Two films, Japan’s Drive My Car and Bhutan’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom could make Oscar history at the 27 March 2022 (Sunday) 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. For the South Asian Bhutan, the nomination itself is a victory. Directors of Asian descent were well represented in the documentary feature film category.
Drive My Car is nominated both in the Best Motion Picture of the Year category as well as Best International Feature Film of the Year. There has never been a Japanese film that has won Best Motion Picture. In 2019, Parasite, a South Korean film, won. For the latter category, Japan has had 68 submitted films, 17 nominations and four wins: Rashomon(1951); Gate of Hell (1954); Samurai, The Legend of Musashi (1955) and Departures (2008).
Bhutan, however, has only submitted two films, the first in 1999, but that film did not get a nomination. This is Bhutan’s first nomination in this category.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi is also nominated for Achievement in Directing for his Drive My Car. He is not the first Japanese director nominated for Achievement in Directing. Previously, Hiroshi Teshigahara (Woman in the Dunes, 1965) and Akira Kurosawa (Ran, 1985), but neither won. Previously, Chloé Zhao won in 2020 (Nomadland); Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) won in 2019. Ang Lee won in 2012 (Life of Pi) and 2005 (Brokeback Mountain).
Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe are also nominated for Adapted Screenplay. If they win, they will be the first Japanese to win in this category. Previously New Zealander Taika Waititi won in 2019 for Jojo Rabbit. This might be the first for a script predominately in a non-English languages.
No actors from Drive My Car were nominated.
Drive My Car won Best Screenplay, the FIPRESCI Prize, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes this year. It one Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes.
The Danish film, Flee, won the World Cinema Documentary competition at Sundance last year and the Best Feature at Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
in the category of Best Animated Feature Film of the Year, Asia part of the story in two nominated films: Raya and the Last Dragon and Flee. Flee is about a gay Muslim from Afghanistan who finds refuge in Europe and received nominations in two categories: Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature and Best International Film.
The last film to win Best Animated Feature Film of the Year that had an API theme was Big Hero 6 in 2013, winning over The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Moan” was nominated in 2016, but lost to Zootopia. Last year, Over the Moon was nominated (losing to Soul). Hayao Miyazaki won in 2002 for Spirited Away, but no Japanese animation has won since then.
Two films in Best Documentary Feature had directors of Asian descent: Chinese-Jewish hapa Jessica Kingdon for Ascension and the Asian Indian wife and husband team Rintu Thomas and Sashimi Ghosh for Writing with Fire.
Ascension observes contemporary China and the pursuit of the dream of success through productivity and innovation. Writing with Fire is about lower caste women using journalism to fight against prejudice and tackling new technology along the way.
The last Asian Americans to win in this category were Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (with Evan Hayes, and Shannon Dill) for Free Solo in 2019.
For a look at a breakdown of diversity, visit my other blog post here: AgeOfTheGeek.org.