Shôjirô Nishimi and Guillaume Renard's MFKZ (Mutafukaz) is a film that's been on my radar ever since they released the first trailer for the project. I keep a close eye on everything Studio 4°C does, even more so when it's a feature film, still I never quite got around to watching it. Maybe it was the lukewarm reception, maybe the fact that the film's release was pretty subdued and messy, but the lack of (continued) buzz eventually put it on the back burner. Starved for good films though, it resurfaced last week and I'm really glad I finally caught up with it. It may not be 4°C's most outstanding work, but it's a pretty awesome film alright.
Truth be told, MFKZ is not an easy sell. It's a complete clusterfuck of cultural influences that don't necessarily appeal to the same niches. Initially MFKZ started with a French comic, written by Guillaume Renard. This feature film adaptation is a French/Japanese co-production, with Ankama and Studio 4°C handling the animation and Nishimi and Renard directing. The setting of the story is West Coast USA though, not exactly the most obvious choice, with an additional focus on the black and Latino communities there, making the whole cultural melting pot even more complex.
MFKZ isn't shy about drawing inspiration from all its cultural influences. The animation style has a clear (though alternative) anime vibe, whilst the characters are more European looking. The slummy urban setting firmly grounds the film on US soil, the gang wars and lucha libre elements reference the minority communities that form the background of its story. That's a lot already, but then there's also an alien invasion going on, adding traces of fantasy, horror and sci-fi into the mix. For a film that's just over 90 minutes long, that's simply too much ground to cover in-depth.
Angelino is an orphan who lives in a rundown apartment, together with his friend Vinz. His life is pretty dim and colorless, what he doesn't know is that a secret organization is right on his tail. The reason is simple: Angelino has hidden powers, though they lie dormant for now. When he gets hit by a truck on his way home, something stirs within him, and he begins to see weird apparitions. Angelino doesn't have much time to think things through, as that same night his apartment is shot to shreds, and he and Vinz need to disappear off the grid for a while. It's the beginning of a pretty wild adventure.
MFKZ has a very bold visual style, it's no surprise then that Renard looked at Studio 4°C to help them out with the animation. If there's one studio that can deliver a perfect mix of quality and creativity, it's them. The film does look a lot like Tekkonkinkreet, a link that is in part explained by the presence of Nishimi, who worked as a character designer on that film. MFKZ doesn't quite reach the same heights, as the characters designs are a tad too simplistic and sometimes clash with the more intricate backgrounds. But that's just a minor detail, the mix of traditional drawings and cel shading is perfect, the camera work is grand and the animation top-notch. Studio 4°C is consistently excellent, not many animation studios out there who can match their quality.
People familiar with my (anime) reviews will know I always prefer original dubs, but MFKZ might be an exception. There are in fact three dubs here that make sense. A French one (because the source material is French), a Japanese one (because Studio 4°C was involved), but also a US one (as the setting breathes West-Coast USA). I sampled the trailers and actually decides to go for the US one. I wasn't disappointed, the dub is pretty great and feels appropriate, whereas the French and Japanese dubs came off a little awkward. As for the music, there's nothing to complain about. It's not too exceptional, but a solid collection of fun, energetic, electronic-based tracks that give the film the necessary oomph.
The film takes a flying start and never really settles down. The pacing is extremely high, which isn't too surprising considering the amount of plot the film has to wade through. Nishimi and Renard do a pretty solid job of building up the craziness and tension, so it doesn't become a continuous onslaught of madness. A smart approach as the material isn't quite insane enough to actually pull that off. The ending is maybe not the explosive finale I'd hoped for, but by then more than enough creative, explosive and baffling moments had passed to be too bothered by it.
MFKZ was probably the wrong film at the wrong time for the wrong crowd. I'm not sure why it didn't do better than it did, the reviews I read weren't very enlightening either (with strange remarks like "not enough social critique"), so I can only hope it'll find an appreciative (cult) audience in the coming years. Whatever the case, Nishimi and Renard aren't to blame. They delivered a raw, energetic and wildly entertaining film that felt fresh and unique. The solid dub, booming soundtrack and exceptional animation are the icing on the cake. I can only hope this wasn't the end of their successful collaboration.