Dr. Marlowe, a paleontologist and professor, finds a piece of a map pointing to the place where the Ningyo, the mythical Japanese creature, could be found. The legend claims whomever consumes its flesh will attain remarkable longevity. He presents the project to his peers, who mock and dismiss him as a fraud. He decides to risk everything and go after the Ningyo on his own in hopes to bring to light what could be one of the greatest contributions to science. What he could not anticipate is that, in his search, he is confronted with a choice that puts the very foundations of his morality to the test.
And following that initial “getting to know you” screening, I placed it in the top spot for favorite short film (“best of fest”) in my Filmquest festival wrap-up (check out that article here).
While at Filmquest, the film won Best Fantasy Short, Best Director for a Short (Miguel Ortega), Best Score for a Short and Best Visual Effects for a Short.
You’ll note that in those accolades, there is a winner for “Best Visual Effects for a Short”.
What’s remarkable about this, is that it was the film’s first win in that category – as it has rushed its way across the festival landscape.
Why is that so special? Because the majority of the film was shot in the filmmakers’ home – with mainly green screen used to fill in the vast spaces, impressive creatures and amazing antiquities found throughout the film.
My understanding is that so many of the festivals where the film has played – thought these sets and dressing and props were practical.
Here’s the lowdown:
Palentologist and Professor Marlowe (Rodrigo Lopresti of the forthcoming Stephen King series – Castle Rock) was once a dedicated and successful big game hunter. But after a change of heart – he’s turned his attentions to seeking out mythical (put potentially real) creatures – such as the titular Ningyo (a fish-like creature – akin to a mermaid). All of his collegiate colleagues – including friend Professor Baldwin (Gabe Fazio) – think he’s insane. And yet they want possession of the partial map which Marlowe owns – which may lead to some answers. In the peripheral, a group of Japanese nationals headed by Kiyohime Bikuni (The Karate Kid 2’s Tamyln Tomita) are also after the map – for different reasons. The map eventually leads Marlowe to the desert and a vast underground facility – where he may or may not find what he’s looking for.
If you like period steampunk, The Ningyo will certainly whet your appetite. Again – so much of what you see is computer-generated – but it’s no less stunning and genuine. The details and exciting steampunk sensibilities (the film takes place in the early ‘20s) are mind-blowing. Following the screening, I turned to my husband – almost speechless, but managed a meek “wow”.
Indeed – if you want what appears to be studio money behind your indie short film (yes, it looks that good) – then The Ningyo may well be up your alley.
That’s not to say that the other elements are lacking. The performances are all worthwhile from an eclectic cast, but I was most pleased with the subtle work of Tomita as the mysterious head of what can only be described as the Japanese mafia (these folks don’t mess around).
Surprisingly, at the heart of the visual effects extravaganza is Marlowe’s crisis of conscience. If he were to ever find any of these creatures he seeks – would he have to destroy them in order to prove to his colleagues (and the world) that he’s not a crack-pot? So that moral dilemma is central to the film’s success. It’s tough to believe that a film so visually striking (where it seems so much of the filmmakers’ time and money went) that there’s still something deeper going on inside the characters.
There are rumors abounding about a feature length version of The Ningyo – and indeed, in my Filmquest wrap-up, I listed it as one of the short films which I’d most like to see expanded into a feature. There’s plenty of intrigue and possibility still available in this story.
I was also able to take in a short piece about the making of the film. And while impressive (you won’t believe your eyes) – if it’s available, don’t watch it prior to the film itself. Wait until you’re done and then allow your jaw to drop.
A central character’s moral dilemma and strong performances from a great cast – these triumphs are almost overcome (not quite) by the miraculous and masterful visual effects work present in The Ningyo.
Bottom line: Keep an eye out for festival screenings in your area, wait for an on-line release (no dates yet) or better yet – stay tuned for the feature film version.
You just know that it’s on its way.
Lean in closer and let me whisper this into your ear. *a feature film version is definitely not a myth*