FANTASIA 2018 – BEING NATURAL Is Unconventional Weirdness at its best
DIRECTOR – Tadashi Nagayama
WRITER – Tadashi Nagayama, Yuriko Suzuki
CAST – Yota Kawase, Kanji Tsuda, Natsuki Mieda
A kind man finds his life turned utterly upside down when an ambitious young family from the big city move near his rural home… but the offenders soon experience a drastic and horrific shift of their own! That’s a giant understatement.
Every now and then someone will tell you about a film they really liked, but prefaces it with, “it’s a slow burn but once it gets going, trust me, it’s good!” Or they’ll tell you, “I can’t get into details, but trust me, be patient with it!” BEING NATURAL is one of those films.
The Fantasia programmer warned the crowd that it was an unconventional flick, and asked us to be patient with it. He said we’d see that it was very “FANTASIA” towards the end. He wasn’t lying. This film, part of the Camera Lucida section, is very much the Fantasia Festival in a nutshell. It’s multi-genre, it’s weird as fuck, and half the time I was wondering why I was watching it and where it was going. I was told to stick it out. So I stuck it out. And I’m so glad I did.
I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible in these reviews, but sometimes they’re unavoidable (take note, vague spoilers to follow). Especially in a film where not much happens until well into the film, and even more happens right near the end.
That’s important to make clear, because this film’s entire selling point, at least to me, are the frequent shifts in tone. The first act is so unlike the second act and the second act is very much unlike the third. It’s unsettling how it starts whimsical and carefree, the next it gets gravely serious, then weirdly ridiculous, and finally into full on 80s splatter. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a long while, and that’s why it’s a great satirical take on the classic City vs Rural trope, as told through contemporary Japan.
Yes, I do realize this review is all over the place, but so is this film, and that’s why I really dug this piece of wonderful and confusing mindfuckery. And not mindfuckery in the traditional experimental way, but more in terms of HOW DID THE TONE SHIFT SO QUICKLY?
Yes, This film has many tonal shifts. I can’t stress that enough. At first glance it’s a charming drama about an older, bongo-playing, noodle-slurping, gentleman who is caring for his dying uncle. A saintly man who is kind to both family & strangers. A bridger of peace with common squabbles between his cousin and his old, grocery store owning friend. He’s never portrayed in a mean way. His cousin even let’s him live in his uncle’s old house, a quaint and old traditional home in a lovely rural area outside of Tokyo.
That home becomes crucial as a quirky new family (husband, wife, and a bratty daughter) moves into the town with a dream of opening their own café, and that café hinges on them running it out of of said home. They want his home. It fits the vibe. And they’ll take it from him anyway they can.
That’s when things get batshit crazy. Shocking animal murder. Rebellion. False Accusations. A Warm and Glowing entity of Vengeance. And jarring gore.
This wasn’t the film I expected. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but this wasn’t it, and sometimes that’s one of the greatest experiences ever. The last few minutes especially were totally out of left field, but they actually made sense. Things are set up. There’s mentions and hints.
I really liked how we have a likeable character put through the ringer, yet still stay true throughout. Themes of loyalty, and friendship. Compassion. A matter of right and wrong. It’s all there if you know where to look. An audience members seemed a little confused by the end of it, but I felt the drastic shifts in the narrative still kept his core ideals in check. We have a character totally changed through his ordeal, in more ways than one, yet he was still the same saintly good natured fellow… well to an extent. I did say these were vague spoilers, and I’ll keep it as such. This film needs to be experienced.
Yes, it’s quite a jarring film, and certain images were either right out of BRAIN DEAD or right out of HEREDITARY. Those are quite the two extremes in terms of horror, and this film does run that gamut. Even the closing credits were playing with the viewers expectations, and yes the Juxtaposition was flawless.
Make no mistake, this film is a largely a dark satire with moments of whimsy and ridiculous. At various times I found myself shaking my head at old men running around, to being perplexed as to how “they just went there”, to cringing at awkward and brilliant character moments, to actually applauding the bits of sheer lunacy and splatter.
It’s a weird movie, and certainly not for everyone, but definitely an interesting and weird take on the perceptions of modern day Tokyo versus simple rural life. Very few films will 180 me into being a fan by the end, this film did so via wonderful absurdist means. Yes, this film totally was a Fantasia film and I’m still recovering.
Fantasia Fest runs thru August 2nd. Ticket and show info.