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The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is done, closing its run in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. While this was not my best year in catching all of my top picks, I did fall in love with two of the films that I did watch.

Friday, March 14th

The Princess of Nebraska | Directed by: Wayne Wang

Recap: I bought the ticket, but I didn’t make it to the show. As you may recall, I was pretty sick last week so I made a choice between my two Friday scheduled films, The Princess of Nebraska and the short program. I choose the short program because I really wanted to watch Anti Sex (….it also helped that my film festival buff friend (CK), had given the film a thumbs down). So, that’s that.

ANTI SEX | Directed by: Ryotaro Muramatsu

Recap: This not-so-short, short film (It was about 30 minutes long, most shorts are only 5-10 minutes) was such a charming, funny, adorable and very unconventional love story. The premise of the story is about a young Japanese high school girl named Ai who inherits her father’s love hotel after his sudden death. As some of you may know, “love hotels” are rent-by-the-hour rooms, that are predominately used by couples (in both open and secret relationships) for sex. While this film could have take a variety of directions given this premise, it’s underlining story is actually about finding real love and falling in love.

***SPOILER ALERT***

As the new manager, Ai grows increasingly disgusted by the idea of sex as well as by her guests who are having sex in her love hotel. In her eyes, sex is just some dirty thing that everyone one around her is doing all the time (there’s a funny scene where Ai just stands amazed at all the cars parked at the hotel in broad daylight, while she asks in a voice over, why all these people aren’t at work).

Meanwhile, one of her employees has a secret crush on her. In his youth he was “typical guy” who frequented the love hotel with as many women as he could, until one strange incident when one girl tried to jump out of the hotel room window to force him to “love” her. After that, Ai’s father pulled him aside and lectured him about difference between sex and “making love”. He becomes so inspired that he has worked at the love hotel since while secretly crushing on Ai. His problem though is that he doesn’t know how to express his love to her because all he’s known is how to bed women.

Long story short, both of these two characters are falling in love for the first time. As he learns the way to a woman’s heart, she lets her “disgusted” guard down and lets herself fall in love as she begins to understand why her father and mother had opened the love hotel in the first place — they had (rather strange) ideals about love and making love. the ideas of love, sex and making love, all while falling in love herself for the first time. It’s all very, very cute.

***END OF SPOIILER***

On another note, here’s an interesting article about “fantasy” love hotels from Wired Magazine. It’s features a photographer’s collection of images these love hotels that cater to people’s fantasies no matter how strange they can be.

Saturday, March 15th

Panel—Crossing Over: Asian Americans and Asia

Recap: I knew that Daniel Wu was coming and so being the star-gazer that I am, I was planning to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my movie/panel list when I went to buy my tickets and forgot to buy this ticket. By the time I could make it to the box office again, everyone would have already found out that Daniel Wu was coming and the tickets would have been sold out, which it was.

My friend, TT, who did attend the panel told me though that while the topic was interesting, pretty much all of the questions became directed to Daniel Wu only and often would not even touch on the panel topic, but on Daniel Wu’s work and life. That’s unfortunate, especially for the other panelists.

The Killing of a Chinese Cookie |Directed By: Derek Shimoda

Recap:
While this documentary really sounded interesting to me, I had to make a choice in the interest of time, The Killing of a Chinese Cookie or Gentle Breeze in the Wind. I choose Gentle Breeze in the Wind. So that’s that.

A Gentle Breeze in the Village | Directed By: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Recap: I can’t being to say how much I adored this film. In telling the tale about falling in love for the first time, the story captures all the nuances of youth and growing up.

The story follows a young girl, named Soyo Migita, who lives in a very unpopulated part of Japan where she is one of six children in the entire village. This group of kids ranges from a first grader to a ninth grader (Soyo). The story begins when a transfer student, a cute boy from Tokyo named Osawa Hiromi, enters the school and becomes Soyo’s first classmate. The story then follow the relationship that forms between them. Their bond though is pretty circumstantial — For Soyo, Osawa is her first peer that she’s ever had that her own age; For Osawa, he’s new in the village and becomes gradually drawn to Soyo since she’s is his only peer in the village. In the end, the two become insepratable as they come to relay on each as friends and as boyfriend/girlfriend.

The story is based on a supposedly popular manga by the same name, Tennen Kokekko. (I say supposedly because I spent a good part of my weekend searching for translations/scanlations and found pretty much nothing, all I know its an 18 volume manga and I have seen one image of the art.) If I can find this at Kinyokineo, I just might try to translate it because I am so in love with this story. [UPDATE: Kinyokineo does carry the manga and I’ll soon be en route to purchase volume 1, ISBN # 9784086181044]

While it would be a bit much to try and type out a summary of this story, I did want to highlight all of my favorite scenes (careful now, there are a lot of spoilers):

  • When Soyo first lays eyes on Osawa, indicating her immediate attraction; this scene subsequently leads to her utter humiliation and deflated attraction, when Osawa asks if her hands are clean since the fruit she handed him smells like pee; She was earlier washing the underwear of the 1st grade student who had wet her pants.
  • When Soyo is greeted with a hug by the 1st grade student. This scene is great because Soyo is anticipating that the little girl will be angry and in pain because of her bladder infection, which was cause by Soyo asking her to hold it as long as she could.
  • When Soyo negotiates to let Osawa kiss her in exchange for his jacket. This is the funniest and most awkward first kiss sequence I have ever seen on film.
  • When Soyo is shunned by her friends at the summer festival after she puts her foot in her mouth and unintentionally insults her friend. It was heart breaking to watch her as she tried to make it up to her friends, only to be repeatedly rejected and abandoned at the festival, though in the end, her friends come back and they all make up.
  • When Osawa’s mom asks if Soyo is his girlfriend. The puzzled and speechless looks on their faces are priceless, since neither of them have really called each other that, nothing officially that is.
  • When Soyo goes to Tokyo with Osawa as part of their 9th grade school trip. The actress, Koho is great as a fish out of water, looking at Tokyo as a foreign country almost.
  • When Osawa smashes the large rock in order to Soyo a smaller piece to take home; Soyo had insisted on keeping the “souvenir” that Osawa’s friends gave him as a practical joke.
  • When Soyo and Osawa are hand in hand on the train to go take their high school entrance exams; This is when we realize that Osawa has decided not to apply for a school in Tokyo but rather stay in the village with Soyo.
  • When Soyo drinks some “juice” that the first grader gives her after she returns from her high school entrance exams. Though it is not spelled out, I think that every member of the audience can discern that that is pee and that the first grader has learned to go to the bathroom on her own.

While I loved this movie, its definitely not for everyone. As expected, I saw DL doze off at one point. The pace is a bit slow (and goes on for 2 hours) and the story is rather anti-climatic, but I think what makes this film great is its details to each scene and how the cinematography and acting capture the story’s vision of youth being simple, awkward and exciting.

I think that I related to the film because I was from a small town in the “countryside” (though its not that small anymore). It reminds me of my own childhood (at some points), going with the neighborhood friends to the “creek” (more like a ditch by an underpass) to look for frogs, moving on to high school from an elementary-middle school where you and your 30 classmates have been together since Kindergarten and all the awkwardness of young love.

Here’s the trailer:

Sunday, March 16th

Traveling with Yoshitomo | Directed By: Koji Sakabe

Recap:
This documentary sounded very promising, but as CK had put it, “You don’t know any more about the artist then before you had watched this movie.” There were some very touching parts about Yoshitomo Nara‘s 7 years old fan from Korea who adores Nara’s work and wants to become an artist one day herself.

But most of the movie follows Nara as he builds many, many little houses. You see, when he displays his works for gallery exhibitions, he displays them within these intricate little houses.

I could see that the underling story about the artist, who is notorious for being a loner (working, living, etc all alone), learns to be more social as builds more and more little houses with increasingly larger teams of people, as he is forced to make friends along the way. You see that he begins to work on his art in the presence of other people and he becomes less recluse.

The film also suggests that this transformation has also transformed his art, making the little pouty girls a little less sad. Overall, I wish that the subject was

more engaging, because this movie really dragged on. It was like LOTR ROTK where the movie just would not end even though there were so many instances where it could have ended.

West 32nd | Directed By: Michael Kang
Recap: Again, this was a movie that I forgotten to purchase a ticket and before I knew it, it was sold out. Oh well, though it did summary sure sounded intriguing.

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