Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shura.

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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Luz (Tilman Singer, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

A STYLISH AND DEMONIC DEBUT

On a dark and stormy night in an unnamed German city, a young taxi driver named Luz (Luana Velis) arrives at a police station in a state of shock. Meanwhile, at a nearby bar, the mysterious psychiatrist Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) is approached by Nora (Julia Riedler), a woman with a disconcerting manner and an unexpected connection to Luz. They strike up a conversation over drinks and before it’s too late, Rossini falls into the thrall of a malevolent force intent on finding Luz. When Dr. Rossini arrives at the station to hypnotize Luz and assist in taking her statement, a claustrophobic journey into anxiety-inducing horror reaches a terrible crossroads.

Shot on 16mm with impeccable visuals, Tilman Singer’s audacious art school thesis project is an unexpected horror revelation. An experimental shocker with an irresistible retro vibe, this first feature fluidly assembles elements from the horror and art house cinema of the 1970s and ’80s, deftly deconstructing the demonic possession narrative and turning a simple police station into an intersection for the occult.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Tilman Singer
  • Under the Influence, new interviews with actors Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Reidler, Nora Vanderkurt, and Johannes Benecke
  • New interviews with Singer, director of photography Paul Faltz, production designer Dario Mendez Acosta, composer Simon Waskow, and sound designers Jonas Lux, Henning Hein, and Steffen Pfauth
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by horror film journalist Heather Wixson

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SFFF Day 5 – The Good, the Bad and the Heavy

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day kicked off by wrapping up its body horror retrospective with Philip Brophy’s Body Melt (1993). MMC! imagined an Arrow Video edition of the film earlier this summer, back when word of its restoration began circulating. The film now has a packed Blu-ray release compliments of Vinegar Syndrome, bringing this lesser known wonder to the world. The SFFF paired Body Melt with Chris McInroy’s practical effects-based We Summoned a Demon (2018), a fun and goofy short about a couple of guys who just want to be cool and end up summoning a demon. Overall, a fun way to start the Festival’s end.

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SFFF Day 4 – Fractured Minds and Fantastic Capitalism

Day 4 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was loaded with screenings and bracketed by a pair of animated programs – the Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cartoon Party and the web-series Crisis Jung (Baptiste Gaubert and Jérémie Hoarau, 2018). MMC! has already proclaimed the greatness of Crisis Jung and we’re loath to spoil Keir-La Janisse’s program of Saturday morning content given that it continues to tour festivals and cinematheques. Themes do tend to run through the Cartoon Party programs and “women’s lib” stood at the forefront with cartoon episodes on equal opportunity, commercials for the YWCA, and PSAs that addressed federal pay equity laws through iconic comic book figures. The Cartoon Party enjoyed a large audience that was quick to applaud for great content and progressive messages and to shout along with the enthusiastic narration of the cartoons. Expect to see another Cartoon and Cereal Party at SFFF 2019!

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Piercing (Nicolas Pesce, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

A MODERN SCREWBALL GIALLO

Family man Reed (Christopher Abbott) is going on a business trip but in lieu of a suitcase filled with clothes, he’s packed a toothbrush, a murder kit, and a plan to kill a prostitute so can rid himself of his homicidal impulses and continue to be a good husband and father. That call girl, an alluring but unusual woman named Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), is more than he bargained for and the balance of control over their fraught meeting begins to sway back and forth between the two. Before the night is over, a feverish nightmare unfolds, and Reed and Jackie seal their strange bond in blood.

Based on the critically acclaimed cult novel by Ryu Murakami (Audition), director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) blends psychological horror with screwball comedy and sets it against an iconic giallo score, resulting in a sly take on the fantasy of escape and the hazards of modern romance.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Nicolas Pesce
  • Making-of documentary
  • Piercing Murakami: Japanese film scholar Tom Mes on the source novel
  • Knowing the Score: Giallo music expert Jon Dobyns on the music of Piercing
  • According to Plan: New interviews with actors Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, and Laia Costa
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Wendy Ide Continue reading

SFFF Day 2 Report – Sex and the Unruly Screen

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second day was unusually specific in its program, devoting itself to short films that explored “innocence being encroached upon by outside forces” and a pair of horror-thriller features set around the sex industry. It was an impressive night of screenings, but also one that certainly made demands of its audience.

The “Paradise Lost” block of shorts was long on atmosphere and scares but slim on explication. Most films chose to grab their shocks and get out rather than flesh out their worlds. Faye Jackson’s The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs (2018) recalled Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse (part of SFFF’s program from 2016 and now titled simply The Cleanse). The short considers the situation of its title character who extracts her sense of anxiety out of herself, hides it in a tin, and faces down some dark, ominous threat that stalks her outside her home. Jackson’s film is wonderfully constructed, full of humour and dreadful tension, and its quality therefore demands more of itself, needing to unpack its conflict and its resolution before letting its credits roll. And the same could be said of other shorts in the block. Milk (Santiago Menghini, 2018) is a chilling tale of a boy trapped between two unsettling maternal figures and choses aesthetics over explanation. Wild (Morgana McKenzie,  2018) is a pastoral fantasy about a girl’s encounter with a magical, deadly, and ultimately unresolved female figure in her uncle’s cornfield. Saturn Through the Telescope (Dídac Gimeno, 2018) follows a boy’s efforts to watch a scary movie at home and is a slickly made and energetic short, while Make a Stand (Camille Aigloz, Lucy Vallin, Michiru Baudet, Simon Anding Malandin, Diane Tran Duc, and Margo Roguelaure, 2017) is a gorgeously animated film set in pre-Columbian Mexico and that seems to tease a supernatural spectacle that never arrives. Uncertainty is a great tool of the macabre, but it’s best used as a lacuna where meaningful questions spring forth. These shorts are uniformly affective and expertly fashioned, sure to be enjoyed by viewers. My only wish is that these films more fully met their narrative challenges as well as the aesthetic ones.

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