Asian Cinema Digest #39

From genre films to documentaries, September’s digest rounds up a little bit of everything. There’s lots from Japan, with two virtual festivals, the hype around Hayao Miyazaki’s new film, and renewed interest in the works of Ozu, Shinji Somai, and contemporary filmmaker Daisuke Miyazaki. But don’t miss out either on digital screenings from West Asia and South Asia that shine a light on socio-political complexities. For the film buffs out there, check out two in-depth podcasts on the histories of Korean and Taiwanese cinema. 



Image still from Seven Days in Heaven (2010, Essay Liu and Wang Yu-Lin)

Asian Pop-Up Cinema Season 17  

Asian Pop-Up Cinema returns for Season 17 with virtual screenings of Essay Liu and Wang Yu-lin’s black comedy Seven Days in Heaven (2010). Winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay at the Golden Horse Film Festival 2010, the film reflects on the clash between modernity and tradition, as a younger generation of urbanites returns to their rural home village to mourn the death of their father. Available from September 25 to October 2, 2023. 


Image still from While We Watched (2022, Vinay Shukla)

International Documentary Association (IDA) FallDocs 2023 

IDA FallDocs returns with some of the most acclaimed documentary films of the year, now available on-demand September 19 to November 16 2023. Catch Vinay Shukla’s While We Watched (2022), which follows veteran journalist Ravish Kumar as he endeavours to speak truth to power amid harassment and the rise of state repression; and Madeleine Garvin’s Beyond Utopia (2023), which chronicles the harrowing journey of a family defecting from North Korea. Elahe Esmaili’s Can I Hug You? (2023) and Nisha Pahuja’s To Kill a Tiger (2022) confront the traumas of sexual assault in Iran and India respectively, while Sarvnik Kaur’s Against the Tide (2023) weaves a tale of two fishermen torn between tradition and technology in the face of climate change. 


Image still from A Muse Never Drowns (2022, Nobomi Asao)

JFF+ Independent Cinema 2023 

From August 1 to October 1 2023, JFF+ spotlights Japan’s mini-theatres— independent screening venues which foster the diversity and vibrancy of local film cultures. 12 films, recommended by mini-theatres across Japan and international filmmakers, are available for free distribution worldwide. From reflections on the Buddhist faith in the face of tragedy, to stories about traditional craftsmanship and the performing arts, to coming-of-age narratives and a techno road movie, there’s much to explore and savour in this programme. 


Image still from Dead Fishes (2023, Tomoaki Kaneko)

Japan Film Festival Los Angeles (JFFLA) 2023 

The Japan Film Festival Los Angeles presents a slate of virtual screenings via Eventive. Check out the programme that includes a selection of short films, and a documentary about the role of Nikkei—people of Japanese descent—in shaping Hawaiian society in the wake of World War II.  


Image still from Permanent Resident (2017, Nicole Midori Woodford)

Purin Pictures Short Film Camp 2023: Shorts Playlist

Objectifs has created a playlist of Southeast Asian short films to inspire filmmakers who are applying for Purin Pictures’s Short Film Camp. The collection includes Aditya Ahmad’s On Stopping the Rain, Shireen Seno’s Shotgun Tuding, and Nicole Midori Woodford’s Permanent Resident, among others. Catch the shorts on Objectifs Film Library for free before September 20, 2023! 


Image still from Under the Fig Trees (2021, Erige Sehiri)

Virtual Twin Cities Arab Film Fest 2023

Featuring independent films from the Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) region, the 17th Twin Cities Arab Film Festival (TCAFF) returns from September 27 to October 1, 2023. The festival’s virtual offerings on Eventive (US audiences only), include four shorts curated from a collection of archival films dubbed the Tokyo Reels. Collected by a Japanese Palestine solidarity group throughout the 1970s and 80s, these often experimental films cut across genres, revealing a history of political mobilisation and transnational solidarity.


Image still from Swift Justice (2022, Ross McDonnell, Victor J Blue)

Swift Justice: A Taliban Courtroom in Session by Victor Blue and Ross McDonnell 

In this short New Yorker documentary by photographer Victor Blue and filmmaker Ross McDonnell, a widowed Afghan woman resists her brother-in-law’s attempts to marry her. A rare glimpse into the workings of Sharia law inside a Taliban court. Read the story behind the film here


Image still from Videophobia (2019, Daisuke Miyazaki)

Videophobia (2019) by Daisuke Miyazaki 

When a Japanese-Korean woman who works as a mascot on the streets of Osaka finds that she has been filmed during sex by an unknown third party without her consent, paranoia ensues. Shot in black-and-white, Daisuke Miyazaki’s techno-thriller Videophobia (2019) unfurls a world where identity dissolves amid a proliferation of screens and masks. The film is currently streaming on Kinoscope for subscribers, together with two other black-and-white Japanese films: Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (1965) and Fighting Elegy (1966). AFA’s upcoming Retrospective will be on Seijun Suzuki, screening 6 – 22 October 2023 at Oldham Theatre.


Image still from Mr Vampire (1985, Ricky Lau)

Hopping Vampires of Hong Kong

Looking for a taste of horror—mixed with martial-arts comedy to boot? Criterion Channel is streaming a series of 1980s jiangshi (Cantonese: goeng-si) films from Hong Kong, featuring Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) and Ricky Lau’s Mr Vampire franchise. 


Image still from Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)

Battle Royale and Battle Royale II: Requiem

If you missed AFA’s screenings of Kinji Fukasaku’s dystopian cult classic Battle Royale (2000) in June 2023, the film and its sequel are now streaming on Criterion Channel—the “perfect excuse to revisit a work that holds up remarkably well 20 years later”, as one writer puts it in The Verge. For more on the film’s enduring legacy (an entire genre of comics, video games and TV shows) and its seeming reincarnations in The Hunger Games and Squid Game, as well as its inspirations (the director’s childhood in a WW2 munitions factory), check out this SCMP article



Image still from In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-Wai)

Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” 

“As a Mark Rothko colour-field painting was to the fifties, In the Mood for Love may be to the early two-thousands: an art work emblematic of the era that encodes a universal, ambivalent feeling,” writes Kyle Chayka in this gorgeously designed “interactive” article for The New Yorker. Musing on how the film’s subtleties are lost in a digital age where smoky, colour-saturated TikToks and screenshots of Maggie Cheung’s impeccable cheongsams have become a “shorthand for one’s personal taste”, Chayka delves into the enduring appeal of Wong’s aesthetics, which meld wide-ranging influences—from Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) to Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (1948). 


Image still from Monisme (2023, Riar Rizaldi)

Open City Texts 

With the 13th edition of the festival unfolding across London between September 6-12, 2023, Open City Documentary Festival has published a series of accompanying texts. Miko Revereza’s Nowhere Near, the first of his films to reveal his return to the Philippines, “is concerned with the footing some of us can’t find in the present, let alone in the past or the future,” writes Aaron E. Hunt in the first essay of the series. Deirdre McAteer muses on Maryam Tafakory’s Mast-del, Bo Wang’s An Asian Ghost Story, and Nour Ouayda’s The Secret Garden, three films which “consider rupture and its aftermath”, while Phuong Le writes about Riar Rizaldi’s “hypnotic first feature” Monisme, which spans representational genres, enfolding the mystery of Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi.


Director Shinji Somai with his cast and crew on the set of Typhoon Club (1985)

Run Towards the Screen, or Reality’s Return: An Interview with Koji Enokido on Shinji Somai

Berlin-based film and music blog Ultra Dogme has published an extended interview with Shinji Somai’s longtime assistant director and lifelong friend, Koji Enokido. Enokido shares how Somai pushed his actors to transcend ingrained patterns of acting, by introducing unexpected elements into the environment of a shot. Enokido recalls the influence of theatre on Somai, how Somai wanted him to burn P.P. Rider (1983), and the action behind the scenes of Typhoon Club (1985). “Yes, the world of film is built with lies, but what’s being captured by the camera is truth, it is reality. That’s what I want people to take away from watching his films,” reflects Enokido. 

Plus, Cinema Guild has shared a trailer for the new restoration of P.P. Rider—a “film maudit” never before released in the US. 


Image still from Late Spring (1949, Yasujirō Ozu)

The enigmatic ‘pillow shots’ of Yasujiro Ozu

On the 120th anniversary of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu’s birth, the BFI presents a programme focusing on family life in his finest films. To accompany the season, Sight and Sound has published a visual essay on Ozu’s trademark “pillow shots”—brief, often still shots held for a few seconds between narrative events. Across “seas and mountains, boats and train tracks, public buildings and private rooms”, these elusive non-sequiturs open up new vistas of space and time. 


Image still from Plastic (2023, Daisuke Miyazaki)

Original Copy: An Interview with Daisuke Miyazaki 

“The world is more complicated, plastic, and mixed and chaotic—and I want to show that in my movies,” says Daisuke Miyazaki. Ahead of Spectacle Theater’s retrospective of his work, the Japanese director spoke with film critic A.E. Hunt on the politics of location-shooting restrictions, cultural borrowing, and the power of music to bridge culture, distance, and time. Read the interview on MUBI’s Notebook


Image still from Ah Ying (1983, Allen Fong)

Finding Home in Ah Ying: A Special View of 1980s Hong Kong

Musing on Allen Fong’s Ah Ying (1983), a docufiction film about a woman who works at a wet market, while pursuing acting at Hong Kong’s Film Culture Centre, writer Koel Chu spotlights Fong’s “critical, social realist approaches in humanistic filmmaking”. Chu reads Ah Ying’s commitment to the reality of working-class struggles and urban overcrowding in counterpoint to the aestheticised nostalgia of Wong Kar Wai’s films, which transformed Hong Kong into a patchwork of floating signifiers ready for circulation on the international film circuit. 


Image still from Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1985, Wayne Wang)

Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart: Family Style

The Criterion Current looks at a “mode” in Wayne Wang’s career that “might be seen as his equilibrium point: the quiet domestic melodrama, usually about Asian Americans, usually set in San Francisco.” Training our gaze on Wang’s carefully composed domestic tableaux, writer Brian Hu spotlights Wang’s indebtedness to Yasujirō Ozu’s principles of restraint and emptiness, while situating Wang’s films within the contexts of generational change and San Francisco’s Asian American movement. 


Image still from The Boy and the Heron (2023, Hayao Miyazaki)

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron 

Hayao Miyazaki has returned (again!) from his self-declared retirement with his first film in a decade, The Boy and the Heron (2023), set in the shadow of World War II. Following his mother’s death, 12-year-old Mahito Maki moves to the countryside, where he encounters a grey heron, and a world beyond his imagination. Adapted from Yoshino Genzaburō’s novel How Do You Live? and John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, with semi-autobiographical elements from Miyazaki’s own childhood, the film carries a beacon of hope amid tragedy, writes Inagaki Takatoshi. Also, read Little White Lies’s review of the film


Image still from Come Here (2021, Anocha Suwichakornpong)

Unforgettable, Unrememberable

In this piece for The New York Review, film scholar Katie Kirkland reflects on how Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong’s sensitive, time-bending narratives pose the question: is it really possible for one to feel the pain of others through film? Touching on the filmmaker’s latest feature, Come Here (Jai Jumlong) (2021), which was inspired by her travels to Kanchanaburi, where parts of the Siam-Burma Death Railway remain intact, Kirkland considers how “Anocha’s interest is less in historical events themselves than in the silences and impasses they impose on the present.” 


Image still from Daughter of the Dragon (1931, Lloyd Corrigan)

A Biography Examines Anna May Wong, a Revered and Reviled Chinese American Star

Yunte Huang, English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has published a new biography of the pioneering Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong. Drawing parallels between Wong’s and Huang’s experiences of being caught between cultures, writer Casey Schwartz points to Wong’s complex legacy as an actress who both perpetuated stereotypes of Asian women, and paved the way for their representation on the silver screen. 



Image still from Aimless Bullet (1961, Yu Hyun-Mok)

FLC Podcast: Korean Cinema’s Golden Decade: The 1960s 

The Film and Lincoln Center presents a conversation on Yu Hyun-mok’s Aimless Bullet (1961), which screened as part the Film and Lincoln Center’s ongoing series, Korean Cinema’s Golden Decade: The 1960s. Critic Darcy Paquet and series co-curators, Korean Film Archive’s Young Jin Eric Choi and Subway Cinema’s Goran Topalovic delve into the contexts of film production in 1960s South Korea – postwar reconstruction, newfound freedoms in a period of experimentation with democracy, the complex legacy of Japanese colonisation, and more. 


New Books in East Asian Studies: Taiwan New Cinema at Film Festivals 

Speaking with Li-Ping Chen (University of Southern California), SUNY film scholar Beth Tsai discusses her new book, Taiwan New Cinema at Film Festivals. Tsai surveys the development and circulation of Taiwan New Cinema, diving deep into how it responded both to international developments, and to Healthy Realism – harmonious, anti-socialist films endorsed by the Nationalist government – while touching on case studies by directors Tsai Ming-liang, Zhao Deyin, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and the role of women in shaping the discourse around the nation’s cinematic imaginaries. 



East Asian Media and Creative Industries Webinar Series II

A collaborative effort among scholars from four universities, the East Asian Media and Creative Industries Webinar Series II presents a series of online lectures. The next session, titled “Reimagining Koreanness in the Age of Netflix: Cultural Nationalism, Neoliberalism, and Hallyu in the Contemporary Korean Society” takes place September 22 2023. Register here



Jumping Frames 2023 (Hong Kong) 

Presented by Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), Jumping Frames is a film festival that explores the “intersections between performance-making and moving image, between cine-choreographic interventions and the body”. Screening programmes include an artist focus on Your Bros., a filmmaking group involved in field research among modern migrant workers; a series of choreographed shorts which explore the body’s movement amidst a post-pandemic city; and selection of films that premiered at the Image Forum Festival and the Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul. 



Call for Submissions: 9th Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival

Organised by Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, the Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival will take place from December 7 to 12, 2023. Filmmakers from Southeast Asia are invited to submit their short films and to pitch for projects. The call for entry closes September 30, 2023. 

Call for Submissions: 7th SMIFest 

Based in Madrid, Spain Moving Images Festival (SMIFest) is dedicated to showcasing art-house cinema and moving-image works from Asia. The 7th edition of the festival calls for short and feature-length films (including fiction and creative documentaries), animation, as well as experimental video works. The deadline is October 1, 2023. Submit via FilmFreeway

Call for Submissions: 29th ifva Awards

Formerly known as the Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards, the ifva Awards is accepting short films, animations and media art by Asian filmmakers. Entrants stand to win up to 20,000 HKD in cash and sponsorship for overseas exchange programmes. The deadline for submission is October 9, 2023. 

Call for Submissions: Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia

Held annually in Tokyo, the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia returns for its 26th edition in 2024. Winners of the Live-action, Animation and Non-Fiction Competitions, will be eligible for nomination in the short film categories of the Academy Awards the following year. Submit your entries via FilmFreeway. September 30, 2023 is the early deadline. 


This edition of the Asian Cinema Digest was compiled by Sheryl Gwee. 

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