The Top APA Movies of 2013

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

2013 brought us outstanding anime, almost-unbelievable documentaries, and inspiring narratives. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Asian Pacific American films new to Seattle for this year.

10. “The Grandmaster,” directed by Kar-wai Wong, starring Tony Leung, Zhang, Chen Chang, and Ziyi Zhang

Director Wong’s take on the legend of Ip Man, the celebrated martial arts master who taught a young Bruce Lee, came to the United States substantially chopped-down from its original Chinese print. But it’s a dashing and dazzling turn through history, sacrifice, and surprisingly strong women.

9. “Jun-Ai,” directed by Keiko Kobayashi, starring Keiko Kobayashi

Working loosely from actual events, director Kobayashi focuses on two Chinese villagers in 1945, who secretly aid two Japanese citizens caught in China by the end of World War II. Gritty, but ultimately hopeful, it offers a lasting vision of peace and cooperation.

8.  Wolf Children, directed by Mamoru Hosoda, starring Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, and Haru Karoki

A college student falls in love with a werewolf, and bears him two children. Suddenly, the wolfman is gone. The single mother moves her children out of the city for a strange but rewarding life in the country. By turns funny and sad, the film marks anime director Hosoda as a talent to watch.

7.  Children Who Chase Lost Voices, directed by Makoto Shinkai, starring Hisako Kanemoto, Kazuhiko Inuoe, and Miyu Irino

Anime director Shinkai tries his hand at fantasy, with results that start out in the world we know, then delve into eye-boggling visions of another world deep below our own.

6.  The Garden of Words,” directed by Makoto Shinkai, starring Miyu Irino and Kana Hanazawa

The only director to make my list twice and the only director whose work didn’t play in Seattle theatrically. It’s a shame that theatrical distributors won’t take a chance on the living master Shinkai. This one’s a return to his bold direction of anime minus either science-fiction or fantasy elements. It’s a strange but compelling story of a young man and an older woman, who find a quiet place in one of the planet’s biggest, busiest cities.

5.  The Land of Eb,” directed by Andrew Williamson, starring Jonithen Jackson

Refugees from the Marshall Islands, displaced by the United States’ nuclear testing there, struggle to make a living in Hawaii. A dramatic film, but with details drawn from real life, it’s a tribute to survival, hard work, and the heart.

4.  Fatal, directed by Don-ku Lee, starring Nam Yeon-wo and Jo-a Yang

First-time director Lee worked menial street jobs to finance his debut film, shooting “Fatal” on a miniscule budget of roughly $3,000. He came away with a chilling story of a young man who’s made a horrible mistake, and his almost-equally-chilling attempts to put things right.

3.  In Another Country, directed by Sang-soo Hong, starring Yoo-mi Jung, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Jun-sang Yoo, and Isabelle Huppert

A talented and perceptive director, Hong was also in a bit of a rut, chronicling man-woman misunderstandings in an almost Woody Allen manner. He found inspiration in this strange but winning narrative about a bumbling lifeguard, a fascinating French tourist, and alternate, or at least alternately constructed, realities.

2.  The Act of Killing,” directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, starring Herman Koto and Anwar Congo

Sociopathic killers from Indonesia decide to make a film re-enacting their slaughters. But some of them, sometimes, choose to play their own victims. One of the oddest and most compelling documentary films in years.

1.  From Up on Poppy Hill,” directed by Goro Miyazaki, starring Masami Nagasawa, Junichi Okada, and Keiko Takashita

Miyazaki, son of the great anime director Hayao Miyazaki, finds his calling with a little help from his father.

“Poppy Hill” is a love story and a story of innocents, but also a tale of a Japan still struggling to figure out what kind of country it can become, and should become, after World War II. (end)

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at

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