Fantasia: The Final Freakout

Time-travel comedy A Boy and his Samurai, screening this evening, is among our critics’ picks for the best of Montreal’s craziest film festival, wrapping up tonight.


A Boy and his Samurai

Although it’s been playing the festival circuit in North America for quite some time and is therefore a known commodity, not carrying the same thrill of anticipation as those films making their debuts, Yoshihiro Nakamura’s remarkable A Boy and his Samurai is one of the best films at Fantasia this year.

Kajima Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido) is an honest-to-goodness samurai, thrust forward in time 200 years and lost in modern Tokyo. What’s a top-knot-wearing, sword-swinging warrior from the past to do when he can’t find his way around the big city? Why, move in with an overworked, stressed-out businesswoman, of course! Things get off on the wrong foot for Yasube as he struggles to find his place in this frightening cell-phone-saturated, apartment-block world, but he quickly discovers that his host, Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) and her fearless young son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), need his help as much as he needs them.

A Boy and his Samurai follows familiar narrative patterns — there’s not much in this fish-out-of-water/romantic comedy plot you haven’t seen innumerable times already — but is so sweet and sincere in its handling of the material that you can’t help but be drawn in. Nishikikido could have easily chosen to ham it up and make his samurai a comic figure, but instead plays it dead-straight, as if he’s walked off the set of Yojimbo or the like, and, as a result, is able to convincingly deliver the weight of the character’s melancholy and sense of duty at the same time as providing laughs. His interplay with six-year-old Suzuki is, not surprisingly given the title, the highlight of the film. (BF) 5:05 p.m., Hall Theatre (1455 Maisonneuve W.)


Best of the Fest: Our Critics’ Fantasia Faves

Lorraine Carpenter: Although it’s not a deliciously wacky Asian flick or a horror romp full of kill-thrills, Sushi Girl takes it for me. The combination of Reservoir Dogs-esque heist fall-out and supreme camp, in the form of Mark Hamill as a queeny crook with a knack for tooth-torture and cartoonishly menacing crime boss Tony “Candyman” Todd, is a pretty great one. But there’s real suspense too, and a foreboding atmosphere that helps to drive home some effective plot twists. Hats off to Kern Saxton for a solid debut feature.

Malcolm Fraser: Fantasia always has stuff you won’t see anywhere else, and this year was no exception. The fest also deserves praise for expanding its scope into documentaries like We Are Legion and outside-the-box picks like the charming Turn Me On, Goddammit! But amid all the craziness, Jason Banker’s Toad Road was a standout for me. “Mumblecore horror” is practically an established subgenre by now, but it’s rare to find a film that combines the best aspects of indie cinema — loose, improvised feel, intense performances, narrative ambiguity and creative shooting and editing — with genuinely scary thrills. Here’s hoping it gets an official release.

Brenden Fletcher: A Boy and his Samurai is the hands-down winner for me. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the darker (Graceland, Jackpot) and more ridiculous (Robo G, Afro Tanaka) films at the fest this year, Samurai, with its gentle and sincere take on a familiar brand of fish-out-of-water family comedy, is the one that stole the show. I need to give a special shout-out, however, to the bold-yet-unfinished Toy Masters doc, which held its World-Premiere screening at Fantasia. This look into the creation of the Masters of the Universe phenomenon and how it shaped the action/adventure media landscape and the boy’s toy market in the ’80s is thoroughly fascinating, but, at this stage, in desperate need of a final edit. I look forward to screening the final product.

Alex Rose: The most pleasant surprise out of this year’s strong Fantasia slate was probably Grabbers, a comedy/monster movie out of Ireland that sees the inhabitants of a small island holing up in a pub to ward off vampiric sea monsters, who just so happen to be deathly allergic to alcohol. While director Jon Wright clearly worships at the altar of his namesake Edgar, a healthy dose of Irish wit and Gremlins-style shenanigans makes this one of the funniest films of the year thus far. ■

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