Fantasia’s 16th edition was easily one of the festival’s most ambitious, daring and generous years, kicking off the 160+ film festivities with the North American premiere of FOR LOVE’S SAKE from returning fan favorite Takashi Miike. Brilliantly exalted throwback to 1970s Japanese exploitation cinema and a playful manga adaptation/action-musical playing out like a fistfight heavy cross between WEST SIDE STORY and OSAKA TOUGH GUYS by way of GREASE and YOUNG THUGS: INNOCENT BLOOD, FOR LOVE’S SAKE set the Hall theatre on fire with its dynamic dance numbers and clashing of genres, and its high energy carried throughout an edition of the festival that saw, amidst many things, the first year of the Fantasia Industry Rendez-Vous and Co-Production Market, a plethora of premieres, both local and from abroad, and more guests than ever before.
In addition to the opening film, Miike offered us that same year his much anticipated live-action adaptation of the smash hit video game ACE ATTORNEY (Canadian premiere), one of 34 offerings from Japan alone. Similarly offering us 2 films that year, the demented director Noboru Iguchi was here in person to host the absurdly raucous premieres of both DEAD SUSHI (World Premiere) and the poetically titled scatological romp ZOMBIE ASS (Canadian premiere). Festival favorites Shunichiro Miki and Katsuhito Ishii of FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT were also back with new films of their own: the gloriously iconoclastic THE WARPED FOREST (Canadian premiere, hosted by Miki himself) and festival hit SMUGGLER (Québec premiere). Yuya Ishii, of the beautiful, delicate comedy SAWAKO DECIDES also returned with MITSUKO DELIVERS, another feel-good, keen character study. Furthermore, the festival hosted the awaited North American premiere of late Koji Wakamatsu’s Cannes entry that year, 11/25 THE DAY MISHIMA CHOSE HIS OWN FATE – a divisive but vital film.
From South Korea, DOOMSDAY BOOK (Canadian premiere) was a definitive highlight of the Asian section, uniting Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung (here in person), two superstar directors behind such favorites as A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and HANSEL & GRETEL, here working together on a sci-fi anthology film. The Kim Ki-duk penned POONSANG, directed by Juhn Jai-Hong, also took our audiences by storm, while Choi Min-sik grabbed us with his performance in Yun Jung-bin’s NAMELESS GANGSTER (Québec premiere). On the side of K-horror, 2012 was also a memorable year, with both the Canadian premiere of Byeon Seung-wook’s upsetting THE CAT, as well as the Québec premiere of Kim Gok and Kim Sun’s WHITE: MELODY OF THE CURSE, a k-pop-themed horror film scarier than the Gangnam Style fever that was about to engulf the summer of 2012.
Aside from choice offerings from Thailand (including a return from festival favorite Pen-Ek Ratanaruang with HEADSHOT) or India (the staff favorite action romp SINGHAM, per exemple), Filipino cinema also stood out that year, with films as varied as Kavhn de la Cruz’s controversial MONDOMANILA, the urban snapshot that was AMOK (both Canadian premieres), the satire that was A WOMAN IN A SEPTIC TANK (Québec premiere) and the Canadian premiere of GRACELAND by Ron Moralez, which would go on to be one of the most talked-about films of the festival circuit that year.
Over on the occidental side of things, it was no less jam-packed, including the latest from Rob Grant (YESTERDAY) in the form of the bloody buddy comedy MON AMI, alongside Steve Kerr’s COLUMBARIUM, Seth Smith’s hallucinatory LOWLIFE and Braden Croft’s modest but ingenious HEMORRHAGE, from Canada, all World Premieres. From the United States, the International premiere of SUSHI GIRL rocked the Hall theatre, bringing to their fans cult actors such as Mark Hamill (the original STAR WARS trilogy), Tony Todd (CANDYMAN) and Noah Hathaway (THE NEVERENDING STORY). Similarly, we welcomed Jennifer Lynch, who attended for the memorable World premiere of her latest film CHAINED. Other highlights included a return from Alex de la Iglesia with AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, the World Premieres of Paul Hough’s THE HUMAN RACE, Buddy Giovinazzo’s A NIGHT OF NIGHTMARES, as well as Jason Banker’s enigmatic TOAD ROAD, one of the most talked about film of that year’s festival, and beyond. The Québec premiere of William Friedkin’s terrific KILLER JOE, the Simon Pegg staring A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING, Pascal Laugier’s first English-language film and having Michael Biehn in person for his Danielle Harris-starring horror film THE VICTIM were also noteworthy events.
Furthermore, Fantasia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the legendary Nikkatsu studio, initiating cross-festival cooperation by hosting the first part of a retrospective that would extend to the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in the Fall and showcasing Nikkatsu classics ranging from the popular STRAY CAT ROCK: SEX HUNTER, Yasuharu Hasebe’s more obscure MASSACRE GUN, Sabu’s POSTMAN BLUES, to the timeless classics that are Shohei Imamura’s masterful THE PROFOUND DESIRES OF THE GODS and icon Seiji Suzuki’s ever-cool TOKYO DRIFTER. Finally, the festival honored film scholar and historian David Bordwell by inviting him to the festival, where he gave a talk on Hong Kong cinema and was rewarded with that year’s Cheval Noir award. Other special happenings included a launch event for Kier-la Janisse’s HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN complemented by a screening of the rare film THE HAUNTING OF JULIA.
Overall gargantuan in scale and in what it had to offer, Fantasia’s 16th edition was a major year for the festival; a year of homage, returning directors, discoveries and first times – as well as a major step into the future of the festival, that would carry to 2013 and beyond.