by Sandra Courtland
Depending on how you look at it, the extremely enjoyable Liza the Fox-Fairy is either a cautionary tale about being a weeaboo or the story of a naive Japanophile looking for love; its stylish and tonally diverse execution much in line with recent South Korean rom-coms like How to Use Guys with Secret Tips. Set in 1960s Budapest, Liza (Mónika Balsai) cares for the bedridden widow of the Japanese ambassador. Through her, Liza has become introduced to Japanese culture, her only friend being the ghost of pop-singer Tomy Tani (David Sakurai), who thinks he's only an imaginary friend. In a moment that foreshadows the sinister nature, Tani tells the narrator to hush up about the fact that he's not just a figment of Liza's imagination. Given the fairy tale nature of the film, very little of it is actually being filtered through a veil of head-in-the-clouds daydreaming. It's a world that is enjoyably artificial yet never inauthentic thanks to the pure intentions of the two leads.
Desperate to have the kind of romance she reads about in her favorite Japanese paperback, Liza begins to look for a companion. Tomy does not take kindly to this and lets his true colors show when he starts dispatching those who come close to Liza one by one. This is where the film starts to juggle: Liza's search for love, Tomy's jealous killings, and the police investigation into Liza and all the people who keep mysteriously dying around her. The films handles the juggling act well and lets them interact to set the love story into motion and see it through. Surprisingly it all feels consistent even when switching between the quirky joy of Liza dancing around with Tomy and the gallows humor when shown the fates of her suitors.
The comparisons to Amelie are apt but this film actually features likable characters and is able to carefully sustain its grim humor while setting up its love story. I really enjoyed this film and can't wait to see it again and see what Mészáros will do next. Sweet but not sickeningly so, with two people you actually want to see together, and a great and inventive villain, there's not a bad bone in this one. Watch this when you want a pick me up that won't require an emergency tracheotomy when you choke on the sentiment this genre usually entails.
Liza the Fox-Fairy plays Saturday, November 7, 12:00 pm; Sunday, November 8; 4:15 pm; Monday, November 9, 4:15 pm; UA Pavilions.
Sandra Courtland is a contributor to Cinema Adrift. She is currently saving up to go back to Italy for holiday.