Japanese, JA-Themed Films at CAAMFest

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SAN FRANCISCO – The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) is launching CAAMFest, formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, an 11-day celebration (March 14-24) of film, music, food and digital media from the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.

Through live events, multimedia performances, and expanded ventures into the music and culinary worlds, CAAM has embraced new forms of artistic expression with the spirit of curiosity and adventure. Always pushing new ideas for creative ways to experience media, CAAM continues to stretch the concept and breadth of its festival in 2013.

San Francisco venues include: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St.; New People Cinema, 1746 Post St.; Great Star Theater, 636 Jackson St.; Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St.; Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post St.

In Berkeley, screenings will be held at the Pacific Film Archive Theater, 2575 Bancroft Way.

As always, the festival includes works by and/or about Japanese and Japanese Americans. This year’s offerings include the following.

“Astro Boy”

• “Astro Boy” (USA, 2009, 94 mins.), Friday, March 22, at 5:30 p.m. at New People. Director: David Bowers. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Charlize Theron, Freddie Highmore.

Astro Boy is a young robot with incredible powers, created by a genius scientist who dreams of replacing his dead son. In a Metropolis-like futuristic city, our young hero embarks on a journey to find his place in the world, ultimately mastering his powers to protect those he loves from alien intruders. Beautifully crafted and smartly written, this adaptation of the famous manga is filled with a deep love and a fan’s appreciation.

Starting as a Japanese manga by Osamu Tezuka in 1952, “Astro Boy” was the first anime officially released in America. CAAMFest’s “Astro Boy” spotlight will be an all-inclusive event featuring rare TV episodes, classic manga, and video games in addition to the film. Also sponsored by The Japan Foundation, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, and Walt Disney Museum.

• “Dead Dad” (USA, 2012, 82 mins.), Tuesday, March 19, at 6:15 p.m. at the Kabuki; Sunday, March 24, at 12:30 p.m. at New People. Director: Ken J. Adachi. Cast: Kyle Arrington, Jenni Melear, Lucas K. Peterson, Allyn Rachel.

“Dead Dad” director Ken J. Adachi

“Dad, you were weak, and kind of a shithead,” begins a son’s impromptu living-room eulogy to his dead father. “Now you’re a box of ashes, that, uh, also doubles as a coaster.” Wholly original, Adachi’s spirited family drama follows three adult children reunited by their father’s unexpected death, and the slow, faltering steps they take to become a family again.

Tall and calm but a bit off the beat, drummer Russell Sawtelle (Arrington) stayed near home to care for his ailing father, and now must organize his funeral. Having left town years ago, his more organized adopted brother Alex (Peterson) and even-more-scattered little sister Jane (Melear) return for the ceremonies, and soon the threesome are back in childhood mode, goofing off and laughing, then fighting over what to do next. Meanwhile, their father’s ashes still wait in the living room, in a cookie jar converted into a half-assed urn.

• “The Land of Hope” (Japan, 2012, 133 mins.), Saturday, March 16, at 9:40 p.m. at the Kabuki; Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m. at PFA. Director/writer: Sion Sono.

“The Land of Hope”

“This is an invisible war. Invisible bullets and missiles are around us!” shouts a survivor in “The Land of Hope,” Japan’s first narrative feature inspired by the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Set in the fictional prefecture of Nagashima, the film dramatizes the effect of an eerily similar catastrophe on a small farming town. Two families whose homes fall on opposite sides of the evacuation border must confront hard choices about whether to leave, and whose orders to follow.

The elderly Onos have deep reasons for not wanting to abandon their dairy farm, while their son Yoichi and his wife Izumi fear the insidious effects of radiation on Izumi’s pregnancy. Meanwhile, the Suzukis’ son helps his girlfriend search for her parents in a devastated landscape.

• “Memories to Light: Asian American Home Movies,” Sunday, March 24, at 5 p.m. at New People. This special presentation marks the official public launch of CAAM’s new home movies initiative. Viewers will gather under one roof, as families do, to watch a special selection, presented by acclaimed filmmaker Mark Decena, from home movies that CAAM has collected thus far.

“Memories to Light”

In “The War Inside,” Decena will explore the historically hostile Japanese-Filipino relations, born from parents of both cultures. Marched early on into the mixed-race blender of Asian America, armed with 8mm cameras, his stories amidst the growing collection of the archive manifest the collective memories of the Asian American experience.

Through this project, CAAM hopes to digitize film (8mm, Super-8, and 16mm) and provide an online streaming collection accessible through the Internet Archives, caamedia.org, and a series of public screenings. “Memories to Light” is supported by grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and Cal Humanities.

Short Films

• “No Longer There” (Japan, 2012, 23 mins.), part of the “On Bodies” shorts program, Saturday, March 16, at 3 p.m. at the Kabuki; Tuesday, March 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Kabuki. Director: Nobuyuki Miyake.

“Tule Lake”

Visible both when our bodies are alive and dead, teeth transcend the show-and-tell of time. Here, a young man experiences emotional connection in his fantasy life as he is tasked with creating dentures for a young woman.

• “Tule Lake” (USA, 2012, 7 mins.), part of the “On Bodies” shorts program, Satruday, March 16, at 3 p.m. at the Kabuki; Tuesday, March 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Kabuki. Director: Michelle Ikemoto.

A mother’s unyielding love is tested during the cold of night in this stunning animation about perseverance.

• “Persimmon” (Japan, 2012, 20 mins.), part of the “Emotional Eaters” shorts program, Friday, March 15, at 5 p.m. at the Kabuki; Saturday, March 23, at 2:30 p.m. at New People. Director: Dean Yamada.

In this meditative and poetic short, Tamotsu is faced with two unexpectedly difficult problems: an elderly man who won’t eat, and a persimmon that won’t dry. Through his interactions with a tableau of seemingly disparate characters, Tamotsu is faced with the meaning of death and life, and the process of letting go.

• “Craftsman” (USA, 2012, 2 mins.), part of the “Emotional Eaters” shorts program, Friday, March 15, at 2 p.m. at the Kabuki; Saturday, March 23, at 2:30 p.m. at New People. Director: Jesse Flower-Ambroch.

This precise piece captures the waning days of Japanese knife sharpening, as seen through the work of Master Chiharu Sugai.

• “Got a Job!” (USA, 2012, 2 mins.), part of the “One on One” shorts program, Friday, March 15, at 9:15 p.m. at the Kabuki; Thursday, March 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the Kabuki. Director: Chickie Otani.

Otani returns with a hilarious short about two elderly friends who work at a fortune cookie factory.

Festival Highlights

The festival’s numerous special programs include the following:

• San Francisco premiere of “Linsanity,” directed by San Francisco native Evan Jackson Leong, which captures the man and the cultural phenomenon that took over the NBA nation in February of 2012: basketball sensation Jeremy Lin. Straight out of its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival, “Linsanity” gives the audience courtside seats to Lin’s sudden rise, masterfully capturing the energy and frenzy that swept up this Palo Alto baller through a trove of home movies, jaw-dropping game footage and intimate interviews with family members. This is the first documentary to open the festival in over a decade. The evening continues with the Opening Night Gala at the Asian Art Museum with Leong in attendance.

• Following a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and a gala presentation spotlight at Vancouver International Film Festival, CAAM brings “Midnight’s Children” to the Bay Area for its San Francisco premiere. Based on the celebrated 1981 novel by Salman Rushdie, it tells the tale of two boys born into opposite classes of wealth and poverty, switched at birth on the day India became an independent nation. Acclaimed director Deepa Mehta’s films are known for their bold, outspoken approach on issues of intolerance and prejudice, often evoking thoughts of cultural practices that both divide and unite us. No stranger to the CAAM family, she has screened three of her previous films at the festival: “Fire” (1997), “Water” (2006) and “Cooking With Stella” (2010).

“Nice Girls Crew 2”

• At the School of Good and Evil, ordinary boys and girls are trained to become either extraordinary fairy tale heroes or nefarious villains. Join Soman Chainani, emerging screenwriter, graduate of the MFA Film Program at Columbia University and CAAM fellowship alumnus, as he reads from the first book in his “The School for Good and Evil” series.

• They’re back! After a sizzling debut in 2012, Sheetal Sheth, Lynn Chen and Michelle Krusiec return in “Nice Girls Crew 2,” a CAAM-produced web comedy about three best frenemies and their crazy antics in a book club. For Season 2, Leonardo Nam (“The Perfect Score,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”), Parvesh Cheena (“Outsourced”) and the iconic Tsai Chin (“Joy Luck Club”) join the cast.

Royston Tan Retrospective. Tan is a nuisance, a thorn in the side of the body politic. At the just-legal age of 21, he began issuing forth a torrent of provocative films, such as “15” (2002), that inspired admiration from the critics and condemnation from the censors in his native Singapore. CAAMFest brings a selection of Tan’s most daring works and will also feature a post-screening conversation between experimental media artist Valerie Soe and Tan himself at the PFA.

“The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven 3D”

“The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven 3D.” Composed of flowing animation created by hand from over 130,000 ink drawings and an opulent soundtrack inspired by the Beijing Opera, the film follows the adventures of the magical Monkey King of Flower Fruit Mountain. Based on the classic Chinese story “Journey to the West,” the original film was made at the height of the country’s golden period of animation. Released mere months before the entire film industry was shut down by the Cultural Revolution, it is a stunning work of animation and mythological storytelling, far surpassing anything China has produced before or since.

“Let’s Play Music! Slack Key with Cyril Pahinui & Friends.” Pahinui is universally recognized as the master of the slack-key (or open-tuned) guitar. This intimate documentary follows him, his friends and family as they play music, “talk story” and reminisce about his trend-setting father, Gabby Pahinui, one of the islands’ true recording legends. (With short “Lina‘La‘ Lusong.”)

“E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name.” There are some things in this world that we can’t escape, ghosts that yearn to come out and be heard. Honoring the places and people that we fight to recall from a muddled past, this heartbreakingly rich documentary of identity, family and memory ostensibly tells of a Hawaiian woman’s search for the meaning of her lengthy Hawaiian name, as given to her by her schizophrenic mother. (With short “Piko.”)

“Memory of Forgotten War.” As the launching point for CAAMFest’s “Tides on the Korean War,” this film follows the stories of four Korean Americans who witnessed first-hand the Korean War’s devastation and aftermath. Following the screening, a panel of distinguished academics, artists and community leaders will engage in a candid conversation about the highly polarizing social and political issues surrounding that war.

• This year’s Narrative Competition highlights six distinctive films: Ron Morales’ “Graceland,” a twisty underground thriller set in Manila’s seedy underbelly; “Sunset Stories,” directed by Ernesto Foronda and Silas Howard, a love letter to Los Angeles in the form of a mini-road movie featuring Sung Kang (“Fast & the Furious”); Lee Isaac Chung’s “Abigail Harm,” a Korean folk tale come to life in New York; Ernie Park’s “Late Summer,” an Ozu-inspired film set in the Black South; Nadine Troung’s “Someone I Used to Know,” a story about losing our way and finding our friends featuring Brian Yang (“Saving Face,” “Hawaii Five-0”), Rex Lee (“Entourage”) and Eddie Mui (“Gone in Sixty Seconds”); and Ken J. Adachi’s “Dead Dad” (see description above).

• The Documentary Competition features five films from CAAM’s Media Fund program: Steven Maing’s “High Tech, Low Life,” an exploration of China’s digital divide and rise of its netizen culture; Marlo Poras’ “The Mosuo Sisters,” a poignant account of Beijing’s dwindling economy and its impact on the lives of two sisters; Debbie Lum’s “Seeking Asian Female,” a highly intimate documentary about an unconventional relationship; Hein S. Seok’s “Seeking Haven,” a daring reveal of the often overlooked story of North Korean defectors; and Jason DaSilva’s “When I Walk,” the point-of-view telling of a filmmaker with multiple sclerosis.

The other documentaries are Benito Bautista’s “Harana,” a cinematic serenade to the abandoned art of harana; Mona Lisa Yuchengco’s “Marilou Diaz-Abaya: Filmmaker on a Voyage,” a fascinating portrait of the first lady of Philippine cinema; and Alicia Dwyer’s “Xmas Without China,” a challenge to the media hype surrounding China-made goods.

Excluding special events, panels, galas and special screenings, advance general admission tickets are $12. Students, seniors (65+) and disabled adults are $11 (limit 1 per program with ID only). Tickets for CAAM members are $10 (limit two per program per ID). There is a $1.50 service charge for all tickets purchased online.

Tickets can now be purchased online at www.caamedia.org and in person at the CAAMFest box office at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas starting Thursday, Feb. 28.

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