Our synopsis for it goes sorta like this:“Somewhere in a fanciful alternate 1970s Budapest that never was, a shy, naive, and lonely nurse named Liza lives in a bizarre fantasy world where her only friend is the ghost of a dead 50’s Japanese Pop star named Tomy Tani. Inspired by a steady diet of Japanese romance novels, Liza dreams of one day finding her true love. On her 30th birthday she decides to break out of her shy lonely life to find it at last, but as all her potential suitors die one by one in violently odd and extreme ways, she begins to fear the worst: that perhaps she is cursed and has really become a mythical fox fairy, tragically doomed to remain alone forever!”
Hehehe… as you all know, o’ Gentle Visitors, this wee lady loves her goofy Asian Horror movies… and her weird Turkish ones… and… well… pretty much most all horror movies in general. But honestly… I also like quirky, odd little romantic films too. You know the ones. The ones where it’s not too odd to find a ghost or an alien or even a monster or two thrown in the mix just to spice things up. Those are usually the sorts of films I end up getting all teary and emotional about and usually love most of all. Go figure… I’m just goofy like that.
So… when a crazy little Hungarian movie about curses and Japanese Fox Spirits and romance came along, naturally it was a given that I’d have to track myself down a copy. A little web surfing later and eBay came to the rescue with just such a DVD… even complete with those ever so necessary English subtitles along for the ride. Yay!
So, you wanna hear Neko tell you all about it, do you? Then watcha waitin’ for? 🙂
Now when it comes to odd lil’ films, I’d say this one definitely fits the bill quite nicely. Director Károly Ujj Mészáros has created a whole fantasy world of weirdness for his film, “Liza, A Rókatündér”…. a crazy “Twilight Zone” alternate history 70’s Budapest (or “Csudapest”, as it’s named here) where somehow the Warsaw Pact never happened, at least not in Hungary. It’s colorful and vibrant, and oh, so darn capitalist… but still grungy and shabby around the edges in that Eastern European way you’d kinda expect. I didn’t actually pick up on this at first… and it’s that clever subtlety that fills this movie with oodles of neat little things you only notice with subsequent viewings. Either way… you don’t miss those dour Soviet socialist notions at all, and this version of Hungary is definitely a much more lively place for it.
Our heroine Liza (played to perfection by Mónika Balsai) is a home health care nurse who’s spent her entire adult career as private caretaker for Márta Tanaka (played by Piroska Molnár) the bedridden elderly widow of the Japanese Ambassador to Hungary. Liza is that sort of sweet, naive, and utterly innocent ingénue with more than a smattering of shyness and awkward social cluelessness to keep her from having any sort of life beyond her nearly constant duties to old Márta. She spends her days caring for Márta and keeping the shabby little apartment clean and tidy with only one other companion to brighten her drab and isolated existence. That companion? Why the ghost of 50’s Japanese pop singer Tomy Tani (played by David Sakurai) whose songs are the favorites of both her and the elderly lady. They lip sync and dance to a tape of one of his old albums as she goes about her day, much to the confusion of poor Márta who, of course, is completely unaware of Liza’s “imaginary friend”.
But, Tomy is quite real, it seems… and as our story starts, he’s moved to jealousy by Liza’s decision to use the occasion of her 30’th birthday to break out of her routine and finally find the love and romance her sweet little heart has always secretly craved. Unfortunately for our dear Liza, her stunted social skills mean she has absolutely no experience interacting with others, and positively no idea about how she should even begin searching for that love. Luckily… or unluckily… thanks to her time as Márta’s nurse she’s become obsessed with all things Japanese including trashy Japanese pulp romance novels. It only makes sense to her that by trying to recreate the exact plot described in her favorite pulp-novel, she should have success. Ummmm… yeah. Poor, poor sweet girl… 😉
So it’s off to her local Mekk Burger restaurant ( a strange “Goat Themed” doppleganger version of the standard McDonald’s/ Burger King kind of fast food place… only in fantasy Hungary!!) for lunch, where the story insists she should have that fated meeting with the love of her life over a cold crab sandwich leading her to a life of “eternal spring” filled with cherry blossoms and love. But not if Tomy Tani has anything to say about it….
Here’s where our story goes a little bit dark, as the jealous spirit decides to ruin Liza’s chances for happiness all so he can lead her to misery and loneliness in the idea that once driven to suicide, she’ll be his for eternity. How can he do that? Why by inflicting her with a curse of the Fox Fairies so that every man in Liza’s life will meet a grisly, yet always hilarious, doom. Start the body count!!
First poor Márta who Tomy… really the spirit of the Grim Reaper, was supposed to take some 6 years earlier but fell in love with pretty Liza and couldn’t bear to finish his job and leave. Time to rectify that little oversight… Márta’s will leaves Liza her apartment and what little money she has, making all her greedy relatives stew with resentment, finally reporting her to the police as a potential murderer.
They investigate of course… and detective Zoltan (played by Szabolcs Bede Fazekas), recently arrived from the countryside, is assigned to ferret out exactly what’s what. Quirky Zoltan with his dour stone faced seriousness is a total opposite to Liza’s delightfully adorable naivete and it isn’t long before he finds himself attracted to her like a moth to a flame. Luckily for him, he has an almost supernatural ability to survive what have to be the most bizarre string of “accidents” thrown his way by Tomy, now determined to eliminate any perceived rivals for Liza’s affections. It starts to be quite the list too….
Poor Liza tries everything to find happiness. Her quest is constantly filled though with a string of hapless losers, Lotharios, and some downright crazy men, all of whom fall one by one to the lethally freakish accidents arranged by Tomy. These deaths are so ludicrously ridiculous at times as to almost be beyond belief. Funny, funny, funny!! In the most morbidly wacky way possible, mind you…
Through it all, Liza keeps seeing ominous signs that reveal to her her accursed fate. Everywhere foxes… shadows that look like foxes… old water stains with a vulpine look… and nightmares of herself as a fox tailed temptress in old Japan leading stalwart samurai to their doom. It starts to become more than she can bear. Only Zoltan…. who has rented Márta’s old room in order to “investigate” our heroine… is there to help lift her spirits. By now, the silly boob is quietly falling for Liza hard, but honorable and decent to a fault, wants only to prove Liza’s innocence and help her to find the elusive love that seems to be always just out of her reach, even if it’s with one of the terrible oafs and losers that keep finding their way into her sights. You just know they are going to get together… just as soon as she figures out it him that’s been fixing all the broken things in the apartment to lift her spirits and brighten her days.
Through it all, our poor Zoltan proves himself to be a man with serious staying power. Tomy tries to kill him constantly… by setting his head on fire, knocking him over backwards and cracking his skull, electrocuting him, and even breaking his neck. Nothing seems capable of finishing our hero for good. That’s the power of selfless true love for you…. That’s a good thing, because part of the cure for Liza’s curse is the selfless, pure, unwavering love of a good man.
But eventually, the number of chalk outlines on Liza’s apartment floor reaches downright silly proportions and our heroine succumbs to thoughts of suicide. Will our indestructible hero be able to save pretty Liza? Only one way to find out. Trust me. If you like sweet, quirky romance films as much as this goofy kitten, you’ll definitely want to find out by watching it for yourself.
My goodness. Where do I begin? This movie is just plain wonderful. There’s an amazing amount of just plain fun and funny things blended together with a quirky sweet romantic story that transcends cultural barriers to make for a film that yours truly absolutely loved. Seriously. I haven’t had this much enjoyment from a simple movie in quite some time. Mónika Balsai is delightful in the role of Liza. About the only thing amiss is that perhaps she physically “seems” older (Miss Balsai is actually 38 according to sources) than our 30 year old character should be, but more than pulls it off in the long run, bringing real heart and soul to Liza as she blossoms from naive girl-next-door to sweetly innocent sexy butterfly, something that in the hands of a lesser actress might have been nothing more that another simple take on “Amélie”. Mind you, yes… that same spirit inhabits this film, but throughout, “Liza” definitely chooses it’s own odd, colorful, and musically weird way to tell it’s story setting it apart and making it all uniquely it’s own. She’s supported by equally strong performances from Szabolcs Bede Fazekas and David Sakurai who has the look of 50’s Japanese Pop down to a tee.
Yep. The funny bits are funny… even the odd “Hungarian in-jokes” that I didn’t quite get the first time through, and it’s a film well worth a second.. or even third… viewing just to try to sort those notions out. (Trust me… after three viewings this wee Catgirl’s “Hungarian” movie filter is now working just fine. 😉 )
So, I’d have to say I reeeeeaaally like this one. A lot!! I give it 4 well deserved “Meows” out of 5 with probably a goodly handful of happy “Purrs” of contentment thrown in for all the wonderful acting, the colorful cinematography, the overall offbeat humor, and all the numerous goofy and utterly odd characters that inhabit it. Carolyn liked it too… although I’m thinking she might be all “Liza”ed out after sitting through it three times with me over the last couple weeks… Good thing she utterly adores her goofy wifey. 😉
The DVD? Well, I managed to catch this one surprisingly on the official Hungarian Region 2 DVD release. My first official Hungarian purchase, and surprisingly it came widescreen in PAL format with almost perfect English subtitles as standard. Yay, Hungary!! Way to go! It’s available out there for a fairly nice price, right around 25 $ US shipping included, but well worth it if goofy foreign fantasy films… with a little sweet romance thrown in… are your thing too. Hopefully this one will break out and make it to the UK or US, ’cause Neko’s thinking it’ll be a hit with oodles of audiences all over the place. Take a Catgirl’s word on it, you won’t be sorry.
As always… for the true movie lovin’ connoisseurs among my Gentle Visitors, there’s a Trailer available just for you, complete with those ever so helpful English subtitles… Enjoy! 😉