San Diego Asian Film Festival 2014

San Diego, my hometown, is not only the summer super-hero party central with San Diego Comic-Con in July, it is also the host of the
San Diego Film Festival from Nov. 6-15. That’s actually longer than the American Film Institute’s Film Festival ( Nov. 6-13).

Because I’m up in Hollywood at the AFI Fest, I can only give you reviews of some screeners kindly sent to me by the festival’s very
persuasive Brian Hu, Artistic Director of Pacific Arts Movement,presenters of the festival. He might not be Dr. Who, (Try the San
Diego Gaslamp district in July for any one of those Whos), but if you’re in San Diego or can borrow a TARDIS, he and his crew can surely
steer you toward interesting times. Here’s a sample of what they have screening.

“Blue Bustamante”: George Bustamante (Joem Bascon) is feeling the
immigrant worker blues. This isn’t pre-world War II, but 1990. He’s
left his pouty wife June (Dimples Romana) and his only child Kiko
(Jhiz Deocareza) to work in Japan. Yet the engineering position
doesn’t pan out. Luckily, George ends up finding a job as a stunt man
in a rip-off of the Power Rangers. This five-some is Force Five and
George plays the blue one, but is too embarrassed to confess to his
wife and son that he’s fallen from a white collar job to a low skill
worker on a very low budget TV series. Director Miko Livelo who
co-wrote the script with John Elbert Ferrer embraces the confines of a
low budget and then exploits it to poke fun at knock-off TV series and
their flimsy sets and ersatz actors. The script doesn’t quite get
Japan right and there are some problems with logic (Would you hire
someone illiterate and barely able to speak any of the local language
as an engineer?) Yet there’s an easy-going humor that may carry this
for those who have fond memories of the Power Rangers or are still
Power Ranger geeks.  Sat., Nov. 8 and Wed., Nov. 12.

“Fuku-Chan of Fukufuku Flats” Depending upon your pronunciation, you
might think that this title is something you can’t say in polite
company. However, in Japanese the four-lettered word f**k, is actually
pronounced differently.  In this case, the fuku stands for 福 or “good
fortune.” Yet fuku also means to mope. What we have here is three
single men who live in Fukufuku (double happiness) Flats. The men are
far from happy.  Fuku-chan is the 32-year-old Tatsuo Fukuda (Miyuki
Oshima). The auspiciously named flats is really a run-down apartment
building that he has been living in since he moved to Tokyo  after his
junior high school graduation. His work isn’t especially inspiring,
but he paints hand-made kites and flies them for fun and mediates
between two other single men in the complex.  In another part of
Japan, a young woman’s desire to become a photographer and be less
ordinary results in a disaster when she finally meets the art
photographer she admired. Told that she has bad karma, the woman,
Chiho (Asami Mizukawa), remembers a mean prank she once played and
sets out to find forgiveness from Fukuda and change her karma. For
those of us who were targeted by the mean girls and boys in school,
this is a thoughtful look at life’s choices and consequences. Sat.,
Nov. 8, Wed., Nov. 12

“The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.” If you’re a Japanese anime fan
and especially if you love Hayao Miyazaki and the films from Studio
Ghibli, this is a must-see. Director/writer Mami Sunada was allowed
into the studio while Miyazaki was working on what would be his last
animated feature, “The Wind Rises.” At the same time, Studio Ghibli’s
co-founder, Isao Takahata, was working on “The Tale of Princess
Kaguya.” “Kaguya” was released on 23 November 2013 while “The Wind
Rises” was released in July of the same year. The main character in
“Wind” is actually voiced by a famous animator, Hideaki Anno (“Neon
Genesis Evangelion”) who previously worked for Miyazaki on “Nausicaa
of the Valley of the Wind.”  We get to see and hear about Anno’s
casting as well as his break into animation under Miyazaki. Besides
learning about the concerns and technical aspects of “Wind,” we hear
Miyazaki comments from time to time about the long period of time
Takahata is taking with his project (which if you see it you won’t be
disappointed).  Sunada also allows the camera to linger on the cats
that share life with Miyazaki because after all, his inspiration for
that catbus came from somewhere. Sat., Nov. 8 and Tues., Nov. 11.

“Limited Partnership”:  In 1975, two men were married in Boulder,
Colorado. It was an amazing act at the time and it was the beginning
of of a long journey of love. The persistence of these two is
heartbreaking. The two men were not both Americans and this made their
union even more difficult. Filipino-American Richard Adams and
Australian Tony Sullivan were one of the first same-sex couples to be
legally married and because Sullivan was not an American citizen,
their union also posed a problem for the American Immigration and
Naturalization Service which denied Sullivan a green card as the
spouse of an American because the couple was told via an official
letter: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital
relationship can exist between two faggots.” The couple then sued the
U.S. government and filed the first federal lawsuit for equal
treatment for same-sex marriages. Only one of them lived to see where
we are now, but the U.S. government never succeeded in separating
them. Director Thomas G. Miller brings us their story through
interviews and archival photos and movie clips because these two men
were pioneers and not quiet about their concerns and were heroes in
the gay and lesbian communities nationwide. This documentary is worth
watching to see just how far we have come and how hard it was for
these two and others. If you have any doubts that a same-sex union can
be as real and as tender as a heterosexual marriage, this should be
proof enough. Of course, we shouldn’t need proof. What we need is more
love and writers Kirk Marcolina with Miller fully recognize this. I
didn’t know that Asian Pacific Islanders Americans were very much a
part of this story and helped set history, making this doc one that
should be on everyone’s list for Asian Pacific Islander American
Heritage month. Sat., Nov. 8.

“Man from Reno”: When a guy slyly puts the moves on you and becomes
too friendly too fast, red lights should be flashing in your head. Yet
say you’re lonely and in a foreign country, traveling by yourself for
whatever reason. You haven’t been able to speak your native language
for days, maybe weeks. Wouldn’t you greet a fellow country man or
woman like an old friend? That’s what happens when famous mystery
writer Aki (Ayako Fujitani) suddenly disappears from a scheduled book
tour. She meets the attractive Akira (Kazuki Kitamura) and they begin
a fling, but when he disappears, she has a real mystery on her hands.
Somehow, her Akira is tied up with another man who is connected to a
small-town sheriff (Pepe Serna) and a car deserted in the fog.
Director Dave Boyle (“White on Rice”) sets a deliberate pace and
doesn’t up the spookiness level of this tale by taking turns into the
supernatural. Instead, everything could exist in real life, the kind
of real life we’d rather think is just the stuff of movies. Written by
Boyle, Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, this is a story that looks into
the gray areas of celebrity, friendship and life in a foreign country.
This isn’t Jessica Fletcher territory, but much murkier, taking place
in the deep fog of loneliness and shifting populations. Sun., Nov. 9

“Meet the Patels” is an engaging documentary told with some shaky cam
and microphones-displayed amateurish cinematography (by Geeta V.
Patel). All that is fully embraced and excused by the cute intercut
animated interviews with the focal point of the film–Ravi V. Patel.
Geeta is Ravi’s sister and this first-generation twosome are on a
journey with their parents back to India, part of an annual pilgrimage
that has taken a dire turn for two reasons: 1) Ravi has broken up with
his long-time girlfriend and 2) thus he has no real defense against
the marital aspirations of his parents and cousins. He has not, to be
clear, ever told his parents about his very white girlfriend but that
secret no longer exists as an invisible forcefield buffer. At 29, Ravi
knows who he is but also recognizes that he is caught between his
Indian world at home and in India and his American world and he can’t
continue to keep them compartmentalized. He also looks at the arranged
marriage between his parents and realizes that this long-held
tradition can’t be so easily dismissed. Fri., Nov. 14 (Closing Night

“The Songs of Rice”: This is a documentary with very little
explanation, but instead, director Uruphong Raksasad trusts the viewer
to enjoy the scenery and the rhythms of life of planting, raising and
harvesting rice in Thailand. Of course, rice is very different from
wheat and requires wetlands that need to be plowed. Not all of what
you’ll see will qualify as either pastoral or exotic. You will see the
beautiful landscape transformed by seasons of growth and there are
wonderful scenes of dancing. Yet there are also scenes that might not
be suitable for small children or those with queasy stomachs. Thailand
is a poor country and sometimes you need to take protein where you can
find it and that includes the rats found and killed in the fields of
rice. However, it’s likely that if you worked on a farm or were raised
by someone who was, this won’t phase you too much. It wasn’t so long
ago that San Diego was mostly farmland, covered with citrus orchards
and tomato and cucumber fields. Fri., Nov. 7.

“Telos: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui”: Science fiction fans,
this is an architect that you’ve seen in your dreams. He might have
worked for a studio, but he really wants to work for real people and
make permanent structures. Did America miss this generation’s Antoni
Gaudi? If you understand that reference and if Barcelona is on your
bucket list for that reason, you should catch this documentary about
the 59-year-old maverick architect. Tssui admits he is trying to
change the world and bases his designs on nature and explains why he
dislikes the concept of buildings as boxes. Although he was born in
Cleveland, Ohio, he is currently based in Emeryville, Ca. He has been
able to construct several residential homes, including that of his
parents in Berkeley and he’s also built the Watsu School at Harbin Hot
Springs and, of course, his firm’s headquarters. Sun., Nov. 9.

“Uzumasa Limelight”: Most Japanese men and women don’t know how to
wear kimonos and few men are comfortable enough in the traditional Edo
period clothes to be able to walk in them, let alone fight with
swords.  Working in period dramas takes certain skills. According to
the introductory sequence of this movie, there were men who
specialized in dying in period pieces (kirare yaku) and lived in
Uzumasa (Kyoto) which was considered the Hollywood of Japan. When the
jidageki (period) movies and TV shows declined and the golden age of
chanbara  (sword-fighting dramas) was over, these workers are out of
work.  Yet who really goes into the movies hoping to be an extra? This
movie deals with one particular kirare yaku, Kamiyama (Seizō
Fukumoto), who has made a living by dying spectacularly, but now must
find another job to support himself. A young girl, Satsuki (Chihiro
Yamamoto), becomes his disciple and he trains her in this dying art of
dying, bringing renewed attention to the chanbara genre. Crisply
directed by Ken Ochiai, this nostalgic movie deals with traditions,
economic survival and those damned kids at theme parks. Sat. Nov. 15.

While AFI is walkable, the SDAFF is not, covering several venues
throughout San Diego County including the Reading Cinemas in the
Gaslamp District, the University of San Diego (Shily Theatre), the
University of California San Diego (Calit2 Atkinson Hall Auditoriaum),
San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, Arclight Cinemas in
La Jolla, the Museum of Contemporary Art Sherwood Auditorium in La
Jolla and La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.

Opening night features “Revenge of the Green Dragons” which has
already been reviewed on this website. The Gala Awards Dinner is Nov.
8 at the Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley at the pricey $250 a
seat (so yes, reservations are required). Yet there are plenty of free
programs such as free films at 4 p.m., Shorts for Shorties (meaning
kids and not those of us who are vertically challenged), Fresh Off the
Boat (that’s free for UCSD students faculty and staff only), Reel
Voices and “Cicada” which is free for Pac-Arts members only. All
screenings at the UCSD Visual Arts Presentation Lab between Nov. 13-15
are free.

Otherwise, tickets for opening and closing nights are $12-$15. Other
tickets range from $10-$15, but you can get special deals like
Festival 4-pack for $44 or an all festival pass for $250.

For more information visit

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