Liza, the Fox-Fairy (Liza, a Rokatunder)
Director – Karoly Ujj Meszaros, Screenplay – Balint Hegedus & Karoly Ujj Meszaros, Producer – Istvan Major, Photography – Peter Szatmari, Visual Effects – K96 Studio (Supervisor – Bela Klingl) & Melon FX (Supervisor – Miklos Nagy), Makeup Effects – Nora Kapas, Production Design – Balazs Hujber. Production Company – Filmteam/Ister Film
Moni Balsai (Liza), Szabolcs Bede Fazekas (Sergeant Zoltan), David Sakurai (Tomy Tani), Zoltan Schmied (Henrik Marosi), Gabor Reviczky (Colonel), Piroska Molnar (Marta Tanaka), Antai Cserna (Karoly Nyvlas), Lehel Kovacs (Ludwig Ur), Agi Guback (Inge), Gabor Harsanyi (Narrator)
Liza works as live-in homecare for the elderly Japanese woman Marta Tanaka. Liza has learned to read Japanese and absorbs herself in Mrs Tanaka’s romance novels. Around the apartment, she sees the ghost of Tomy Tani, a Japanese pop singer from the 1950s. While Liza goes out for her 30th birthday, Tomy takes it upon himself to kill Mrs Tanaka. Afterwards, Liza is startled to find that she has inherited the apartment in Mrs Tanaka’s will. As Liza adjusts to her new life and sets out to fulfil Mrs Tanaka’s wish that she find love, the jealous Tomy begins to kill every man who takes an interest in her, even looks at her. The police become suspicious at the number of deaths that surround Liza. Zoltan, a newly arrives sergeant from the provinces, is assigned to the case. Looking for somewhere to live, he moves into Liza’s spare room – only to find the number of deaths continuing to rise and yet Liza still innocent in these.
Liza, The Fox-Fairy was a debut feature for Hungarian director Karoly Ujj Meszaros and enjoyed a reasonable profile at various international film festivals.
The film had me scratching my head at what was going on. Moni Balsai plays the unworldwise heroine, not unlike Peter Sellers’ Chauncy Gardner in Being There (1979), who seems to have spent much of her life indoors, tending an elderly woman and with no needs of her own or reaction with the world outside of that. Her only refuge has been in the fantasy created out of Japanese romantic novels. She seems to think it not too odd to have the ghost of a 1950s Japanese pop singer (David Sakurai) appear to her. (This has been based on the real-life figure of Tony Tani, a popular Japanese singer of the 1950s and 60s). All the while, the pop singer keeps causing the men she is romantically interested in or an express an interest in her to die unnatural deaths, which in turn cause the police to investigate. Liza begins to suspect that she might be a Japanese fox-fairy who lures men with love and kills them. An inspector (Szabolcs Bede Fazekas) newly arrived from the provinces (and initially living in the lobby of the police station) moves into her apartment to find what is happening first hand.
I normally like this type of surreal deadpan black comedy but I have to say Liza, The Fox-Fairy failed to do much for me. I sat scratching my head through much of its bizarre goings-on wondering where it was going. The whimsical tone reminded me of Amelie of Montmartre (2001), the ghostly Japanese pop singer kept reminding me of Gus Van Sant’s Restless (2011) – albeit a Restless that was not taking itself too seriously and was conflated with the hyper-real rock ‘n’roll fantasy of something like Bang Bang Baby (2014). The murder black comedy and constant deadpan misinterpretations of what is going on by characters is a standard East European vein of humour, while the accidental murders occurring around the heroine reminds of a film along the lines of Deadly Advice (1994), It’s a Wonderful After Life (2010) or even Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010). All of which could be amusing but after the film settles down and clues us in to what is going on, it becomes strangely repetitive in its fluffy whimsicality. It does arrive at an ending that rationalises what has been happening in interesting ways but the overall result feels like an odd confection that leaves you with a shrug of indifference.