though not exhilarating in the main body, but it builds to a satisfying and emotional ending that will cause a sniffle or two. Checking my fellow audience members' reactions on leaving (a nice festival mix of young and old) it invited positive, crackling comments across the board. A film to change perceptions. 7.5/10

Mars (US) (site)

When I saw Moon earlier in the year, it was one of a pair of films celebrating (and lamenting) the passing of an age of space exploration, which for the moment will have to fade into the background for a while. This low-budget indie slacker film is the first one I have seen that explicitly works with the realisation that the space program as it is, is in a bit of trouble. Although it does this in a tongue in cheek way.

Charlie is the central character - and third wheel - as one of a trio of astronauts heading to Mars following in the jet stream of the European Space Agency, who have just sent an un-manned robot - ART - up there to look for life. Set eleven years after an alternate, Russian Beagle II set down rather clumsily and got stuck, bringing with it a load of bacteria from a low ranking dogsbody with a bad cold. The nasty, shady government wants them to change course for shadowy reasons and intercept ART to see if they can get to the booty - the possibility of extraterrestrial life - first.

Mars uses a distinctive animation technique, applying a computer generated moire to standard film footage to create something akin to a live action comic-book style. This is a bit garish but it does have the advantage of more easily blending in the characters and cardboard locations with the artificial landscape created around them. The acting was so-so, some of the lesser players looking like they had been brought in at the last minute, but it was a bit of a laugh and not really aiming for a realistic portrayal of mystery and suspense on a foreign planet. What let it down a bit was an abrupt ending and a feeling that the money ran out, which was a shame as the film had some really good ideas and was genuinely sharp and funny. 7/10

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