Saturday, May 26, 2018

SIFF ’18: Mutafukaz

The city is clearly a dystopian Los Angeles, as envisioned in Japanese-style anime animation, by a team of French and Japanese filmmakers. In the not too distant future, LA (or least the neighborhood provocatively known as “Dark Meat City (DMC)” is plagued by gang violence and government corruption, so very little has changed. There also might be an alien conspiracy secretly calling the shots behind the curtain. Presumably, that part is fiction. The plot points might be old hat, but the visuals are truly eye-popping throughout Shojiro Nishimi & Guillaume Renard’s French-language Mutafukaz (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival.

There are not a lot of jobs in DMC, but Angelino still manages to get fired regularly. He is the one with the round, shiny 8-ball-like head. Orphaned at a young age, as a result of the tragic events seen during the prologue and subsequent flashbacks, Angelino essentially grew up fending for himself. However, he now has a real friend in his roommate Vinz, a lovable loser with a flaming skull for a head. Angelino has also bonded with the swarms of cockroaches living in their decrepit building, despite Vinz’s misgivings. Willy, the socially inept kitten or dormouse or whatever, is not exactly their close buddy, but they tolerate his compulsively talking presence.

One day, Angelino notices horns and assorted demonic appendages growing out of the shadows of some of DMC’s denizens—mostly those in positions of authority. Of course, when they realize he can “see,” like Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live, the conspiracy starts hunting Angelino and his friends. Much to his surprise, the stress brings out the ominous powers lying dormant within Angelino.

That is all pretty standard X-Files stuff, but there are a few things that really distinguish Mutafukaz. First of all, the animation, particularly the wonderfully baroque and eccentric looking world of DMC. Nishimi served as character designer and animation director on Tekkonkinkreet, so the two films’ pronounced stylistic kinship certainly makes sense. Renard’s screenplay also has a defiantly anarchic sense of humor, which often pokes self-referential fun at itself. Yet, perhaps the most appealing aspect of the film is the simple and honest friendship shared by Angelino and Vinz. There was no great drama that brought them together, but when trouble comes their way, they stick together.

Mutafukaz started as a short film, evolved into a graphic novel series, before coming full circle as a feature, so there is mostly likely plenty of ready mythology to accommodate future films. It looks great, but it would be even better without all the familiar Men in Black business, simply focusing on Angelino, Vinz, and Willy as they try to survive the lunatic world around them. Recommended for its heart and style (but not its narrative), Mutafukaz screens Tuesday (5/29) and Thursday (5/31), as part of this year’s SIFF.