Fantasia: August 2

Cartoonish Japanese imports are the order of the day! Catch both Afro Tanaka and Ace Attorney at Fantasia today.



Afro Tanaka

Tanaka (Shota Matsuda) seems like he could be Japan’s very own Scott Pilgrim, perhaps a little more desperate for a girlfriend and with a hairdo that dwarfs Michael Cera’s by a long shot. The characters might have a lot in common, but don’t mistake director Daigo Matsui’s feel-weird bachelor comedy for the frenetic Edgar Wright film of a couple years back. Both have been adapted from popular comic book stories, but Afro Tanaka, originally a popular manga serial written and illustrated by Masaharu Noritsuke, quickly establishes its own loony voice.

Tanaka discovered at a young age that growing out a mighty afro gave him power over bullies. It continued to empower him to live the kind of carefree life that every kid dreams of — he ditched school for good, had time to hang with his buddies and landed his own sweet bachelor pad. But years later Tanaka is still living like a boy, though struggling to make ends meet like a man.

The tough thing is, his groovy ‘fro hasn’t helped him score with the ladies yet. In fact, he’s still never had a girlfriend, held hands or been kissed. And with one of his pals now getting married and the rest of his crew bringing their respective significant others to the proceedings, Tanaka is on the clock to hook it up.

Afro Tanaka feels like it’s going to be a predictable-yet-fun little romantic comedy, but it’s far from what you expect. Familiar paths are often travelled, but Matsui, being the clever filmmaker that he is, knows just when to throw a curve ball at the audience.

It’s not perfect — the film could benefit from a further injection of Wright’s jumpy Scott Pilgrim editing style — but a brilliant, hammy performance from rubber-faced Matsuda (also appearing in Fantasia hit Hard Romanticker this year) in the lead, and a killer Super-Mario-Land-like theme song by afro-wig-wearing trio Tsuru, go a long way toward cementing Afro Tanaka as one of this year’s must-see comedies at the fest. (BF) 1:00 p.m., J.A. De Sève Theatre (1400 Maisonneuve W.)


Ace Attorney

A cartoonish supernatural courtroom drama set in the future, Ace Attorney is based on the Capcom adventure game Phoenix  Wright: Ace Attorney, brought to life by acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike. As in a Japanese video game, the characters are all distinguishable by their variety of hair sculpted in odd geometric shapes that defy gravity, and larger-than-life gesticulations and mannerisms. It’s as if the cast of CSI had been fed glow sticks and Ritalin while being lured through the gates of Narnia, getting lost in a glam rock star’s closet before making friends with Caspar the Ghost on the way out.

Phoenix Wright is a bumbling novice defense attorney in a futuristic Japan where lawyers participate in “bench trials,” manic tournament style trials that rush to a verdict in three days. The lawyers gesticulate wildly to conjure holographic images as evidence, like kids summoning Pokemon cards, and the verdicts are celebrated by bursts of confetti and fanfare.

When Phoenix’s mentor and boss, Maya Fey, gets her head bashed in by a mysterious black clock, Phoenix takes on the defense of her sister, Mia, against his childhood friend and rival, celebrity prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. Maya Fey’s ghost, channeled by the psychically gifted Mia, makes an appearance and helps Phoenix solve the crime at the last second. Later, when Miles is accused of murder in a crime that may be part of a larger conspiracy, Phoenix is the only lawyer willing to take on the case. Will a ghost, a teen girl, his own fast wits, and a lot of gasping and gaping in the courtroom like a fish struggling to breathe help Phoenix solve the case in time?

Ace Attorney is a fun, fluffy light-hearted adventure that feels like it was made for kids, but begins to run a little long after a series of plot twists that seem to never end and courtroom antics that become repetitive after the novelty has worn off. While thematically shallow,  Miike’s flair for the visually odd makes it an engaging and weird journey within a more traditional genre structure than what many Miike fans might expect. (ES) 10:15 p.m., Hall Theatre (1455 Maisonneuve W). NOTE: tonight’s screening is sold out. A second screening has been added Friday, August 3, 1 p.m. at Hall Theatre  ■

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