Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

When you hear the word “revolutionary” you don’t think of a little old Asian American lady tottering around on a walker in Detroit.  This documentary will teach you not to judge a book by its cover and you have to wonder how so many wonderfully strong role models were missed when we were being sold on the submissive Asian/Asian American woman stereotype. “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” helps redefine both Asian American history and the concept of rebellion.

The Assassin

“The Assassin” is less a martial arts movie, than a contemplative costume drama, wonderfully photographed by cinematographer Ping Bin Lee (“In the Mood for Love”) and told at a leisurely pace by director Hsiao-Hsien Hou (“Flowers of Shanghai”). The movie won Hou Best Director at Cannes Film Festival as well as the Cannes Soundtrack award for Giong Lim.

Belladonna of Sadness

“Belladonna of Sadness” (哀しみのベラドンナ) is a Japanese animated feature film produced in 1973 when it was given a limited release in the U.S.  It’s more of a curiosity than a film worth recommending. The film deals with the topic of rape, with a troubling sensuousness that waivers drunkenly between rape fantasy and ludicrous revenge all the while trying to excite men in psychedelic phallic imagery.

The Boy and the Beast

When Americans think of whales and Japan, most likely they will be thinking of whale hunting. A lot has changed over the centuries and the significance of the whale in Mamoru Hosoda’s 2015 animated fantasy film “The Boy and the Beast” ties in pre-Meiji and post-Buddhist thought with current day dilemmas.

He Named Me Malala

The saying is: “Behind every good man is a good woman.” Yet in this documentary, “He Named Me Malala,” we learn that that the person behind the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, is her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the man who named her Malala. Davis Guggenheim’s documentary uses vivid, impressionistic animation to recall the past while we follow Malala on her rehabilitation appointments, her speaking engagements and her volunteer work to promote the education of girls.

Limited Partnership

Marriage and immigration. Objective or obstacle? In this documentary,  “Limited Partnership,” the objective is marriage, a marriage performed but not recognized by the government. The topic is timely and reminds us of just how far gay rights have come. The documentary follows the plight of two men, one American and one not, but both gay and both dedicated to each other.

Pali Road

Old Pali Road on Oahu is a winding road rumored to be haunted or at least the site of various hauntings. The movie, “Pali Road,” takes the mystical doings of folk lore, adds an Asian folk tale and tacks this on to a contemporary mystery to make an unsatisfying romance.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

There was a moment, when I was returning home after watching “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”  that I thought, “Ah, ha!” If I was Buddhist, I would have called it satori—a moment of enlightenment. Suddenly, I wanted to see the movie again.


Last year, the 2015 season was closed  after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25.  Three days later, the Nepal Mountaineering Association reported 19 deaths, 10 of those were Nepalese Sherpa. Phurba Tashi, the main focus of the 2015 documentary, “Sherpa,” was not part of an expedition. That might have saved his life. The documentary “Sherpa” will make you reconsider every movie, fictional or documentary, made about Everest.

To Be Takei

A funny thing happened when George Takei tacked social media to pump up interest in a musical being produced in San Diego: He became a media star. Takei has experienced various twists and turns in his career, but perhaps this was the biggest surprise, one that both probably proved as a catalyst for this new documentary, “To Be Takei,” and yet sorely puzzled the director Jennifer M. Kroot.


Torrance has a sizable Asian American population and yet the Torrance Tornado, Italian-American Louis Zamperini, became the subject of a movie that brought out controversy about rumors and racism.

 Uzumasa Limelight

There’s an art to wearing a kimono and other traditional clothing that are from a time before double-knit and spandex. 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. Yet for jidaigeki (period pieces), actors need to do more than just walk. Some of them need to fight with sword and while there might a handful of name actors in a movie, you also need a lot of extras to fight and to die. “Uzumasa Limelight” is about those extras.

Valentino’s Ghost

The movie takes its name from the 1921 romantic silent movie, “The Sheik,” which starred Italian-born Rudolph Valentino. In the movie, one supposed that Valentino’s character is Arab, but he turns out to be half-British and half-Spanish. While the documentary doesn’t go into these specifics, it notes how the Arab as a hero and sex symbol and Arabia as a place of excitement and adventure soon descends into a place of heathens. Movies begin to show how the Middle East was won, through British courage.