The Spool / Fantasia 2022
Fantasia 2022: Goodbye Don Glees!, Popran, Princesse Dragon
Our first dispatch of the fest includes two sweet, animated coming-of-age stories and a tale about dude's dingalings popping off.
Read also: the best live TV streaming services with free trial>

Our first dispatch of the fest includes two sweet, animated coming-of-age stories and a tale about dude’s dingalings popping off.

(This dispatch is part of our coverage of the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival.)

The 2022 Fantasia Film Festival is now fully underway, with a host of off-the-wall genre films from around the world — horror, thrillers, sci-fi, queer gonzo stuff, all the sticky-icky genre fans are looking for. And based on our initial offerings, we’re off to a solid, if oddly sweet, start, with a trio of films with no small amount of sentiment bursting through their pores — even if one of them takes a decidedly phallic route to get there.

First was Goodbye, Don Glees!, the latest from anime titan Madhouse and director Atsuko Ishizuka (Monster, A Place Further Than the Universe), a sweeping, sentimental coming-of-age story that’s not unfamiliar to Western audiences — Stand By Me, The Sandlot, The Kings of Summer — but takes on unexpected poignance with the lush visuals of animation. The misfit kids in question are Rōma (Natsuki Hanae), Toto (Yuki Kaji), and newcomer “Drop” (Ayumu Murase), who gallivant around their small fishing village calling themselves the “Don Glees,” getting into imaginative adventures of one type or another. But when a jaunt to the woods to set off some fireworks and capture the footage with a newly-bought drone leads to a forest fire they’re blamed for, they set out to find the lost drone in the woods whose footage will (hopefully) exonerate them.

Of course, it’s the destination, not the journey, that we’re focused on here; as the three kids trundle through the forest on their odyssey, we share their hopes, their fears, the different paths life is dragging them towards. Hanae, Kaji, and Murase give vibrant, energetic performances, bouncing off one another in that exuberant way young boys who feel deeply do (the emotions are big and melodramatic, but come on, we were all teens once — intense feelings are part of the bargain). Their simple but expressive character designs courtesy of Takahiro Yoshimatsu burst with youthful verve. Contrast that with the breathtaking naturalism of Ayano Okamoto’s pastoral landscapes — punctuated by a mysterious red phone booth whose significance bookends with film with a kind of supernatural import — and the ingredients add up to a gorgeous feature.

In its final stretches, Ishizuka takes a turn for the fantastic that likely wouldn’t work outside the auspices of animation. But here, with all its big, bright colors and screamed emotions and bawling, big anime eyes, it’s liable to eke a few tears out of you too. The best friendships, after all, transcend space and time, and Goodbye, Don Glees! is a nifty reminder of that.

Fantasia Festival 2022 - Popran

Next comes one of my most anticipated of the fest, with one of the goofiest, out-there premises I’ve heard in recent years: Popran, the latest from One Cut of the Dead director Shinichiro Ueda. As fans of that film well know, Ueda delights in taking bonkers conceits to their furthest conclusion, and Popran is no exception, even if the results are more understated than fans of his most internationally-successful film might expect.

The tale is essentially A Christmas Carol by way of Castle Freak: A successful manga producer named Tagami (Yoji Minagawa), whose notoriety came at the expense of his connections to friends and family, gets a rude awakening after a one-night stand when he finds out his penis is gone, with merely a straw-sized hole where it used to be. Turns out he’s not alone, as he stumbles into a support group of men who’ve also lost their “popran”, as it pops off their body, grows wings, and zips off into the night. What little they know includes the fact that they’ve got to catch it within six days of losing it, or it dies of malnutrition, and well, hello eunuch city.

With this remit in mind, Tagami sets out to catch it with a butterfly net (hidden in a guitar case, of course, so as not to attract questions) and a vague understanding that his popran will zoom around to places from his past that have meaning for him. From there, Popran takes the form of an off-kilter road movie, Tagami forced to face down his troubled past, and the people he’s left in his wake, all while searching for his evasive dingus.

For a film about flying penises, Popran isn’t nearly as outrageous or laugh-out-loud as you’d think; Ueda smartly keeps the absurdity of his premise low-key, instead committing to the heartfelt family drama Tagami’s journey takes him down. Which feels like the point, too; the fact that the missing dick of the missing-dick movie feels incidental is, in its way, another part of the joke. But just like how One Cut of the Dead used zombie comedy to sneak in a sentimental joys of making art with your friends and family, Popran leverages its jaw-dropping pitch to tell an age-old tale of a jaded Scrooge figure atoning for the sins of his past.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of phallic fun to be had amongst the moments of earnest reflection and character growth. The “skyfish,” as the general public calls them, buzz back and forth across the screen like dragonflies, and every time they bump into something the former user feels it (imagine getting surprise-racked every ten seconds), which Minagawa mines for fantastic farce. And one extended mid-film gag is, well, rather literal, with a killer punchline to top it off. But Popran is more about recovering your metaphorical manhood than your literal one, and in that respect Ueda’s approach is winsome and charming (especially for a film where the protagonist reconciles with his estranged father just in time for him to help chase down his son’s dingaling). As dick-ripping dramedies go, it’s more of a grower than a shower, but it might well be worth the ride.

Fantasia Festival 2022 - Princesse Dragon

In the grand tradition of Wolfwalkers and, well, anything by Studio Ghibli, we close out today with Princesse Dragon, a vivid, adorable French animated fantasy from Anthony Roux and Jean-Jacques Denis. Charting the budding friendship between a sheltered princess named, well, Princess (Lola Lacombe) and the humanoid child of a dragon, a feral child named Bristle (Kaycie Chase), Princesse Dragon keeps itself fairly chained to familiar fantasy tropes. There’s the tyrant king, the misunderstood dragon, the friendship between opposites that brings an end to age-old conflict, etc.

But what excels here is the presentation, with its absolutely gorgeous art direction (its expansive, verdant vistas rival even Goodbye, Don Glees!) and fluid blend of 2D animation with judicious computer animation for Bristle’s dragon father and a few dynamic setpieces. The character designs are fleshed out with clean lines and bold, solid colors like something out of a watercolor painting; Bristle, in particular, brims with Ghibli-esque inventiveness. She’s a wild child covered mostly by her enormous mane of emerald hair, which flips and undulates with a life of its own. By the time she reaches her final form (she frequently retreats into an egg-like shell at times of great distress — honestly, relatable — only to emerge larger and more powerful), it’s a forest of awe-striking locks.

For as unsophisticated as the story is, it’s an exceedingly likable one, a storybook children’s fantasy that wouldn’t be out of place in movie night with the kids. The character designs are showstopping, the animation is fluid and gripping, and the score is suitably majestic without losing the intimacy at the core of the film’s primary friendship. In an age of corporate-processed sludge, it’s nice to see another rare example of a children’s film with true heart, that feels like the product of genuine artistic vision.