Asian Cinema Digest #40

October’s digest spotlights some of today’s most vital independent documentary filmmakers with an incisive conversation between Wang Bing and Pedro Costa, streaming options for films by Jia Zhangke and Huang Ji, a collective documentary from Iran and short films from New Delhi. 

There’s lots on Japanese cinema too – two post-show discussions are available as podcasts, and the Japanese Film Festival (JFF) has returned with an exciting lineup for its 40th anniversary in Singapore. 

For those set for a bone-chilling Halloween, MUBI and Criterion have each put together a slate of horror and thriller films guaranteed to get your heart racing with their gripping, gory, and strangely gorgeous visions of the human psyche.



Image still from Blind Beast (1969, Yasuzo Masumura)

Beautiful Perversions: Films by Yasuzō Masumura

Following the splashing success of his retrospective at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival earlier in 2023, seven films by Yasuzō Masumura have arrived on MUBI (in North America). Cited as one of postwar Japanese cinema’s most “overlooked” directors, Masumura tackled a variety of genres between arthouse and popular cinema, combining stylishly perverse imagery with pointed social critique. Don’t miss Masumura’s grotesquely erotic pinku masterpiece Blind Beast (1969) – an excellent pick for Halloween, alongside his blood-soaked tale of feminine revenge Irezumi (1966).


Criterion Channel’s Art-House Horror

Delve into the depths of arthouse horror with Criterion Channel’s lineup of hair-raising, gut-churning Japanese films including Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s psychological thriller and cult classic Cure (1997). Also showing: Hiroshi Teshigahara’s existential sci-fi film The Face of Another (1966), Nobuhiko Obayashi’s psychedelic comedy-drama House (1977), Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku (1960), an eye-popping, surreal trip through hell, Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba (1964), an unmasking of demonic desires set in medieval Japan, and Kuroneko (1968), a shapeshifting tale of severed limbs and ghostly revenge. 


Image still from Shards of the Moon (2023, Bi Gan)

Film Fest Gent: 2×25

In celebration of its golden jubilee, Film Fest Gent invited 25 composers to write a short piece of music, and 25 filmmakers (including Anthony Chen, Bi Gan, Brillante Mendoza, Diana Cam Van Nguyen, Jia Zhangke, and Naomi Kawase) to make a film inspired by the music. “Directors often tell us that they draw inspiration from film music when writing. With this project, we wanted to give the world of composer and director a creative twist,” says programme director Wim De Witte. These “stunning symbioses of music and cinematography” are available for free on Film Fest Gent’s website.


Image still from I Wish I Knew (2010, Jia Zhangke)

24 City (2008) and I Wish I Knew (2010) by Jia Zhangke

Also on MUBI: two films by Chinese documentarian Jia Zhangke. Weaving together fiction and documentary, 24 City (2008) witnesses, over three generations, the demolition of former munitions plant Factory 420 to make way for a complex of luxury apartments called “24 City”. I Wish I Knew (2010) wanders through Shanghai, delving into its shifting history through archival footage, film excerpts and interviews (director Hou Hsiao-Hsien makes a brief appearance, commenting on his 1998 film Flowers of Shanghai). More on I Wish I Knew here


Image still from Stonewalling (2022, Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka)

Three Films by Huang Ji 

Criterion Channel spotlights a trilogy of films by Beijing-based filmmaker Huang Ji. Known for her piercing reflections on womanhood and sexuality in contemporary China (where independent filmmaking is difficult), Huang has garnered critical acclaim for her collaborations with Ryûji Otsuka and actress Yao Honggui. Beginning with Egg and Stone (2012), a searingly personal portrait of adolescence in rural China, Huang turns her lens on marginalised youth in The Foolish Bird (2017) and Stonewalling (2022)

Read Huang’s advice on what it means to confront the realities of power as a female filmmaker in this interview. Also check out her interview with Otsuka for Senses of Cinema here


Image still from For Susan (2018, Arunima Tenzin Tara)

DAFilms Creative Documentary Course | New Delhi

DAFilms presents a collection of short films produced as part of the Creative Documentary Course in New Delhi. Launched in 2013, the course encourages participants to challenge formal conventions as they engage with the politics of representation. Ranging from explorations of city spaces to meditations on forgotten objects, old Urdu poems, and a grandmother’s notebooks, the programme platforms a new generation of Indian filmmakers. 


Women of the Sun: A Chronology of Seeing (2020) by Hamed Zolfaghari

In a village in the Iranian desert, a group of women learn how to use a camera to make short videos. As they organise a co-operative to improve their wages and take control of the handicraft production process, the camera witnesses their struggle for social, religious and economic freedom over the course of four years. Directed by Hamed Zolfaghari, Women of the Sun: A Chronology of Seeing (2020) captures the power of collective filmmaking. Now available with a subscription on Docunight


Golden Horse Virtual Cinema: Short Film Director Promotion Project

The 60th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival will be held from 9 to 26 November 2023. A selection of short films by past winners and nominees are currently available for rent through the Golden Horse Virtual Cinema. 55% of the proceeds will go directly to the filmmakers to spur on their creative endeavours.

Check out Solar Terms, a series co-produced by Xi Chen and Xu An from 2008 to 2022. The 9 films in the collection are titled after the 24 solar terms (節氣) in the traditional Chinese calendar, reflecting subtle alignments between cycles of nature and the rhythms of human life. (One of the films is available on Viddsee.) 


Image still from Notes from Gog Magog (2022, Riar Rizaldi)

BFI London Film Festival 

The BFI London Film Festival returns from 4 to 15 October 2023. UK-based audiences can catch a selection of Asian films via the BFI Player, including Pakistani director Saim Sadiq’s Queer Palm-winning drama Joyland (2022), Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes (2022), a documentary about two brothers who care for injured birds in New Delhi, and Iranian director Panah Panahi’s road comedy-drama Hit the Road (2021). Riar Rizaldi’s Notes from Gog Magog (2022) Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma’s Boat People (2023) are available for free.


Past Lives: Anatomy of a Scene 

Writer and director Celine Song breaks down a scene from her film Past Lives (2023) where childhood sweethearts Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) meet for the first time in twelve years. Watch the snippet on The New York Times’s Anatomy of a Scene. 



Image still from Bitter Money (2016, Wang Bing)

Wang Bing in conversation with Pedro Costa 

Having met at film festivals in the 2000s, Chinese documentarian Wang Bing and Portuguese director Pedro Costa became good friends. The resonances between their practices run deep: “They share a tireless work ethic; a preference for lightweight digital equipment and as-small-as-possible crews; for shooting mountains of footage […]; and a commitment to justly depicting those at the margins of society.” In this illuminating interview, Wang and Costa reveal how they each came to independent non-fiction filmmaking, how cinematic tradition is both a limit and an anchor, and what being “free” might mean. 


Boris Karloff in an image still from The Old Dark House (1932, James Whale)

A Tight Collar and Plenty of Gin 

A new three-part series of essays by Mayukh Sen titled “Brown Hollywood” explores “undertold stories of South Asian performers in Hollywood’s Golden Age.” The first instalment spotlights William Henry Pratt aka Boris Karloff. Known for his humanistic portrayals of the monster in Frankenstein (1931) and Imhotep in The Mummy (1932), Karloff was of Anglo-Indian descent – a fact that he assiduously concealed in a film industry rife with racial discrimination. Understanding the prejudice that Karloff faced casts a new light on his sensitive performances of tortured and socially alienated characters, writes Mayukh Sen. 


Director Tsui Hark on the set of Knock Off (1998)

So Close to Real: Tsui Hark’s “Knock Off” at 25

Jonah Jeng’s essay for MUBI looks at the giddying pace and frenetic visual style of Tsui Hark’s action film Knock Off (1998), contextualising the film within the “charged historical moment” of Hong Kong’s handover to China. Jeng reflects on how the accelerated rate of cultural production and consumption in Hong Kong cinema meant constant parodies of box office successes, and how the double-entendre of the film’s title “extends the charge of commodification and imitation to itself, cheekily owning its influences and flirting with postmodernism’s hall-of-mirrors logic.” 

Image stills from 2000 AD (2000, Gordon Chan)

Revisiting the New Windows: Asian Films at the junction of the New Millennium

AFA has published a new article about its recently concluded programme Y2K DreamZ. Film scholar Liew Kai Khiun revisits the heady years of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, grounding cultural transformations in the historical events of the period. Musing on the experiences of the MTV generation, for whom “the screen experience of drive-by-shootings, velociraptors and hauntings became more real than reality itself”, Liew looks at how the turn of the millennium promised new political freedoms, enabling filmmakers to critically revisit traumatic histories, and to play with cinematic form in confronting shifting social values. At the same time, transnational collaborations opened up the possibility of new cinematic exchanges across Asia. 


Image still from Evil Does Not Exist (2023, Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

Impure Cinema: An Interview with Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Parts of an incisive interview with Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, director of the Oscar-winning Drive My Car (2021), are up for previews on Cineaste’s website (the full interview is available with a subscription). Hamaguchi touches on his early influences (John Cassavetes, Robert Bresson), his film education, cinephile culture in Japan, the influential Japanese film critic Shigehiko Hasumi, Korean cinema, Bong Joon-ho, and more.


Image still from The White Balloon (1995, Jafar Panahi)

Why Jafar Panahi’s Best Films Are Largely Unknown

Writing for New Lines Magazine, veteran film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum argues that Jafar Panahi, “Iran’s most important living director” deserves praise not just for his later works (the five features shot covertly despite a filmmaking ban by the Iranian government), but also for his earlier films, which carry a critical charge often overlooked by Western audiences unfamiliar with Iranian contexts. Touching on films like The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003), and Offside (2006), Rosenbaum reflects on how Panahi confronts issues of class and gender, turning a humanistic lens on Iranian society. Drawing on the aesthetic strategies of Italian Neorealism and his mentor Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi’s films lay bare the mechanisms of cinema, realising the medium’s humanistic potential. 


Image still from The Doom Generation (1995, Gregg Araki)

Gregg Araki on New Restorations and His Teen Apocalypse Trilogy

Gregg Araki has been dubbed one of the “bad boys of Asian American cinema”, not just for his portrayals of teenage aggression and sexuality, but also for remaining “unassimilable to the mantras of Asian American self-representation.” Following the re-release of his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy”, Araki talks to Filmmaker Magazine about the glossy pop art aesthetics of the trilogy and their place in the politics of the 1990s. Read Araki’s Metrograph interview, where he discusses road movies, the weird puritanism of the current cultural moment, journalling, epidemics, and his life. 


Image still from Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Eiichi Yamamoto)

Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness

On the 50th anniversary of Belladonna of Sadness, writer Payton McCarty-Simas delves into Eiichi Yamamoto’s psychedelic, avant-garde erotic animation. Based on a French historian’s examination of the origins of witchcraft, Belladonna of Sadness fuses experimental jazz and noise music with lush visuals inspired by 13th century tarot decks and Aubrey Beardsley’s Art Nouveau illustrations, in a keen examination of power and sexuality. “The film, with its blend of erotica, violence, and anti-establishment feminist politics, established a precedent for representations of the witch as a feminist icon,” argues McCarty-Simas. On the other hand, Violet Lucca charges in a piece on Film Comment that the film is “a piece of erotica wrapped in a flimsy proto-Marxist-feminist yarn.” 


Where the Wind Blows: a frantic, overstuffed Hong Kong crime thriller

Sight and Sound reviews Philip Yung’s crime thriller Where the Wind Blows (2022), which stars Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung as two notoriously corrupt police officers who controlled organised crime in 1960s-70s Hong Kong. Despite its lavish cinematography, the film falters in skimming over the ambitious narrative territory it tries to cover, compressing five decades into “truncated episodes”, writes reviewer Philip Concannon. It’s not clear if this is a result of a confused post-production process (six editors are named in the credits) or of political factors (the film was pulled from its premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2021 due to “technical reasons”, a euphemism for Chinese state censorship). 



Ryûsuke Hamaguchi on Evil Does Not Exist, Confronting Nature, and Eiko Ishibashi’s Music

Following the screening of his latest film Evil Does Not Exist (2023) at the 61st New York Film Festival, director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi joins NYFF Artistic Director Dennis Lim for a post-screening conversation. Hamaguchi shares how composer Eiko Ishibashi’s music and her closeness to nature inspired his research process, and how the project (initially intended as a 30-minute short accompanied by Ishibashi’s live score) grew into a feature-length film. 


Yui Kiyohara on Her Critically Acclaimed New Feature, Remembering Every Night

With Yui Kiyohara’s Remembering Every Night showing at the Film at Lincoln Center (FLC), the director speaks with FLC Programmer Dan Sullivan about her gently quotidian film. Kiyohara touches on the almost character-like presence of music in her film, the collaborative process of working with the cast, and how the unique locale of Tama New Town – a uniform, orderly, labyrinthine housing complex with a history of five decades – inspired her.


Image still from August in the Water (1995, Sogo Ishii)

August in the Water: Music for Film 1995​-​2005

Record label Mana is releasing a decade of Hiroyuki Onogawa’s film compositions for renegade cyberpunk director Gakuryū Ishii (also known as Sogo Ishii). The album spans soundtracks for three of Ishii’s metaphysical, otherworldly films: August in the Water (1995), Labyrinth of Dreams (1997), and Mirrored Mind (2005). Listen to the soundtrack here and check out AnOther Magazine’s brief introduction to Ishii


Image still from Us and Them (2018, Rene Liu)

The Letterboxd Show: Four Favourites with Flynn Slicker 

Letterboxd’s social media manager Flynn Slicker joins the hosts of The Letterboxd Show for a chat about her four favourite films, three of which are Asian cinema hits/cult classics: Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels (1995), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), and Rene Liu’s Us And Them (2018). 



Monographs 2023: sinking, shifting, stirring (Singapore)

The second edition of Monographs, a series of video and text essays on Asian cinema commissioned by the Asian Film Archive, will be exhibited at the Oldham Theatre foyer from 26 October to 8 December 2023. Produced in consultation with filmmaker/editor Daniel Hui and researcher/curator Matthew Barrington, Monographs 2023: sinking, shifting, stirring responds to changing socio-political landscapes, exploring how cinematic representations of the environment move through cycles of dissolution, transformation and rebirth. Read the text essays at Despatches


Anita Mui Tribute (Singapore)

Adrian Cheong, a devoted fan of Anita Mui since 1986, is organising a series of events to mark the 20th death anniversary of the singer-actress. From October to December 2023, a film festival, an exhibition, and a concert will be held in Singapore. The lineup of eight films includes: Rouge (1988), The Heroic Trio (1993), and Kawashima Yoshiko (1990). Tickets available at from Monday 16 October 2023. 

Writing for Metrograph’s regular column which spotlights fashion in film, writer Phoebe Chen looks at “the exhilaratingly chameleonic Cantopop style icon Anita Mui.” Tracing Mui’s partnership with fashion designer and couturier Eddie Lau through her kaleidoscopic stage personas and gender-bending roles, Chen looks at her generous capacity for reinvention.   


Image still from A Man (2023, Kei Ishikawa)

Japanese Film Festival (JFF)’s 40th anniversary (Singapore)

Launched in 1983, the Japanese Film Festival (JFF) is one of the oldest film festivals in Singapore. This year’s programme features a wide-ranging lineup, including Kei Ishikawa’s brooding mystery thriller A Man (2022), and veteran anime director Rintaro’s latest short film Nezumikozo Jirokichi (2023). Don’t miss the retrospective of cult Japanesedirector Seijun Suzuki (it’s his centennial) at Asian Film Archive and a double bill starring actress Meiko Kaji at The Projector. 

Image still from Golden Jubilee (2021, Suneil Sanzgiri)

Suneil Sanzgiri: Screening and Conversation (New York)

e-flux is screening a trilogy of short films by Indian-American artist, researcher, filmmaker Suneil Sanzgiri, Collectively known as Barobar Jagtana, a Konkani phrase loosely translating to “continuously surviving”, the films combine digital animation, 16mm film, drone videography, archival footage, and more, addressing questions of history, identity, and anti-coloniality. Ruchir Joshi’s Tales From Planet Kolkota (1993), which Sanzgiri has cited as an influence, will be screened, followed by an in-person conversation with the artist on 17 October 2023. 

The Origins of the South Korean Film Renaissance Conference (Hong Kong)

Lingnan University, University of Washington, and M+ Cinema will be conducting a conference titled “The Origins of the South Korean Film Renaissance” from 2 to 4 November 2023. Focusing on South Korean film cultures and industries in the 1990s-2000s, the three-day conference includes a keynote lecture, eight academic panels, a rountable discussion, and a screening of Kim Dong-Ryung’s American Alley (2008) (and a post-screening discussion with the director). More information here.



Call for Submissions: 46th Cinéma du Réel 

Submissions for the 46th edition of Cinéma du Réel, which will take place from 22 to 31 March 2024 are now open. Films completed after 31 July 2023 should be submitted by 31 October 2023. Read the regulations here.


Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) 

The Academy Award-qualifying Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) is now calling for submissions for its 48th edition, which will be held from 28 March to 8 April 2024. Films completed after 1 January 2023 are welcome. Find out more about the four competition sections here. The early deadline is 6 November 2023.


Beijing International Short Film Festival (BISFF) 

Currently in its 7th year, the Beijing International Short Film Festival (BISFF) is dedicated to creating an eclectic and adventurous platform where filmmakers are free to showcase their works without fear of harassment, discrimination or intimidation. Films completed from 2 June 2023 onwards should be submitted via FilmFreeway or Festhome by 27 October 2023. Detailed regulations here.


Call for Submissions: Hainan Island International Film Festival (HIIFF) 

Co-hosted by China Media Group and the People’s Government of Hainan Province, the Hainan Island International Film Festival will be held from 16 to 22 December 2023. The festival welcomes submissions of feature-length fiction films, documentaries, and short films. Submit your work via FilmFreeway by 30 October 2023. 


Call for Submissions: Kolkata International Micro Film Festival (KIMFF)

Now in its fifth year, the Kolkata International Micro Film Festival (KIMFF), organised by the Onu Chhobi Welfare Association, aims to platform independent short films, and to spotlight screenwriting in Bengali. Submit your short films or documentaries (within 30 minutes) and micro or mobile films (within 15 minutes) via FilmFreeway. The late deadline is 31 October 2023. 


Call for Submissions: Pokka Coffee Short Film Competition 

Held in tandem with the Japanese Film Festival 2023’s 40th anniversary in Singapore, the Pokka Coffee Short Film Competition invites emerging filmmakers in Singapore to create short films (not exceeding 30 minutes) showcasing a Pokka Coffee product. The deadline for submission is 15 November 2023. Find out more here!

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