Fantasia 2021: Wonderful Paradise Might Have Just Created... Its Own Genre?
Jon Mendelsohn
Absurdist cinema has been making a comeback in a huge way as of late, especially within independent horror. Films like Greener Grass and The Lobster stopped audiences in their tracks and made them ask, "What in the world did I just watch?" However, no modern-day film has done absurdism quite as effectively as Masashi Yamamoto's Wonderful Paradise.
Wonder Paradise feels like if Darren Aronofksy's Mother! was reimagined by Wes Anderson. Co-written by Yamamoto and Suzuyuki Kaneko, the film starts as a simple tale of a family getting ready to move out of their mansion to the outskirts of Tokyo. Akane (Mayu Ozawa), the teenage daughter of the Sasaya family, jokingly posts on Twitter that they are having a party at the home they're about to leave. Soon, familiar faces, as well as total strangers, start to show up, creating a very unexpected atmosphere that grows more absurd as the film continues until it culminates into a jarring, one-of-a-kind experience that really has to be seen to be believed.
Making its North American premiere at Fantasia's 25th International Film Festival, Wonderful Paradise is exactly the kind of unique viewing experience that audiences and critics have come to expect from the genre film festival. While the film starts with a quirky family trying to get out of their home, small indications shine through that show that this film is not playing nice. The fact that absurdism starts slowly and builds until the movie becomes indescribable is a major part of its appeal. This film could have been a straightforward family drama, but it transcends into a cross between Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's House and Project X.
While the insanity of Wonderful Paradise keeps escalating, it's not just for the sake of testing limits. The film is a meditation on the idea that the world around us is so baffling, yet, as chaotic and bizarre as things may seem, we just keep going. Akane and her family didn't intend to have a full-blown festival at their home, but they don't bat an eye when it's happening. Wonderful Paradise is a genreless film that will have viewers in uproarious laughter before disgusting them and then surprising them with emotional pangs.
The absurdism of Wonderful Paradise is different from that of something like 2019's Greener Grass because that film can be pigeonholed as a comedy. Wonderful Paradise is so unique that it may have created its own category of film that is hard to classify in the present.
Possibly the greatest aspect of this movie is how self-aware it is. Even the title Wonderful Paradise appears to be a play on how bizarre the events of the film are. Every occurrence that seems nonsensical most likely has a deeper meaning, but just like the characters in the film, the audience is trapped in this situation, so they just have to accept what's happening without looking deeper, unless they want a melted brain. Wonderful Paradise is a film that could become so many different things with multiple viewings. Despite its content being a bit jarring, the film's aesthetic is simultaneously upbeat and uncomfortable, showcasing some masterclass filmmaking abilities. There are so many characters who keep popping up, but all of them are engaging and never feel like fillers. Another extremely impressive aspect of this movie is the fact that so much of it shouldn't work, but it all does shockingly well.
One of the biggest joys of experiencing Wonderful Paradise is the notion that anything could happen. Many audiences will most likely sit in their chairs with their fingers half-covering their eyes, both terrified and incredibly excited for what insane occurrence is about to grace the screen next. Wonderful Paradise is the ultimate self-aware, midnight movie that doesn't even begin as one, but transcends into one of the wildest acid trips anyone could ever experience on-screen. Overall, it's a must-see for anyone on the lookout for daring cinema.
Directed by Masahi Yamamoto and written by Yamamoto and Suzuyuki Kaneko, Wonderful Paradise will be available to stream in Canada at Fantasia Fest from August 5-25.