Week 2: Film reviews of those with a message
“Kabei — Our Mother,” Japan
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin
Japanese director Yoji Yamada’s 74th film abandons the samurai storylines he’s previously used. The film showcases his skill at telling a family-oriented story. The tale resonates between the mind and heart long after the end of the film.
“Kabei” is set in 1940. A college professor (Mitsugoro Bando) and his wife, affectionately nicknamed “Kabei” (Sayuri Yoshinaga), raise two daughters (Miku Sato and Mirai Shida) in a modest Tokyo home. However, their warm and affectionate family life ends about 10 minutes into the film.
The police drag away the professor, who’s held on charges of “thought crime,” for being a “radical” (non-conformist) scholar. The militaristic government shows no signs of releasing him. Unlikely help arrives in the form of Toru Yamasaki (Tadanobu Asano), a former student of the professor. Nervous, bumbling, half-deaf, and dreadfully nearsighted, Yamasaki is admired by the girls as an older brother figure. What he means to Kaibei becomes much more complicated.
Yamada shows us a culture where war becomes a crusade, nationalism co-opts patriotism, and dissenters face jail or even the gallows. Comparisons to the recently departed Bush administration certainly come to mind. The film effectively admonishes us to be on our guard against such governmental tendencies at all times. It succeeds, ultimately, by staying with the story’s human elements. Sayuri Yoshinaga’s ever-fluid face and her character’s never-wavering strength, burn unforgettably.
“Kabei — Our Mother” showtimes:
June 3 at 6:45 p.m., SIFF Cinema
June 4 at 7 p.m., Kirkland Performance Center
“School Days with a Pig,” Japan
Reviewed by Jason Cruz
If a film could turn you into a vegetarian, this is the one.
Set in Japan, a sixth grade teacher (Satoshi Tsumabuki) decides to teach his students a lesson in life and food consumption by having the class raise a cute piglet at the start of the school year with the intention of eating it at graduation. Predictably, the children begin to form a bond with the pig. They build a pen for it, feed it, clean up after it, and play with it as they learn teamwork and responsibility. As they care for the pig, it becomes more a pet than future meal.
A few days before the graduation, the question of killing their beloved class mascot becomes more difficult. The children are torn between their emotional ties with the pig, which they named P-Chan, and their deal to send the pig to the “meat center” — a slaughterhouse.
The film magnifies the consumption of animals by putting a face behind the meat we eat. The film’s premise, based on true events, seem far-fetched and cruel for the children as they agonize over whether they should kill the pig at graduation. Yet, the film makes its point with themes of morality and the course of the food chain by making viewers think about what they eat.
The kids are the real stars of this film, as the classroom debates about whether to spare the pig evolve into an emotional debate over life and death. There is not a dry eye among the kids when they must vote on whether P-Chan should live or die.
“School Days with a Pig” showtimes:
May 28 at 4:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
May 31 at 9:15 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema
Reviewed by James Tabafunda
An unidentified young male poet (Aeious Asin) begins to deal with his sexual orientation by participating in live poetry readings in front of an audience and attending a male strip show at a gay nightclub. He sells his valued collection of comic books and action figures to raise the money to pay for one evening with a wealthy male stripper named Aries (Aries Pena), whose relationship with his father is presented. The poet takes Aries home with him so that they can celebrate New Year’s Eve by having dinner with his mother, who tries her best to raise the young man on her own.
The poet’s only other strong connection is with his collection of fish in various aquariums throughout his bedroom. By sharing his love for his pets and spending the evening together, he hopes Aries will become attracted to him.
This 2009 coming-of-age drama by writer Jimmy Flores tries to handle too many sub-plots while telling the story about this decent, family-loving poet and his attraction to Aries. If Flores had devoted more focus on the adolescent male’s growing confidence in his sexual orientation, the film would have been more interesting and less convoluted. Instead, it includes unintentionally funny examples of poetry and an uninteresting side story about Aries and his father. Director Aureaus Solito overemphasizes the erotic nature of the poet’s relationship by including a sex scene that seems to never end and includes an almost equally long final scene of male strippers dancing onstage during the film’s closing credits.
Monday, June 1 at 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema
Friday, June 5 at 4:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema
Reviewed by Vivian Nguyen
This first-time feature-length piece from director Hsiao-tse Cheng examines the highs and lows of innocent teenage love. When the quiet Miao-Miao (Jia-yan Ke) arrives in Taipei as a Japanese transfer student, she meets Xiao-Ai (Sandrine Pinna), an outgoing and sassy tomboy. Despite their different personalities, the two quickly develop a friendship.
The girls then find their first loves at the same time: Miao-Miao becomes enamored with a mysterious CD storeowner, Chen Fei (Chih-Wei Fan), while Xiao-Ai struggles with her burgeoning romantic feelings for Miao-Miao. As the triangle between the three comes to a head, Chen Fei reveals a dramatic past steeped in tragedy.
Although the theme of finding innocent first-time love is an ubiquitous formula in Asian cinema, “Miao Miao” provides a refreshing look at the pains of young adulthood and the angst of unrequited love.
Backed by moving performances from the young actors, particularly by Pinna, “Miao Miao” captivates viewers through emotion and empathy for the characters.
While “Miao Miao” is typically classified as a gay/lesbian film, the story only skims the surface of this topic, which gives the film a lighthearted perspective on romance and makes it more universally accessible and relatable to viewers.
Cheng’s directorial approach to love is simple and raw, stripped from outside societal and political influences. In a community where gay romances can still be considered taboo, “Miao Miao” is a healthy reminder of what love is at its most innocent state — a film for the young romantic in all of us.
“Miao Miao” showtimes:
Friday, May 29 at 4:30 p.m., SIFFCinema
Tuesday, June 2 at 7 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.siff.net.
Jason Cruz, Andrew Hamlin, Vivian Nguyen, and James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.