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FANTASIA 2003: MORIARTY Reviews FLCL and DOUBLE AGENT!!

Hey, everybody. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Okay, let’s hit the ground running, shall we?

Whatever the next ten days hold in store, I don’t think relaxation is going to part of it. I was up late last night working, and today started with a phone call from the lobby of the hotel. I’ve got some intense deadlines coming up, and before I left LA, I made sure to set up a work schedule with my co-screenwriter so that we could send pages back and forth. I don’t like doing it that way. It’s always better when we’re both in the same room. But you work with the situation at hand, right?

Or you change the situation, which is what Harry Lime did. He packed up the computer, flew up, and has taken up residence in my room. It’s not a space issue, since FanTasia’s got me staying in a condo at Le Nouvel Hotel, a ten-minute walk from the theater. I’m just afraid that the next ten days are going to turn into a FEAR AND LOATHING style rampage, a blur of movies and script pages and generally bad behavior.

Let me preface this first review by saying that I’m a stone cold retard when it comes to anime. I know what I like when I see it, but I don’t really follow what’s current or what’s coming. I just sort of stumble over things. Typically, I prefer self-contained anime, like feature films or shows with a limited number of episodes. It’s always intimidating to try to wade into continuity mid-stream on things. My knowledge of FLCL (pronounced “foolie coolie”) before the screening was limited to a few things I heard from some of our chatters. I was told that the show is crazy, that I wouldn’t understand any of it, and that it was loads of fun.

Turns out, they were only partially correct. Yes, it’s crazy. Yes, its fun. But I didn’t think it was impossible to follow.

There’s no denying that the show is desperate to overload the viewer with sights and sounds from the opening moments. Well, actually, the first scene of the first episode is just Takkun, a twelve year old boy, and Mamimi, a seventeen year old girl, sitting together under a bridge. “Nothing amazing happens here,” complains Takkun. There’s a lot that goes unspoken between these two in that first scene. We know something happened involving his older brother. We know that Mamimi is easing Takkun into his sexual initiation, kissing him and laying against him, confusing him mightily. It’s almost like a scene out of a Truffaut film... delicate and human.

And then Haruka shows up, runs over Takkun with her Vespa, and whacks him so hard with a guitar that he dies.

Hakura is one of the looniest characters I’ve ever seen in an animated film. She shows up because of the town’s one big manufacturing plant, Medical Mechanica. She speaks in riddles, though, and obviously has abilities no normal human being has. For example, she brings Takkun back to life. And that bump on his head where she hit him with the guitar swells and grows until a giant battle robot erupts from it. Hakura insists on moving in with Takkun, and she puts the battle robot to work as an all-purpose maid/cook/servant. Takkun has no idea what to think of her or the noisy, forceful way she invades his life. She’s a constant disruption, humiliating him, seducing his father, joining a baseball team from another town so she can beat Takkun’s team. She complicates his relationship with Mamimi, who we learn used to date Takkun’s older brother before he moved to America to play baseball professionally. And she keeps making crazy robots and cat ears and all sorts of shit erupt from the much-abused noggin of Takkun.

Ultimately, the answers to the series are less satisfying than the questions it sets up, but this isn’t a series about coherent storytelling. It’s an artistic rampage, a free form explosion of ideas. At times, it is a very, very silly show, and at other times, it manages to make some very wry comments about young love and first lust. As Takkun goes through some truly brutal experiences, he starts to become the man he’s going to be, and that simple spine is enough to support all the insanity the show wants to throw at the viewer.

Before the film began, I met Claude J. Felletier, publisher of an anime/manga fan magazine called PROTOCULTURE ADDICTS, which he gave me a copy of. Like I said, a lot of anime just plain misses me, but skimming through the obviously sincere magazine, I found an announcement for an upcoming DVD release called CAT SOUP. This is the film I reviewed at FanTasia 2001 under the title NEKOJIRU-SO, and just knowing the details of where and when I can find this gem on DVD made this issue an invaluable resource for me.

Also before the film, I met the charming Maki Terashima-Furuta, who is here on behalf of Production I.G. They handled the English-language version of FLCL, but they’re better known to anime nuts as the company behind GHOST IN THE SHELL. They’re also working on the animated segments in Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL, as well as a theatrical sequel for GHOST IN THE SHELL which should be finished sometime next year.

The second film of the evening is the deceptively simply titled DOUBLE AGENT, the directorial debut of Kim Hyeon-jeong. Remember that name, too, because if this is any indication of what this guy can do, he’s going to be a major voice in Korea’s already vital film community.

The film begins on April 25, 1979, at an amazing demonstration in North Korea, a show of pride and power so large that recreating it would have been impossible. We see documentary footage instead, and there’s an undeniable TRIUMPH OF THE WILL-style pull to the images. From there, we jump to June of 1980, Berlin, and at first, it doesn’t seem like a logical leap. A lone Korean man is trying to make his way out of East Berlin, trying to escape his North Korean bosses, desperate and willing to die in his efforts to escape to freedom. He’s shot, but he manages to make it over the border, where he tells everyone he wants to defect. The South Koreans welcome him with open arms.

Cut to an interrogation room, where they are beating the living shit out of the guy. We larn that his name is Lim Byung-ho, and that he was a fairly high level spy for the North Koreans. No mater how much he is tortured, though, he never wavers from what he says he wants: freedom.

Han Seok-gyu is positively electric in the lead role of this film. Years pass, and we see him absorbed into the South Korean intelligence community. He’s trusted, a valuable resource, and Han plays every single note of this difficult role with almost effortless skill. It’s the kind of performance that is so good you stop thinking of it as a performance. He communicates so much with his demeanor, or with small, subtle looks.

The title pretty much gives away the game of the film, but it’s not played as a mystery for long. Lim is indeed a plant, a double agent, fiercely loyal to North Korea. For a while, he’s even a fairly effective spy. He makes contact with a sleeper agent, the stunningly pretty Yoon Soo-mi (played with quiet grace by Go So-yeong), and the information he feeds her does the trick. South Korean spies are picked off before they can accomplish even the simplest of missions. But something happens between Lim and Soo-mi, and gradually even the best plans begins to unravel.

There’s a real elegance to the way Kim Hyeon-jeong has built this film, and he’s got an assured visual style that never overpowers the material. This is a movie about the reality of espionage, not the cartoon James Bond version, and it cuts right to the lonely heart of this life. These are people who barely exist as people. They’re shadows, chess pieces being moved by forces they don’t even pretend to understand. The film’s ending is inevitable, but it’s still wrenching when it hits. If you get a chance to see DOUBLE AGENT, do so. It’s exceptional on every front.

The evening’s final film was THE EYE, which I’ve already seen and reviewed. I dig the film, but the combination of work to be done and Harry Lime’s impending jetlag drove us out of the theater and back to the hotel. Besides, we’ve got GODZILLA coming up tomorrow, and I want to be well-rested. “MAN IN SUIT,” indeed.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback
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  • July 23, 2003, 1:18 p.m. CST

    FLCL rocks

    by Jon E Cin

  • July 23, 2003, 1:50 p.m. CST

    Stoopid

    by gopherkhan

    Fantasia 2003? fucking gay.

  • July 23, 2003, 2:01 p.m. CST

    why did they delete my post?

    by malikye

    all i said was the fact that i like the first fantasia better than any other ones!

  • July 23, 2003, 2:09 p.m. CST

    Fantasia & Montreal = better than LA

    by Wankeroo

    Hope you're having a good time Moriarty. I can't wait to see Bubba Ho-Tep tomorrow! I hope you'll be reviewing Shangri-La as well.

  • July 23, 2003, 2:49 p.m. CST

    FLCL-

    by RenoNevada2000

    You had me at "And that bump on his head where she hit him with the guitar swells and grows until a giant battle robot erupts from it."

  • July 23, 2003, 3:17 p.m. CST

    FLCL

    by Delete Me

    it's not a guitar it's a bass ^_^

  • July 23, 2003, 4:12 p.m. CST

    Do you guys even read these articles before you post?

    by Pontsing Barset

    ... Fantasia 2003 is a FESTIVAL. It has absolutely nothing to do with Disney's Fantasia films...

  • July 23, 2003, 5:05 p.m. CST

    For shame Mori!!!

    by Zubalove Lives

    It's great that you experienced Fooly Cooly, but that you failed to mention the music? Just plain wrong. This soundtrack made me a believer in J-Rock. The Pillows do the entire soundtrack and they are like a mix of.... The Pixies and Weezer... or something like that. This series really really really does rock! EYEBROWS!!!

  • July 23, 2003, 7:02 p.m. CST

    Match Girl = awful

    by The Gline

    I reviewed this one recently and it's just a mess. It's one of those movies that tries to pass off blatant creative theft as "cultural criticism" and falls flat on its ass, taking the audience with it. See http://www.thegline.com/dvd-of-the-week/2003/07-16-2003.htm instead.

  • July 23, 2003, 10:52 p.m. CST

    Follie Coolie is awesome. And the Pillows are awesomer

    by Smeg For Brains

    The Pillows theme song for FLCL is so great! Ride on shooting star! The series is insane. It is just the type of show that is so fucking incredibly insane it would probably be HUGE if it was on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

  • July 24, 2003, 4:51 a.m. CST

    No, you're wrong...

    by Azeroth

    The boy's name it Naota, "Ta-Kun" is like the japanese way of making "Wiliam" into "Little Will" (Ta- From naoTA) + (kun- a suffix to indentify dimunitive size, or youth.)

  • July 24, 2003, 8:38 p.m. CST

    FLCL

    by funnylookingdog

    Smeg for Brains, FLCL starts on Adult Swim August 4th at 12am eastern.

  • July 24, 2003, 10:35 p.m. CST

    F L C L !!!!

    by hyper-psycho

    FLCL fuckin owns ! Such a great anime comming from the best.

  • July 25, 2003, 2:14 a.m. CST

    Han Seok-gyu

    by Neon_Noodle

    Yeah, he played the male lead in Shiri as well, didn't he? I thought he was very good in that film, even though his name was amusingly romanized as "Han Suk-Yu". Also, FLCL is an amazing series that is even available on DVD right now with a great transfer and, best of all, a Director's Commentary (which in this case really illuminates the finer details of the show). By the way- it's not that FLCL is *supposed* to be hard to understand. Rather, the series is made for repeat viewings and is kind of inacessible to the average viewer. It's a fun, light-hearted Gainax series with a lot of anime-related inside jokes (and nothing beats the elation of recognizing a truly obscure Gainax reference such as "It's not a matter of Chestnuts and Squirrels..."). Incidentally, it'll also be the first Gainax series entirely broadcast on American TV when Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows it.