Things Left Behind

The visible scars on survivors’ bodies, like the black and white footage of a post-nuclear Hiroshima, haunt our collective hearts and minds. Pick up any history book about World War II and watch the typical news coverage on the subject. These images indelibly evoke and enforce themselves within the text. This unique documentary is a collaboration between photographer Miyako Ishiuchi and filmmaker Linda Hoaglund stands as their mutual commitment to shattering this imagery of the Japanese as victims of a holocaust. It also calls into question the idea of colonial perpetrators getting their comeuppance in their tragic fate. Instead, more than a half century later, they choose to ask simply what allowed the Japanese to survive after such devastation and more universally, how this singular historic event has shaped the public and critical discourse around nuclear power and the prospect of ecological disaster.


This film first takes root and brings out the enduring intercultural connections between Hiroshima survivors in Japan and the Japanese-Canadian diasporas. Hoaglund uses her camera to document Ishiuchi’s working technique and philosophy. She traverses the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum taking close-up shots of personal artifacts (clothing, household wares, and objects). Ishiuchi once told The New Yorker regarding her earlier photo series, “Mother’s”: “things left behind are eloquent. They speak to me and I hear them. Things are created for people to use, and things exist for humans. Once their user vanishes, the things should vanish, too. But these personal effects have outlived the persons who used them. The question is: Why?”


With cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki, the photographer and the filmmaker engage us in a dialogue over this very question and in doing so, reveal the power of affect on history and historical interpretation. In an interview response to The Japan Times, Ishiuchi asserts her primary desire to “liberate Hiroshima from the shackles of stereotype […] and that, in her eyes, “a thing of beauty is a thing of beauty, no matter the circumstances.”



With You, Without You

With You, Without You

A chance encounter between two citizens in post-war Sri Lanka quickly leads to romance, but as they spend time together it becomes increasingly clear that their cultural backgrounds are struggling to peacefully coexist. Sarathsiri (Shyam Fernando) is a lonely pawnbroker that cares only for his work. Selvi (Anjali Patil) is his shy, subdued, and beautiful customer. Following repeated visits to his pawnshop, Sarathsiri realizes that Selvi is one of the few sources of joy in his life. She accepts when he asks for her hand in marriage.


Differences in age and demeanor are significant challenges for Sarathsiri and Selvi.  While those issues are often easily overcome, ethnic and national identity questions are much more difficult to resolve in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. Estimates of death tolls range from 60,000-100,000. The result is a dramatic division throughout the nation between the Tamil and Sinhalese people, as no one was left unaffected. Can love really conquer all?


With Sarathsiri and Selvi coming from opposite sides of the conflict, the differences in their past threaten to affect their future. The issue of ethnic identity is placed squarely under the microscope in this modern adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1876 novella, The Meek One. With You Without You is the seventh feature-length film by director Prasanna Vithanage, and has been welcomed with acclaim on the festival circuit, taking home awards from the International Film Festival of India (Winner – Best Actress, Anjali Patil) and Vesoul Asian Film Festival (Winner – Best Film), among many others. This contemporary tale of taboo romance examines the hazy intersection of love, identity, and nationalism, and the devastating consequences that can result as these disparate elements struggle to harmonize.




Hank and Asha

Hank and Asha. jpg

After meeting Hank (Andrew Pastides) at a film festival in New York, Asha (Mahira Kakkar) travels to Prague to studying filmmaking, but the two maintain contact and start an intimate friendship after they begin sharing their video diaries. Their entries to each other are underscored by their collective love of cinema, while also examining more sensitive issues surrounding traditional and cultural identity. Hank and Asha grow closer with each message that is exchanged despite being separated by thousands of miles of land and sea, but their newfound intimacy comes with its own unexpected challenges for the two young dreamers.


Unconventional in many regards, Hank and Asha cleverly crafts a tale centered on the human desire for intimacy, which is slyly underscored by Hank and Asha’s consistent onscreen separation. The diary entries made by the young cinephiles are more than simple confessionals, but probe meaningfully into anxiety over love and identity, among many other things, and can be most accurately described as small standalone vignettes that come together for an even greater effect. The focus of Hank and Asha is on a generation that is now inseparably intertwined with the digital tools they use to communicate, and restyles the typical romantic comedy formula by examining both the benefits and the challenges that are posed by new types of modern relationships.


Told with a daring narrative format and bolstered by the performances of its two young leads, Hank and Asha has already been recognized as a critical success and has been a consistent favorite among fans on the festival circuit. The film takes an unflinching look at the challenges of a contemporary relationship, celebrating the power of cinema to bridge the gaps of distance, while also not backing down from the challenges that such a relationship entails. An enlightening and heartwarming look at how new technology is influencing contemporary global relationships, James E. Duff’s big screen premiere is just as smart as it is entertaining, and the infectious nature of Hank and Asha’s personalities makes it difficult to hold back a smile.


Liar’s Dice

Liar's Dice

Fearing the worst, a dedicated wife from a rural village faces the horrible realization that her husband, Harud is missing and no one will help her find him.  Against the advice of her elders, Kamala and her daughter Manya (Manya Gupta) leave their home in search of a husband and a father that has not been heard from in five months. Fueling Kamala’s fears is the dodgy nature of the construction company that employed Harud.


As woman and child travelling alone, Kamala and Manya face both crime and the unforgiving forces of nature in their quest to find Harud. However, the two find an unlikely ally on the road in Nawazuddin, (Nawazuddin Siddiqui fresh off award-winning performances in Gangs of Wasseypur and The Lunchbox.) In Liar’s Dice, Nawazuddin is free-spirited nomadic wanderer that is initially reluctant to help Kamala and her daughter for anything more than a nominal fee. Yet, as the three journey together towards the city of Shimla in search of Harud, the walls constructed by both Kamala and Nawazuddin begin to come down, and the two are able to find strength on each other. Despite their newfound companionship, Nawazuddin’s past and his ambiguous personal motives, raise concerns. Their search for Harud begins to be unexpectedly threatened.


Bolstered by gripping performances by Geetanjali Thapa and rising industry star Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Liar’s Dice deconstructs the traditional road movie format and in its place provides the tension of a slow-build thriller. Having already established herself as a respected actress in Bollywood, Geethu Mohandas demonstrates formidable talent behind the camera in her directorial debut. Shot almost entirely on location in starkly contrasting urban and rural settings, Liar’s Dice is an arresting work that fearlessly examines the oft-overlooked issues of labor exploitation in contemporary India.



Zinda Bhaag

Zinda Bhaag“Get out if you Can” is both the translation of the Zinda Bhaag and the credo its characters live by. Pakistan’s first official Oscar entry in 50 years is this surprisingly realistic slice-of-life depiction of life in Lahore. Three friends Khaldi, Chitta and Tambi literally beg, borrow, and steal to get by in their everyday lives while they look westward for something more than mere existence. The potential cost of this dream:  Financial servitude, legal minefields, and very real emotional and physical danger.

Zinda Bhagg operates on multiple levels. It is a discourse on a crucial global topic, illegal immigration and human trafficking. Yet it is also a breath of fresh air with funky costumes, exaggerated yet marvelous acting, and sparkling comic dialogue. The film features remarkable performances by its non-professional actors, who were plucked from the obscurity of the Lahore streets. The actors’ own lives and personalities are reflected in the characters and the plot depicted in the film. Co-directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi love of South Asian films of 1960s through the 1980s is made manifest in their use of music in building poetic atmosphere and expressing unspeakable feelings.

Zinda Bhaag is the first official Oscar entry from Pakistan in over fifty years. Speaking of the nomination, a member from the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee summed it up best, “Zinda Bhaag is funny, natural, hip, and casually audacious-A real step forward for contemporary Pakistani Cinema and a pleasure to watch.”

Why Don’t You Play In Hell?

Why Don't You Play in Hell

The ambitious, yet wildly untalented, amateur film-making crew known as The F**k Bombers might finally get their big break when they stumble into filming a gang war between rival Yakuza factions that’s been brewing for a decade. Gang boss Muto has suffered the dual humiliation of witnessing his wife’s imprisonment and seeing his princess daughter’s famous toothpaste commercial taken off the air. He’ll do anything to make his daughter a star and reunite with his wife, even if it means taking on the entire Kitagawa clan himself and hiring the F**k Bombers to finally make Mitsuko a leading lady. However, Mitsuko has other plans and aspirations to move beyond the life of a melodrama star into more explosive roles.

This action-packed romp is directed with manic energy as a love letter to filmmaking by cult favorite Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Love Exposure, Cold Fish). It’ll leave you gasping for air and falling in love with cinema all over again.


UnforgivenJubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe) brings swords to a gunfight as an aging samurai in this highly anticipated Japanese adaptation of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture Winner Unforgiven. Living as a struggling farmer and widowed father in post-war Hokkaido, a visit from an old companion named Kingo (Akira Emoto) opens up an opportunity for Jubei to provide for his children. But in order to claim the reward secure a bright future for his children Jubei must confront personal demons from his own dark past.

After ten years in hiding, assassin Jubei’s ventures into a world he no longer knows and that has forgotten him. His reputation as “The Killer” no longer precedes him. Along their journey Goro (Yuya Yagira), a hotheaded young bounty hunter joins Jubei and Kamata, but tensions between generations threaten to derail the trio’s task before it has even begun. Their quest for justice and riches is further endangered by a sadistic sheriff (Koichi Sato). With danger around every corner and an enemy always waiting in the shadows, Jubei’s attempt at redemption for his violent past grows more difficult with each passing day, and time runs short when sheriff Oishi begins to flex his muscles.

While Hollywood is known for rebooting successful Japanese films (Infernal Affairs as The Departed, Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven, Ringu), director Lee Sang-il pulls a reversal by transporting Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven from Wyoming to the uncharted Northern area of Japan. The disgraced post-war cowboy is transposed to a disgraced post-war samurai.  The rich cast of characters and multitude of bravura performances in Lee Sang-il’s are reminiscent of the 1992 Western that was beloved by audiences in America. Still, to call the 2013 update of Unforgiven a simple remake would be unjust. Watanabe and Sang-il come together for a dramatic collaboration that builds towards an explosive final act.

Trap Street

Trap street

To call Trap Street a simple thriller is a disservice to a daring film that pulls together romance, mystery, drama, and faithful slice-of-life vignettes into an ingenious genre pastiche. Director Vivian Qu’s debut is superb. Li Quiming (Lu Yulai) is a young, impressionable teenager working for a digital mapping and surveying company. He has an auspicious encounter with the beautiful and fashionable Guan Lifen (He Wenchao). Initially disinterested, Guan eventually warms to the young man’s attempts to woo her with expensive gifts and thoughtful gestures.

During his initial attempts to reach out to Guan, Li tries to contact her at Laboratory 23 on Forest Lane, where she is employed. However the street is unable to be located by any of his firm’s mapping software. He asks his more experienced coworker for an explanation, but is given a mysterious, vague non-answer.  Soon Li digs deeper into the question of Guan’s employers and her job as a way to find her. Just as he begins to grow close to the answers, Li inexplicably finds himself in dire circumstances; he has become involved in matters far above his pay grade. For Li, things look bleak and go from bad to worse.  Is it too late to hope for a happy ending?

By definition, a “trap street” is a tool used by cartographers to pinpoint thieves infringing on their copyrights. While it is true that this understanding of the term is utilized in the film, more sinister implications begin to arise as Li becomes unwittingly tangled in the web of lies and deceit. What begins as a simple story of boy-meets-girl, Trap Street takes us into a rabbit hole. By the end of the film the façade obscuring Li’s understanding slowly begins to crumble. Sharp digital camerawork and a film noir aesthetic lend credence to the edgy political privacy issues in contemporary China explored in the film. Despite its deceptively lighthearted tone at times, Trap Street will not easily let viewers go after the final frame fades out.

Touch Of The Light

Touch of the LightTouch of the Light is based on a remarkable true story. Born visually impaired, Siang is a talented real-life pianist who has been accepted by a prestigious art college. Leaving his hometown for the first time, Siang arrives in Taipei to attend school. Although he lives in the dark, his heart is sensitive to the world around him. Siang instinctually grasps the deepest and subtlest emotions of those around him. For his own inner life, he expresses his passion, sorrow and dreams through his music- and its irresistible pull is felt by all of his audiences. Unlike his fellow students, Siang refuses to participate in any type of music competition. He knows how heartbreaking it is when people whisper that his success is due to judges’ sympathy.

Jie is a beautiful young girl who dreams of becoming a dancer. But the truth hurts. She works at a teashop to make a living because her family is broke and her mom is a shopaholic. Even worse, her boyfriend, a professional dancer, cares little about her and constantly goes out with other girls. Jie dreams of returning to dance, the only way in which she can live authentically. When Jie meets Siang, he becomes her sunshine and she becomes his eyes. On the journey towards dream, they find each other. Whether they succeed or not, they learn that their courage to try may be more valuable than their innate talents.

Based on blind pianist Huang Yu-Siang’s true story, this beautiful, life affirming film earned both commercial and critical success in Taiwan, as well as winning audience awards in Taipei and Busan film festivals. Impeccable performances are given throughout, especially by Huang Yu-Siang who stars himself in the film. Throughout, Siang’s soaring music is a reminder that courage and perseverance are indispensible to manifesting one’s dreams.

The Haumāna

The HaumanaThe Haumāna depicts not only a beautiful tropical paradise we typically associate with the Hawaiian Islands of our imagination but explores local values as embodied in the hula tradition. In Keo Woolford’s feature debut, you won’t find coconut bras, grassy skirts and native girls prancing about offering up lei flowers to tourists. Instead, teenage boys begin a journey of self-discovery through their mastery of the dance. In the vein of recent sport melodramas from Friday Night Lights to Invictus, these young men play the game, or in this case, dance in competition as a rite of passage and cultural recuperation.

Goading them on, is an unconventional mentor in the form of washed-up lounge lizard crooner Jonny Kealoha (Tui Asau).  A former student of the school, he reluctantly promises at the bedside of his dying kuma (master teacher), Auntie Margaret (Marlene Sai) that he would continue her legacy. He lives to regret this. He faces antagonism all around from his rebellious male students, to the high school football coach, to his would-be rival, dedicated kuma to the local girls, Napua (Mary Pa’alani). The confrontation between Western masculine ideals, through the supposed normalcy of football, and local, cultural norms, embedded in the hula serves to broaden the definition of what it means to be “American.”

Populated with lush photography and picturesque locales, the film explores Jonny’s perseverance with the boys. He extracts them from the classroom and practices on the sun-drenched beaches of Waikiki and Oahu. At first, he seems to be phoning it in. A functioning alcoholic, he soon finds himself challenging his own previous assumptions about his self-worth and cultural identity. Woolford brings a genuine bird’s eye view of the local culture in contemporary flux in contrast to the traditional struggle for native sovereignty. As the prodigal “native” son who had to adapt to and answer to haole (foreign) standards of familiar local norms, the stakes may be even higher for his redemption.