Archive for November, 2011
After World War Two Japan was a wreck, economically, physically, and psychologically, yet from those unquiet times came much brilliant and innovative creative work. The legendary Japanese comics artist Yoshiro Tatsumi emerged from this milieu, remaking the manga field and creating a new type of comics, gekiga, that was aimed at the adults rather than children.
Tatsumi, Eric Khoo’s intriguing feature-length documentary about the master comics artist, screens this weekend as part of the San Francisco International Animation Festival. The film is an interesting hybrid as it both documents Tatsumi’s life as well as adapts several of his manga into short movies with the movie.
Tatsumi’s raw and gripping, beautiful manga are credited with revolutionizing the form in Japan in the 1950s. Post-World War Two Japan provides the backdrop for his stories and the spectre of a destroyed society attempting to rebuild constantly informs the tone of the work, with sorrow, inhumanity, and alienation the overriding themes. The five short stories animated in Tatsumi are mostly dark tales of human suffering, with protagonists who grapple with oppressive forces beyond their control. “Hell,” which looks at the horrors of the atomic bomb as well as the darkness within one person’s soul, “Beloved Monkey,” a parable about an ordinary man’s descent into misery and “Good-bye,” a tale of an emotionally and physically traumatized woman in postwar Japan, are all terribly sad and yet deeply compassionate stories. At the same time Tatsumi’s stories are leavened with a dark humor that acknowledges the foibles of everyday human existence, most notably in “Occupied,” a black comedy about a children’s book author with a taste for pornographic graffiti who falls into moral disgrace.
Khoo skillfully interweaves these bleak and sometimes harrowing tales with dramatized animated scenes from Tatsumi’s life that in some ways parallel the grim despair of his manga. Although he found some success as an artist as a young man, Tatsumi still grappled with the difficulties of everyday life in postwar Japan and his early career was shadowed by a jealous, bedridden brother who also had artistic aspirations.
Khoo worked closely with his subject on several aspects of the film, consulting with Tatsumi on the film’s color design and other elements of the project. Khoo also used a voiceover of Tatsumi himself recounting his life and work that is laid over animation based on the renowned artist’s visual style. In addition, Khoo took most of movie’s framing directly from the original manga panels, adding some layering and coloring effects but otherwise remaining true to Tatsumi’s compositions.
The result is an engrossing look at one of Japan’s most influential twentieth-century artists, one who used a popular medium to comment and reflect on some of the painful realities of Japan’s postwar existence. Tatsumi’s work is an excellent example of the way in which pop culture can serve both as a catharsis for and a critique of society’s ills.
San Francisco International Animation Festival
November 10–13, 2011
SF Film Society | New People Cinema
1746 Post Street, San Francisco CA 94115
Full schedule, film descriptions, and tickets here.
This Wednesday sees the opening of the 2011 Third I South Asian Film Festival here in San Francisco, which is one of the best chances to see local theatrical screenings of films from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and the South Asian diaspora. The festival primarily focuses on movies outside of Bollywood’s massive scope, including documentary, narrative, experimental and short films.
According to 2010 U.S. census data, South Asians are the fastest growing Asian American subgroup and have surpassed Filipino Americans as the second-largest Asian American ethnicity. In California the Indian American community grew an amazing 68% between 2000 and 2010, to more than half a million people statewide. This population growth is reflected in the increasing desi flava in pop culture, from banal TV sitcoms like Outsourced to Das Racist showing up on the cover of Spin magazine.
Not to conflate an entire subcontinent’s creative outlet, but since Slumdog Millionaire won big at the Academy Awards back in 2009, the profile of South Asian films has also increased here in the US. Of course Indian-centric theaters such as the Big Cinemas multiplex in Fremont have been showing Indian movies for years, but since Slumdog ran the table at the Oscars, Hindi-language movies have been making more appearances at mainstream cinemas. Just last week, Shah Rukh Khan’s deliriously escapist sci-fi superhero movie Ra.One opened in select theaters across the U.S. and scored the highest per-screen gross of any film that weekend, beating out Puss In Boots and other Hollywood releases.
The Third I festival brings an eclectic mix of films to the Roxie and Castro Theaters. Opening night film Big In Bollywood is a fun, energetic documentary that captures some of the star mania of the commercial Indian movie industry. The movie looks at the experiences of Indian American actor Omi Vaidya, whose meteoric rise to fame in India follows a supporting role in Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots, the highest grossing film of all time in India. Vaidya’s small but popular role allowed him a taste of the fanatical devotion Indians have for their film stars as the documentary follows Vaidya from his home in Los Angeles to the Mumbai premiere of 3 Idiots. The doc captures the rapid escalation of Vaidya’s public profile as the film smashes Indian box office records. At one point Vaidya makes an appearance to what looks like about 5,000 cheering fans lining several city blocks, reprising some of his lines from the film as the massive throng wildly cheers him on.
The festival’s centerpiece movie, Delhi Belly, exemplifies a new breed of Bollywood movies far removed from the conventional Hindi-language film industry. A hilarious, fast-paced, and vulgar flick, Delhi Belly follows the misadventures of three twenty-something slackers as they chase down jewel smugglers, gangsters, and other marginal denizens in India’s capital city, with one of the main characters fighting the severe gastrointestinal dysfunction that gives the movie its name. Running a tidy two hours, the film has none of the song-and-dance numbers for which Bollywood is reknowned (except for one tongue-in-cheek OTT production over the end credits that guest-stars executive producer Aamir Khan) and owes more to The Hangover than Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Indian American actor-director Ajay Naidu debut feature Ashes gives a desi spin to the venerable gangster genre. Set in New York City, the film follows a small-time pot dealer (also portrayed by Naidu) as he struggles care for his mentally ill brother while trying to resist falling deeper into the vortex of New York’s underworld.
Closing the festival is the awesome-looking Tamil-language crime thriller Pudhupettai, starring the intense and feral Dhanush, which follows the rise of a Chennai gang lord. As seen in the clip below, the film manages to be gritty and realistic while also including outstanding dance numbers. Also notable are Vipin Vijay’s surreal feature length experimental narrative The Image Threads, and A Letter of Fire, Asoka Handagama’s gorgeous drama of a wealthy, twisted family in Sri Lanka. The festival also features two programs, The Boxing Ladies + Shorts: Gender/Sexuality in Frame, and The Family Circus: Local Shorts, which showcase often-overlooked short films.
While South Asian films have yet to completely break through to the mainstream in the U.S., the Third I festival is an excellent opportunity to see the wide range of production from the region and beyond, reflecting the growing desi influence in this country’s cultural landscape.
The 9th Annual 3rd I San Francisco South Asian Film Festival (SFISAFF),
November 10-13, 2011
Roxie Cinema & Castro Theater
Tickets, complete schedule, and film descriptions here.
Brilliant dance number from Pudhupettai, 2011 Third I South Asian Film Festival
Nov. 2, 2011: Spent a good part of the afternoon at the general strike demonstrations in Oakland today. I’d fully meant to get in a good day’s work editing my new film but once I got on the twitter feed my good intentions went out the window. The revolution was happening just across the Bay Bridge and I realized that my creative process would probably benefit most from the knowledge that I could glean from what was going on in the streets, not from wrangling with the intricacies of Final Cut Pro.
So after sketching out a couple ideas I decided to skive off the rest of the day and head over to Oakland to show my support for Occupy Oakland. As noted in my last post, OO got worked over pretty good last week by the Oakland Police Department, with help from outside agencies including seventeen different regional police departments and a rumored assist from Homeland Security. After that mess the folks at Occupy Oakland’s general assembly voted for a general strike, which took place in spectacular fashion today.
When I emerged from BART into the warm autumn sunshine at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza this afternoon the area was full of excited but peaceful demonstrators. I met up with fellow Asian American Studies @ SFSU prof Eric Pido and we took a quick spin around the plaza, checking out the various speakers and performances both scheduled and impromptu, as well as the happy line of people waiting for free grindz dished up by the Food Bank and other kindly folks. The outdoor kitchen included an orderly cleanup station that included compost bins and recycling (!)
We circled back to the main intersection in time to hook up with a large march headed up Harrison Street toward Grand, passing by the Caltrans building where curious workers stood on the sidewalk watching the demonstration pass by. At one point I observed a couple office ladies confer with each other, then gleefully join the march as it continued up Grand Avenue. I headed back to San Francisco shortly thereafter and followed the rest of the protest on twitter as tens of thousands of people shut down the Port of Oakland and effectively prevented any activity there.
As I write this around 11pm there are still many hundreds, if not thousands, of people peacefully massing at Ogawa/Grant plaza. The police are keeping their distance, although I’m sure they’re chomping at the bit for any excuse to brutalize the demonstrators. Here’s hoping that things will stay calm, and that this amazing day will continue into the night.
NOTE: Oakland writer and artist Kenji Liu has produced an excellent diptych of posters, Memory Is Solidarity, that connects the dots between Frank Ogawa and Oscar Grant, whose names grace the downtown Oakland plaza that is the hub of Occupy Oakland. He eloquently explains why he thinks that we should remember both Ogawa and Grant, since both were victims of institutional racism–Ogawa was imprisoned at the Topaz internment camp during World War Two, and Grant of course was murdered by BART policeman Johannes Mehserle in 2009. Liu also notes the importance of other significant place-names including Wall Street, which was indeed originally a wall that separated European Americans from the indigenous Lenape people in lower Manhattan. It’s great that the Occupy movement is spawning so much thoughtful and interesting debate–a true sign of a successful campaign.
UPDATE: 11.53p: About 300 police have shown up at Ogawa-Grant plaza. Protestors chanting “Oscar Grant! Oscar Grant!” Teargas and rubber bullets fired–livestream here: http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution
UPDATE 2: 12.14p. Alameda County sheriffs have just moved on the occupiers in Oakland. Teargas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades being used on protestors. All went down just after the television news crews packed up and went home. Luckily an intrepid cameraman has been livestreaming the entire event. Don’t let this unbridled show of police brutality go unwitnessed.
Here’s what I gleaned from the livefeed: Protestors were dancing in the streets just before midnight. Some had occupied a foreclosed building adjacent to the square. A couple hundred police in riot gear arrived and without warning or a dispersal order fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, which had dwindled quite a bit from earlier that day. Several of the police, who appeared to be from the Concord Police Department among other agencies, had masking tape covering their names and badge numbers. When challenged about this I heard one cop say, “Go home,” to a demonstrator, who then said, “I have a right to peacefully protest.” A hostile bystander then replied, “He has a right to kill you.” When I finally succumbed to fatigue around 1am the police and protesters were still in a standoff.
UPDATE 3: OakFoSho has corrected my belief that a cop said, “I have a right to kill you.” Apparently it was a heckler standing nearby who said it. Fixed.
On a similar tip, here’s a great video of a couple demonstrators who came across an Oakland policeman with his name-tag taped over.
UPDATE 4: Davey D. from Hard Knock Radio breaks it down in an excellent overview and analysis of the day.
UPDATE 5: Great discussion of the turn of events on Thursday here on dailykos.com.
UPDATE 6: The Occupy movement, and attendant police violence, has spread to the UC Berkeley campus. asiansart.org has a great on-the-ground description of the demo yesterday, including videos of UC police beating on peaceful student protestors.