The 2018 New York Asian Film Festival is underway, and we at ComicsVerse will be there to share all our favorites from the festOn July 15th, the New York Asian Film Festival will screen INUYASHIKI and BUFFALO BOYS, two films that are contenders for two of the best action films of the year.

Both films use their respective genre to deliver unique stories in familiar trappings. INUYASHIKI is a superhero film with an unexpected hero. BUFFALO BOYS is a western that explores the trauma of colonialism instead of celebrating the institutions it created. As these films show, the right creative hands can rejuvenated any genre.

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© 2018 Movie “Inuyashiki” Production Committee © Hiroya Oku/Kodansha

The history of live-action manga and anime adaptations is written in the cinematic blood of junk movies. Bargain bins are overflowing with unloved copies of DRAGON BALL EVOLUTION or GHOST IN THE SHELL. Even a film like SPEED RACER was initially a flop and took nearly ten years to find its cult audience. That’s why I’m happy to say that INUYASHIKI might just be the best live-action manga/anime adaptation of all time.

Based on the manga by Hiroya Oku, INUYASHIKI follows Ichiro Inuyashiki, a browbeaten middle-aged man. His wife and kids ignore him so much that he cannot even tell them he’s been given a terminal cancer diagnosis. One day, Inuyashiki’s entire life is changed when he is engulfed in a strange light. He wakes up the next day and discovers he has become a cyborg. With his new lease on life, Inuyashiki uses his newfound abilities to be the hero he never could be.

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What makes INUYASHIKI so refreshing is the character’s impotence isn’t used to fuel patriarchal wish fulfillment about reclaiming lost manhood. His family doesn’t respect him, but he never holds them in contempt. He self-deprecates and yearns to be a better, stronger person. Actor Noritake Kinashi captures this balance of timidity and kindness in INUYASHIKI perfectly. Kinashi’s performance is imbued with so much heart you’ll find yourself cheering when he fulfills his heroic mission.

Heroes and Villains

Of course, a hero is always defined by their villain. On the night Inuyashiki mysteriously transformed, a teenager named Hiro Shishigami. Where Inuyashiki is old, Shishigami is youthful. Where Inuyashiki is full of compassion and hope, Shishigami is full of a nihilistic hunger for destruction. Inuyashiki uses his newfound powers to heal patients in a nearby hospital. Meanwhile, Shishigami starts figuring out how to shoot bullets from his fingers. The two function perfectly as dramatic foils in both writing and acting.

Takeru Sato brilliantly plays Shishigami. The character could easily have fallen into the trope of “sexy, lithe bad boy.” The same trope that has afflicted the Lokis, Lights, and Draco Malfoys of fiction. However, INUYASHIKI develops the character’s backstory while refusing to let him off the hook for his evil deeds. Director Shinsuke Sato’s awareness of the “sexy bad boy” trope provides dark reminders that a villain can’t always be forgiven for their deeds just because they have a pretty face.

Sato is no stranger to the world of live-action anime adaptations. He previously helmed adaptations of the GANTZ franchise, and his awareness of anime design and storytelling informs his directing here. In particular, the film does not shy away from the gonzo source material. Inuyashiki’s cyborg enhancements unfold from his body in unnatural ways, but the special effects and presentation of these enhancements give them weight and make them feel real. Both Sato’s direction and the dedicated performances make the unreal feel real.

In a world inundated with superhero films, INUYASHIKI provides a blast of heart and sincerity that is sorely missing in many cookie cutter adaptations. It proves itself to not only be one of the best manga adaptations, but also one of the best films of the year.

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Buffalo Boys
Courtesy of Infinite Frameworks Pte Ltd

Director Mike Wiluan’s film BUFFALO BOYS opens with a text explaining the Dutch colonial exploitation of Indonesia. One line of the text, in particular, stood out to me. “Accounts of suppression, brutality, and tragedy are often lost in tales of folklore.” Intentional or not, Wiluan’s words are an accurate summary of the American western. The American western is a historical whitewash, both literally and figuratively. It’s difficult to look back at many American western works and see flat-out racist portrayals of Native Americans.

Wiluan’s BUFFALO BOYS flips the typical western dynamic. White colonizers are no longer the defacto heroes. Instead, the film follows a pair of brothers on a mission to avenge their father who died at the hands of Dutch colonists. BUFFALO BOYS is an interesting breed of revisionist western. Rather than undoing any historical whitewashing (as Antoine Fuqua’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN remake did last year), Wiluan’s film executes many western tropes but does so with a modern eye that refuses to look away at the horrors inflicted by colonialism.

Now for all of that heavy pretext, let’s make one thing clear: BUFFALO BOYS kicks a lot of ass. The BUFFALO BOYS of the title are Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso) and Jamar (Ario Bayu). Sudarso and Bayu have dynamite chemistry as vengeful brothers. Their relationship is believable and invests the audience in their mission. The duo also proves themselves to be great action stars. In the opening, Jamar is fighting a much larger opponent in a brawl for cash. Bayu shows off a bit of young Harrison Ford swagger as he overcomes his enemy with wits instead of simply brawn. Sudarso also gets to showcase his action chops in a series of great fight sequences from a barroom brawl to the final showdown.

Fiction and Reality

Sudarso’s character Suwo also gets some intriguing character development in his relationship with Kiona (Pevita Eileen Pearce). Kiona is a capable, buffalo riding, expert archer heroine. Her dynamic with Suwo lets the film take some time to explore female equality and toxic masculinity in an interesting way for the time period. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t take more time to investigate these dynamics as it barrels ahead with its main plotline.

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While the film may occasionally sacrifice character for action, the action delivers. Wiluan does an impressive job as a first time director serving up rollicking shoot-outs and nail-biting hand-to-hand combat. There’s plenty to entertain in BUFFALO BOYS; it’s a thrilling crowd pleaser. However, it does not shy away from the Dutch colonizer’s brutality. Filmgoers sensitive to depictions of sexual assault might find parts of the film challenging to watch.

The final line of Wiluan’s aforementioned opening text reads “this is one story where fact and fiction collide.” Art can provide escapism, but looking too far away from reality is how you end up with…most American westerns. Wiluan’s fiction gives us the cathartic release of seeing our heroes stop oppression, but his control of fact shows us of history’s horrors. BUFFALO BOYS reminds us that in order to improve our present, we must acknowledge the sins of our past.

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Click here for tickets

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