HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Sprites, superheroes and the sport of jumping rope
"Summer Days With Coo"
Part of the Family Fest showcase
Screens 1:15 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dole Cannery multiplex
Every so often in Japanese animation, someone gets the idea to do a piece lamenting the loss of a kinder, simpler, way of life in Japan. This is usually expressed through the use of some creature from classic folklore that is promptly plopped into the middle of modern society and struggles to survive amid ruthless humanity.
In the case of "Summer Days With Coo," the mythical creature is Coo, a kappa, or water sprite, who saw his father killed by a drunken samurai and then fell into a crack formed by a subsequent earthquake. About 200 years later, young Koichi Uehara finds Coo embedded in a rock along a riverbank, takes him home and nurses him back to health.
Following an obligatory "let's overcome cultural shock and become best buds for life" montage, the true nature of the film's plot emerges: Coo wishes to meet other kappa and return to his simpler way of life. But in a modernized world seemingly devoid of kappa and with a media-obsessed society wanting to follow his every move, the task could take ... well, a little over two hours' worth of movie to resolve.
At that length, this movie might tax the patience of younger children ... and perhaps it might not be the best film for them to watch in the first place, what with the bloody death of Coo's father at the beginning, the death of another key character later on and a bloody explosion a few minutes after that death.
But for older audiences, this film comes across as an excellent primer to the world of anime, with standard themes of friendship, overcoming prejudice and respect for nature prevalent throughout. This feature comes as a pleasant surprise to this anime fan who heard next to nothing about the film until it was announced as part of the film festival lineup. It feels comfortably familiar, comparing favorably to similar classics such as Studio Ghibli's "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Pom Poko," without being a Ghibli film.
Jason Yadao, Star-Bulletin
Louis Vuitton Hawaii International
Through Sunday at the Dole Cannery Stadium 18 and the Hawaii Theatre
Tickets: Dole events are $10; $9 military, students and seniors. Hawaii Theatre events are $15; $12 military, students and seniors.
Call: 528-3456 or visit www.hiff.org
Also: Check out one of the five shorts showcases at Dole Cannery. Of special interest are films "Autumn Love" by Andrew Kerkes, a 20-year-old graduate of Mililani High School, and "Banana," the recent film from University of Hawaii Academy for Creative Media graduate Jay Hubert.
Both are in the Shorts #2 showcase, starting 3:15 p.m. Saturday. Local filmmakers Ty Sanga and Tim Savage present, respectively, "Training Dogs" (Shorts #1, noon Saturday) and "Cutback" (Shorts #4, 12:15 p.m. Sunday).
And keep an eye out for what fills out the "to-be-announced" screenings 4:30 p.m. Saturday and throughout Sunday at 1:15, 4, 4:15, 4:45, 7:15 and 7:30 p.m., all at Dole Cannery. As of press time, one TBA slot has already been filled. The only locally produced full-length feature film in the fest, "All for Melissa," will get, by popular demand, an additional screening at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Part of the Extreme Asia showcase
Screens 7:15 p.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. Friday, Dole Cannery multiplex
"Dai Nippon-jin" translates to something like "big Japanese guy," and star-writer-director Matsumoto Hitoshi is something of a giant celebrity himself in Japan, but that's where the similarity ends. Matsumoto made his bones as the dumb half of a comedy team, and this, his first feature, is anything but dumb. Weird, absurd and jaw-droppingly odd, but not dumb.
Matsumoto is Dai Sato, a 40-something loser with the dull, bored air of someone whose life is passing him by, and he doesn't much care. His only constant companion is a neighbor's cat that drops in on occasion. His other relationships are off-putting: a wife who has moved out, a daughter he rarely sees, a father in a care home with dementia, some sort of girlfriend who drinks too much. Sato is obsessed with dried seaweed and tiny umbrellas. His hair is unkempt and he dresses without care. His neighbors graffiti up his slovenly house with suggestions that he disappear or die. The only reason we know all this is because a television documentary team follows him constantly, asking inane questions and getting lazy answers.
Sato spends his life loafing and waiting. He has the blankest of deadpan deliveries.
Ah, but then he gets a phone call, and tells the crew he has to "go baking." He hops on his scooter and putts up to a power substation, where electrical clamps are attached to his nipples, the switch is thrown -- and he becomes a giant-sized superhero! He's called out by the defense department to battle giant monsters threatening Japan!
After a long -- too long, given the deadpan buildup -- introduction, we're in the soup on this one. Über-Sato may be a "superhero," but he's an old-fashioned, decidedly uncool one: short-armed, long-torsoed, bullnecked, tattooed, sweaty, with Eraserhead hair and a pair of purple diapers -- which are prepared ahead of time, strung up like enormous laundry for him to grow into. Furthermore, his "battles" are minimal and lazy, and his TV ratings are in the toilet. The monsters are more interesting, and they're getting fans among the Japanese population they're supposedly menacing.
"Dai Nippon-jin" won't be everyone's cup of ginseng. It uses absurdist, flat-faced, uncomfortably stretched humor -- think "The Office" -- coupled with an affectionate parody of Japanese giant-monster hero shows to make points about the unraveling of Japan's cultural heritage. It also has terrific CGI effects slathered onto frankly undeserving monsters.
But stick with it. The second half is marvelous, particularly a tackily filmed battle royale featuring some kind of gigantic -- and dysfunctional -- Ultraman family. Apparently, it's bad form to start out a battle by clubbing the poor monster with a school bus.
Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin
Part of the Family Fest showcase
Screens 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dole Cannery multiplex
Jump rope is viewed as a sport through the eyes of eager athletes, coaches and parents in this documentary, which shows teenagers from across the United States in rigorous training for regional, national and world competitions.
The story focuses on competitors from various regions, providing a clear understanding of the serious training and sacrifices endured.
A 12-year-old girl named Torrie, for example, perseveres through training and holds her own during competition, despite her asthma. She posts notes around her home to remind her of times and scores so she can work toward higher goals. In one scene, her mother, who is also a coach, reminds her that it's all about "raising the bar."
While the film focuses on the national competition, we finally get a taste of what they are all working toward near the end, when the various U.S. teams band together to compete on the world stage against groups from countries that include Japan, Canada, Sweden and South Africa.
The routines, which include breakdancing, are intriguing, but non-enthusiasts might find it all a bit redundant. A speaker compares the sport to the state of Olympic ice skating and gymnastics about 50 years ago. The film, if nothing else, definitely leaves you with a new perspective on skipping rope.
Nancy Arcayna, Star-Bulletin
Want to learn how to Double Dutch? A jump rope workshop for all ages will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Dole Cannery Ballrooms directly after the film's screening, and taught by competitive jumpers featured in the film.