As a serious film festival geek, I buy my pass and commit myself to sitting in dark rooms for many days in a row, all in the hope that I’ll come out of the whole experience with one or two films that I consider to be worthy of highly recommending to my friends and the public.
By this measure, the recently completed 2007 edition of the San Diego Asian Film Festival was an amazing success. There were five dramatic features that I thought were great, along with several runners-up and some good documentaries.
Before giving my recommendations, I should point out that I tend to like Indie-type films with good human stories, and I am totally unmoved by car crashes, shootings, and explosions.
So here were my faves:
5 Centimeters Per Second (秒速５センチメートル) (Japan):
Yes, it’s anime. But don’t think of it that way. This feature could just as well have been done live action. It just happens to use animation instead of actors. It follows a young man from middle school to high school to his post-college life, concentrating on his friendship with one girl/woman. The scenes are all completely life-like, and all details (for example, the pipes on the walls or the train stations) are perfectly reproduced.
What The Snow Brings (雪に願うこと) (Japan):
This winner of four awards at the Tokyo International Film Festival was shot in Hokkaido in the winter, with both beautiful scenery and the feeling of what it must be like to work outside in such conditions. Add to that a story of two estranged brothers seeing each other for the first time in almost 15 years, and you have a winner. Oh, yes there’s some horse racing going on too, but unlike Seabiscuit, it doesn’t really matter which horse wins.
Owl and the Sparrow (Cú và chim se sẻ) (Vietnam):
An orphan who toils away in her uncle’s factory runs away to the big city and is befriended by a flight attendant and a zookeeper and ends up affecting their lives for the better at least as much as they help her.
Rainbow Song (虹の女神) (Japan):
No Japanese movie worth its salt lacks a good tragic death of a young woman, and like my favorite of the 2005 festival “Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ)”, the story is told in flashbacks. Japanese movies have a tendency towards melodrama, but in Rainbow Song (as in Crying Out Love…), this is avoided and we are treated to realistic human emotion in such a situation. Bring your tissues.
Tie A Yellow Ribbon (USA):
Very indie. Not much dialog. But there doesn’t need to be. A girl who was adopted from Korea as an infant by an American family has issues from her past to deal with.
And here are my runners-up. I can recommend all of these too:
A Chinese-American goes to China and suddenly feels he belongs for the first time in his life. But is he really more Chinese than American?
Great Happiness Space – Tale of an Osaka Love Thief:
We all know about Japan’s hostess bars, but what about bars for women that want to be paid attention to. I’d heard of such places when living in Japan, but I could never find much out about them. This documentary will answer all your questions. Fascinating!
Cats of Mirikitani:
I am always moved when one person can really make a difference in someone else’s life. The filmmaker came across this homeless Japanese-American man living on the streets of New York City and selling hand-drawn pictures of cats. By the end of the film, he is truly much better off, and she got a documentary out of it.