Princess Mononoke: 'grand romantic epic' Sitges 99 Fantasy Festival
Everything you need to know about the most influential Fantasy film festival in the World. Ever.
A Shivers feature by Alan Jones selected from Shivers #72

With one of the strongest line-ups in ages, the Sitges International Fantasy Film Festival kicked off on October 6th with Dario Argento accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award and ended a breathless 10 days later with a surprise screening of The Fight Club (and who knew that was a Fantasy?).

Thanks to new festival director Roc Villas making a point of highlighting all the best Fantasy movies from around the world at the moment, Sitges really came up trumps and delighted Spanish fans who had been worried that the Festival was veering more towards the mainstream. I always have a good time at my favourite calendar event but this year turned out to be a banner one for the Festival as well as for the entire genre itself.

Naturally, there was the odd Macedonian Mad Max rip-off (Goodbye 20th Century), Hungarian football fantasy (6:3), deliberately crafted cult movie (Six String Samurai) and god-awful Russian slices of political surrealism (Silver Heads) to contend with but these were in thankfully scant supply. Although Existenz, The Blair Witch Project and Phantom of the Opera were in the impressive programme, as I’ve covered those extensively already, I’m ignoring them in favour of highlighting the many titles that will hopefully be coming your way over the next year.

Mononoke

Japan’s all-time box office champion in the animation arena had its first European showing in Sitges. Princess Mononoke has since been picked up by Disney, re-dubbed with the voices of Gillian Anderson, Clare Danes and Billy Bob Thornton and will be released throughout the world in 2000. But it was the full 133 minute Japanese original that unspooled in the ‘Animat’ section of the Festival and its huge success is easily understood.

Rendered in classic Japanese design this Zen Mulan with balls is a rich fable of bygone gods locking horns with man and industry as both threaten to unbalance the forces of nature. The main thrust of the story is how cursed Prince Ashitaka and wolf girl San team up to fight the evil Lady Eboshi whose gun factory is upsetting the forest spirits. Absolutely beautiful graphics (the rendering of the deer god as a psychedelic Godzilla is fantastic) and the hard, adult violent edge it has (cannibal apes, rotting lepers) makes it as far removed from the usual Disney cartoon as you could imagine. And there are no songs! I was surprised at how interested Hayao Miyazaki’s grand romantic epic kept me through its long running time. This was one of the Festival’s major highlights.

Minus Man

Poster for The Minus ManThe Minus Man turned out to be a real discovery and one of my Festival favourites. Written and directed by Hampton Fincher (the co-writer of Blade Runner) it sounds like another portrait of a serial killer, but it’s actually a very creepy, jet-black psychological thriller with muted Hitchcockian overtones. Owen Wilson (The Haunting’s broken-nosed star) is a Canadian drifter whose winning smile and pleasant boy-next-door manner hides the fact that he’s killed numerous people for no other reason than they have merely announced themselves to him as potential victims.

It’s when he lodges with troubled marrieds Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl that fate selects his next mark and his one-sided relationship with fellow postal worker Janeane Garofalo suggests his poisoning days are numbered.

Fancher’s terrific minor masterpiece continually pulls the rug from under the viewer’s feet by having Wilson meditate on his actions in comically toned voice-over and also being dogged by imaginary cops. Building to a near unbearable crescendo of tension, The Minus Man is a true original steeped in macabre suspense and tightly-coiled emotions. The dynamite ending found me on the edge of my seat gasping in admiration.

For the full version of this feature, get Shivers #72

Alan Jones also reports on Simon Magus, Jaume Balguero's The Nameless, Kevin Williamson's Teaching Mrs TIngle and many more

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Images © Moonglow Pictures • Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 1999. Not for reproduction