Sunday, August 02, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Strayer’s Chronicle

Evidently, humanity is a lot like Microsoft Windows. Future editions might have new features that sound really cool, but they are far less stable. In the 1990s, two very different secret experiments attempted to hasten the next stage of human evolution. Both endowed their test subjects with super-powers, but left them with drastically shortened life expectancies. One group faithfully serves as the project leader’s clandestine task force, while the other went underground, but they will face their destiny together in Takahisa Zeze’s Strayer’s Chronicle (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Based on Takayoshi Honda’s novel, Strayer will be inevitably compared to the X-Men no matter how strenuously it objects. The similarities are obvious, but there is a dramatic difference in tone. While the Marvel franchise uses mutants as a metaphor for intolerance, often lurching into ham-fisted didacticism, Strayer is more concerned with its heightened sense of mortality. These super-heroes will all die soon, but straight-laced Subaru’s government-aligned team appears to be doing better than Manabu’s outlaw Ageha group.

Subaru has loyally served Koichiro Watase, the scientist responsible for his condition, but he is concerned about the recent “burn-out” of a team member. Their next assignment will be protecting a prominent molecular scientist and ethicist, whose insight into their condition attracts the attention of Ageha as well. Naturally, they mix it up during their initial encounters, but their attitudes towards each other soften as both factions get a fuller sense of the big picture. In fact, Manabu will send one of his members to Subaru’s group, because they will be better able to protect her. Having determined Aoi is able to reproduce, unlike her sterile comrades, she might actually have a future to protect.

Even if Strayer “borrows” some concepts here and there, it develops plenty of cool twists of its own, like Subaru’s power to see a few seconds into the future, which means he always knows where and when to move in a fight. On the other hand, the power stealing abilities of Shizuka (played by Sara Takatsuki, who does not get enough screen time) closely resemble those of Rogue. The multi-leveled government conspiracy also has no shortage of forerunners, but it takes on eerie apocalyptic and existential dimensions in Strayer.

Perhaps Zeze and co-screenwriter Kohei Kiyasu do not reinvent the mutant wheel, but they stage some wildly cinematic action scenes. What really distinguishes Strayer from the rest of the super hero pack are the very real stakes involved. Far from invulnerable, any character could go at any time, as if they are on Game of Thrones. After all, they are literally dying before our eyes. Featuring some vividly realized special effects and a popular youthful cast, Strayer is an impressively ambitious foray into superhero movie making by Zeze, the former indie auteur. Recommended for fans of near future science fiction and conspiratorial thrillers, Strayer’s Chronicle screens tonight (8/2), as part of this year’s Fantasia.