By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
I saw this year in Asian film as anime-heavy, but with a number of laudable live-action pictures in the bargain. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Asian Pacific American films for this year.
10. “Patema Inverted,” directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, starring Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, and Shinya Fukumatsu
Writer/director Yoshiura kept our heads spinning in this anime, where some people live right-side up and others upside-down. Of course, the upside-down people are right-side-up to the upside-downers, and vice versa. In all the merry confusion, he threw in a love story and some sober-er musings on totalitarianism and censorship.
9. “The Rocket,” directed by Kim Mordaunt, starring Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, and Suthep Po-ngam
Bankrolled from Australia, but set in the mountains of Laos, this drama centers on small-town life and affection, and the exhilarating but dangerous consequences of ambition. I most enjoyed the small children, who have almost nothing to play with, but love playing with whatever they find.
8. and 7. “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” — ”Ghost Pain” and “Ghost Whispers,” directed by Kazuchika Kise, starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichirou Matsuda, and Mayumi Asano
Two new OVA (Original Video Animations) released to the United States this year and two more on the way. The names change, and so do the focus on tech vs. character, but the problems of being cybernetic in the near future remain. People sometimes don’t own the rights to their own bodies. Injustice can sometimes fall to the tap of the hacker’s keys—but what replaces it?
6. “A Letter to Momo,” directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, starring Karen Miyama, Yuka, and Toshiyuki Nishida
A young girl moves to the country, where some playful, pranking, and occasionally flatulent otherworldly spirits await her. The film is not directed by Miyazaki, but it incorporates a lot of his trademark playfulness and warmth.
5. “Hal: The Movie,” directed by Ryōtarō Makihara, starring Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yōko Hikas, and Mamoru Miyano
An android arrives in a young woman’s life, to replace the boyfriend she lost in an accident. Charming, certainly, but as the action moves along, we discover that we were taking certain things for granted. The film is much darker than the press would lead you to believe.
4. “Lilting,” directed by Hong Khaou, starring Ben Wishaw, Cheng Pei-pei, and Andrew Leung
A Chinese lady loses her son, and her son’s lover tries to get closer to her. But the dead young man never told his mother he was gay. Impeccably acted and written, Cheng Pei-pei is so note-perfect as the older lady, you’d never guess she used to swing a sword on screen.
3. “The Wind Rises,” directed by Hayao Miyazaki, starring Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, and Hidetoshi Nishijima
This one did come from the anime master Miyazaki, about the young Japanese man who invented the Zero fighter plane. The film is about war and its consequences, and the hard choices that dreamers have to make when the real world comes knocking.
2. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” by Isao Takahata, starring Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, and Takeo Chii
Miyazaki’s cohort Takahata hadn’t been heard from in some time before this one. This is the story of a young girl who becomes a young woman, determined to do life her way. Vividly animated and strong on character, comedy, and cross-generational misunderstandings—all derived from a fairy tale.
1. “Stray Dogs,” directed by Tsai Ming-liang, starring Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, and Chen Shiang-chyi
I saved the most challenging for the last and best. Tsai’s films, always slow-moving (very slow-moving), unfold with visual majesty. There’s a mystic appreciation for living in the moment, no matter what the moment brings. It also takes a close look at the fragility of human beings in the shadows of the cities they made. He climaxes “Stray Dogs” with what felt like 10 minutes of an unbroken close-up. You have to throw out most of what you know about movies to get down to that bracingly human level. ■
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.