Fantasia International Film Festival (FIFF) – Wonderful Paradise is a breath of fresh air, so much so that even the supernatural aspects, which would normally be horrifying or spooky, are light-hearted – even the film’s ghosts can bring a smile to one’s face. The plot may center around a family with less than strong ties, but the subplots are all tied together by a festival event that spirals into an otherworldly fantasy. The film may start out seeming like a family melodrama, but at some point writer/director Masashi Yamamoto slowly and quietly begins to turn up the laughing gas, morphing the film’s impromptu house party into one for the fantasy books.
In Wonderful Paradise, a family by the name of Sasaya is preparing to move out of their large but unkempt home, filled with memories as well as a couple of ancestral spirits. However, as the moving day drags on, the house becomes more and more filled after the daughter posts an open party invite to Twitter, inviting anyone to celebrate…anything. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control, with the arrival of each new quest signaling an impending subplot more absurd than the ones that preceded it.
Wonderful Paradise is simply a wonderful experience – a snapshot of life in the microcosm of a small Japanese prefecture filled with characters as colorful as the film’s cinematography. The cast ranges from young to the beginning stages of elderliness, and each age group is essentially given their sub-plots from which the follies that are often experienced within each stage of life are played out. The little adventures of the children playing with each other are adorable, respites from the more complicated relationships found in the stories of the adult family members. However, at all times, Wonderful Paradise also sneaks in chances for laughter, even among the more serious happenings, perfectly encapsulating the bittersweetness that is the human experience of life.
In short, I loved the film – for a movie labeled as “fantasy” I can’t say that the aesthetics of the movie were particularly anything to write home about, but the best part of Wonderful Paradise is the simplicity in which it approaches telling the story of these people and their relationships and the humor that it injects into the stories while telling them. It is a healthy mix of slapstick antics and a sort of deadpan humor of frank observations that I find often used in Korean cinema, and it continues to be enjoyed in Wonderful Paradise. What’s more, there is some clever symbolism also injected into the film for the more nuance-loving viewers to chew on, namely the giant house within which this film takes place, opulent but standing in decay, like the family’s intra-relationships.
Wonderful Paradise is the feel-good horror movie that we deserve after living through the horror of the last year, it’s a palette cleanser for the mind offering reality but with a thick coat of humor and wit. Its combination of bittersweet relationships, clever comedy, and its plethora of quirky characters is an easily digestible treat, and I appreciate it finding a way to be absurd without being asinine. Directed and co-written by Masashi Yamamoto, Wonderful Paradise made its North American premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival and proved to be one of the more fun viewings for me, showing off Yamamoto’s creativity and imagination with everything from impromptu Bollywood-like dance numbers to blurring the lines between the spirit world and reality, and of course, a kaiju thrown in for good measure.
The film will screen as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, happening August 5-25.
7.5 out of 10