By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Troubling. Challenging. Problematic. Call 2015 what you want, it had plenty of reasons to stay in bed with the covers pulled over your eyes. Here are 10 visions worth getting out of the house for (although, in fairness, you can ingest most of them through your television).
10. “Cambodian Son,” directed by Masahiro Sugano, starring Kosal Khiev.
One young man’s passion, his losses, his controversies, and his struggle to channel titanic rage into the catharsis, and the education, of his art.
9. “Man From Reno,” directed by Dave Boyle, starring Ayako Fujitani, directed by Dave Boyle.
A Japanese writer runs from her country and her fame, seeking solace in San Francisco, but she cannot escape trouble. An immaculately-filmed, eerie take on film noir.
8. “Snow On The Blades,” directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu, starring Kiichi Naka.
Samurai movies can feature buckets of blood and stacks of hacked limbs; but the real challenge lies in bringing in elegance and subtlety. The swordsman in “Snow On The Blades” is charged with exacting revenge. Then the world changes. Should he still exact revenge? Is he still entitled to it? The story’s answers will leave you engaged with the world, not checked out from it.
7. “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay, starring David Oyelowo.
No, not about Asians. But by extension, about any nonwhite population in America, the grim reality of racism, and the necessary inspirational figures who inspire the nation to move forward. (Whether we’re moving backward these days is another subject.)
6. “Satellite Girl And Milk Cow,” directed by Chang Hyung-yun.
It occurs to me that I’ve rated this completely nonsensical Korean anime above several more serious-minded films. I have one serious weakness for silliness, though, and this film delivers—the ancient wizard reincarnated as a roll of toilet paper is only one of many giggly gambits. We can always use laughter, especially this year.
5. “Hal: The Movie,” directed by Ryōtarō Makihara.
Another anime, Japanese this time—a robot story full of love, pain, anguish, loss, cuteness and a sinister edge which gleams ever-brighter over ticking minutes.
4. “The Apu Trilogy,” directed by Satyajit Ray.
Restored prints of three Indian classics—actually, world cinema classics. Satyajit Ray started out shooting whenever he could, with whatever money he could scrounge, and by the end he turned one man’s growing pains and painful losses into a human-level epic.
3. “Psycho-Pass,” directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani and Katsuyuki Motohiro.
A Japanese television anime, not a film, but still one of the most intriguing, and disturbing things I saw all year. In the not-too-distant future, Japan is separated from the rest of the world, and the government believes it can sort out morality, and criminal intent, all through digital. A foolproof system, eh? Numbers are foolproof. Not exactly….
2. “The Assassin,” directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, starring Shu Qi.
I may not understand this martial arts epic, but I could devote several years getting to the bottom of its intricacies. Death in life and life in death, yes, of course, but Hou makes the whole conundrum iridescent and lyrical.
1. “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi,” aka “Taxi,” directed by Jafar Panahi.
The genius ordered by his Iranian government not to make films continues to flout that verdict. This time he’s driving a taxi around Tehran. I am not sure what’s real and what’s not. But I’m sure he’s risking life and limb for what he believes in. His statement to the world about the film, worth repeating: “Nothing can prevent me from making films since when being pushed to the ultimate corners I connect with my inner-self and, in such private spaces, despite all limitations, the necessity to create becomes even more of an urge. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.