Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fantasia 2018--Aragne: Sign of Vermillion--Saku Sakamoto (2018)

Rin's apartment building is a pretty grim place in Saku Sakamoto's Aragne: Sign of Vermillion (2018)
Full disclosure: I know very little about Japanese anime beyond Hideo Nakata, Osamu Tezuka, and The Ghost in the Shell films.  So to my delight, I discovered that Saku Sakamoto did the digital effects for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) and he was presenting the world premiere of his debut feature Aragne: Sign of Vermillion at Fantasia 2018.  The director and producer of the film were there for a Q &A and there even was a translator--who translated Japanese into French.  Heh.  My French is mal, tres mauvais, so I pretty much gleaned little from the film's introduction, other than how happy Sakamoto was to be there.  I was enthusiastic and swayed by the cool trailer.  Giant bugs crawling all over a city!
Rin runs away from a lot of creepy crawly scary s***
My grasp of the narrative is...limited, but I don't think that really matters all that much.  The film is a dread-filled atmospheric fever dream, and its ambiguities are part of its appeal.  Rin, a University student, has moved into a new apartment that is not at all like its been advertised.  Instead of a sunny, well-lit space, the rooms are more like bunker dorms, lined up on dank hallways, the building decrepit and looming.  It's basically a dump, and little wonder it's haunted.  Or is it?  Rin is not sleeping well in her new digs, passing out exhausted in her college classroom, and riddled with very disturbing dreams.  The imagery of the film is infused with a blood red ambiance, and one can never tell whether Rin is actually seeing things, or just hallucinating.  Important, but confusing backstory: medical experimentation was performed on people some 40-odd years ago, where they became delusional, hallucinating wrecks, victims of some weird plague, and this widespread disease, spread by spirit bugs, is consuming the city in present day.  Yeah, I know.  I told you I didn't have a great grasp of the narrative.  Meanwhile, Rin seems to be enamored of this brunette who's always dancing, and she's being chased by some masked serial killer with a portable circular hand saw or some such weapon.  Also, there are "dead soul soldiers" possessed by "spirit bugs" that she must run from over and over again.  Still following?

Scary people/creatures are constantly after Rin
The film deliberately blurs the lines between Rin's dreams and waking life, and the hi-jinks in her building indicate that Rin is what I like to call a "haunted heroine."  Something from her past is causing all these horrific manifestations, and every time she seems to grasp what that might be, it slips away from her (and the audience).  She encounters plenty of people who appear to verify that all this stuff is happening IRL, but is it??  This context is really confusing/fun, and adds something special to the truly marvelous and weird imagery.  Brains with insect legs crawling on top of Rin.  EWWW!  Because she seems to be hallucinating constantly, one wonders if she's contracted this disease people seem to have.  At other moments, nonsensical things happen, and I don't know why.  At one point, I wrote in my notes, "Why is she dragging a dead body?  To prove it's real?"  Yeah, this film isn't about easy, clear answers.  Also, the dancing brunette pops up on occasion to opine, "I wish you'd just die" to poor Rin.  At one point, she's strapped to a giant machine while bugs chew on her.  It's nuts!!
Spirits from Rin's past haunt her in the present
Despite my somewhat incoherent recitation of an incoherent plot, things actually make a lot of sense at the end; indeed, the ending tempts viewers to rewatch the film to see what subtle indicators might have been supplied along the way.  The film actually reminded me a great deal of Eyetan Rockaway's The Abandoned (2015), but I'm not going to say how exactly, so you can experience this twisted little gem all on your own.  The film clocks in at just over an hour, so it never drags, even in its most confusing moments.  Give it a shot!
Zombies as livestock, factory farmed for food, turn on their corporate "farmers" in Shinya Sugai's Walking Meat (2018)
The great thing about Fantasia, is viewers often get to see really fun and innovative short films that are cool, and hard to screen elsewhere.  That's why I highly recommend Shinya Sugai's debut Walking Meat (2018).  The short starts with a commercial for zombie food--that's zombies that humans eat as food, not food for zombies.  It seems that zombies are now considered livestock, kind of like cows, but angrier and far more deadly.  Also, these zombies are not zombie cows, but zombie people.  I'm surprised that someone hasn't thought about this idea already (have they??)  Why waste a good zombie, right?
The studious girl, the social media maven, and the incompetent geek boy all show up for their first day at work
The set-up is three obvious millennials show up for a corporate training session their first day on the job.  Of course, things get pretty hairy when the system malfunctions, and the zombies get loose.  Mayhem ensues!  Plenty of jokes litter what feels like a web series, with little pauses inserted and held occasionally, before the film moves on to the next zombie set piece.  The pace is frenetic and fun, and the film is really quite accomplished, with a great deal of tension, and a lot of slash 'em action too.  Really terrific and worth looking for once it emerges online.