“Asian” is awfully broad. The term can be applied to more than half the Earth’s population, after all, which comes both from the specific geographical region it denotes and a global diaspora. The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival embraces the kaleidoscope of Asian identity. Which is evident from even the briefest glance at its programming. This was my first year attending the fest, and I wasn’t able to see nearly as many films as I would have liked (I didn’t even see as many as I’d planned to). But even that limited pool demonstrates the cinematic variety that a demographic often shunted aside as a “minority” has to offer.
Twinsters is the odd kind of story only made possible by two factors: the international dispersion of Asians via foreign adoption and the global unifying power of the Internet. Actress Sam Futerman and her friend Ryan Miyamoto directed the documentary, which follows Futerman’s surreal experience following her discovery that she has a French doppelganger living in the UK. Sam and her lookalike, Anais Bordier, investigate whether they’re twins in “a Parent Trap situation” via a thoroughly 21st-century conceit. The film skillfully blends social media and Internet communication channels into its flow. It feels less like watching a movie than it does like being a Facebook connection of Sam or Anais and watching the whole tale unfold. The result is both charming and extraordinarily intimate.
Kimi Kabuki, a short directed by Yoko Okumura, tackles the much-joked-about “Asian fetish” through the world of online porn. It’s built on a standard plot about a (white) woman discovering her husband’s taste for porn, in particular his enthusiasm for the eponymous character. She follows him to a XXX convention where “Kimi Kabuki” is signing autographs, and confrontations and revelations ensue. Where the short goes is more interesting than how any synopsis may read. Jo Mei and Teresa Hegji carry extraordinary nuance as Kabuki and the housewife, respectively.
The Vancouver Asahi isn’t much better than “okay,” but it made me realize that I want a lot more movies about the immigrant experience to be made by emigrant countries instead of the immigrant ones. This film about Japanese immigrants in Canada around the turn of the century was made with zero Candian participation, and the only drawback is that the white actors don’t speak English any better than the Japanese ones. But a Canadian producer, writer, or director would likely have done their best to downplay the depiction of discrimination against the main characters, especially how the members of the eponymous baseball team were all shoved into internment camps when World War II rolled along. Immigrant films are usually obsessed with the Irish or Italians, so this is a nice change of pace, even if it does nothing to shake up any storytelling formulas.
Everything Before Us, the first feature effort from YouTube sensation Wong Fu Productions, is distinct among the films here in that it isn’t dealing much in specifically Asian experiences. The characters could be cast as white, or black, or anything, and the script wouldn’t need to be changed at all. It’s a dramedy/romance that happens to have a majority Asian cast. Which is the kind of normalizing progress that’s just as important as telling minority stories.
The script itself has ambitious commentary about the age of all-connectedness, embodying our ability to background check anyone and the consequent risk-aversion in a government bureau called the “Department of Emotional Integrity.” This institution, which gives people credit scores of sorts based on their relationship activity, looms over the two central love stories. The idea isn’t explored to its full potential, and the movie has many of the usual pitfalls from Internet-based filmmakers going feature-length for the first time (wonky sound work, an omnipresent score, cinematography that occasionally resembles corporate “it’d be great to work here” advertisements). But it’s nice, and is certainly different from the indie romcom standard we’re overused to (and overforgiving of).