The Top 10 APA Movies of 2012

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

From close-set family dramas to burgeoning blockbusters, Asian films were as strong as ever this year. Here are my picks for the top ten Asian Pacific American films that played in Seattle this year.

10.  “The Secret World Of Arietty,” directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, starring Mirai Shida, Ryunosuke Kamiki, and Shinobu Otake

The latest from Japan’s Studio Ghibli to hit American shores tells the story of a tiny teenage girl, the sick young boy who discovers her, and their struggles to maintain their friendship against an adult world gone haywire. Bold, inventive, funny, touching, and everything we’ve come to expect from Ghibli.

9.  “The Manzanar Fishing Club,” directed by Cory Shiozaki

Japanese Americans wrongfully interned in the Manzanar camp during World War II often skipped out at night under the searchlights, but snuck back to their barracks come dawn. Their secret? Fishing. Shiozaki’s documentary retraces one of the hugest injustices in modern American history, and goes to show how liberating a simple, quiet pastime can become.

8.  “A Simple Life,” directed by Ann Hui, starring Andy Lau, Deanie Ip

Andy Lau plays the globetrotting son of a prominent Hong Kong family. Deanie Ip plays the aging domestic, finally too old to work, whom Lau must look after. It sounds simple enough in sentences but director Hui gives us a long, deep look at both souls and at how they still struggle to connect after decades in the same household.

7.  “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi,” directed by David Gelb, starring Jiro Ono

Yes, Jiro dreams of sushi. But given that he’s made sushi his life’s work, that’s only fair. You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy this shot-in-Japan documentary’s lush look at Jiro Ono’s cooking. The lessons about life and work will stick to you too.

6.  “Tatsumi,” directed by Eric Khoo, starring Yoshihiro Tatsumi

For his first animated film, Singapore’s Eric Khoo draws on the life and work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the person who taught Japan that comics could be for adults. Not in a pornographic sense, but in a mature, reasoned, sense acknowledging grown-up experiences. Tatsumi’s stories shift between the enigmatic, the spooky, and the sad, as he guides us through the story of his life, and imagination, in picture.

5.  “The Lady,” directed by Luc Besson, starring Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, and Jonathan Woodhouse

Aung San Suu Kyi overcame oppression, long-term imprisonment, and the assassination of her own father to lead the country of Burma. Michelle Yeoh seems to live inside the role, but the script doesn’t neglect the love story between Suu Kyi and her husband, the late Michael Aris.

4.  “Norwegian Wood,” directed by Anh Hùng Trần, starring Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, and Kiko Mizuhara

A gorgeously-shot exercise in love, loss, and the painful inward transitions from adolescence to adulthood. Director Trần always gives us amazing looking cinema, and here he’s found a story worth chewing over as well.

3.  “This Is Not A Film,” directed by Jafar Panahi and  Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, starring Jafar Panahi

Like one or two other films on this list, “This Is Not A Film” will leave you grateful that you live in America. For all of our nation’s (copious) flaws, we would probably not lock up a director for allegedly criticizing the government. Prize-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi contemplates his own pending jail time in this documentary study of his pensive pre-prison life, as he waits to hear from his lawyer. It would take a lot of courage for a man in his shoes to even venture out of his apartment, but Panahi works up the courage to do so, and then finds a story right outside his door unlike any other.

2.  “Planet Of Snail,” directed by Seung-jun Yi, starring Young-Chan and Soon-Ho

Young-Chan has no sight and very little hearing; he is effectively deaf-blind. Soon-Ho, his wife, is dwarfed and partially crippled by a spine disorder.  How do they live?  Surprisingly, very well.  They help each other through the mundane chores of the day (a struggle to change a light bulb becomes an epic almost on the order of the Iliad), and they stay tuned to their shared sensuality. One of the finest documentaries to come out of South Korea in years.

1.  “Golden Slumbers,” directed by Davy Chou, starring Dy Saveth,  Ly Bun Yin, and Ly You Sreang

Of all the films on this list, only this Cambodian documentary has such an epic scope:  To remind the world of pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodian filmmaking, which vanished almost completely during the revolution. Pol Pot and his minions succeeded in destroying the present and the past of his nation’s film industry, leaving only a few refugees left alive, to try to restore the overarching story. It’s heartbreaking in its details, but thrilling in its depictions of survival and resilience. (end)

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at

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