Asian American Film Festival celebrates diversity
by Molly Templeton
|The First Breath of Tengan Rei
This weekend, the fourth DisOrient Asian American Film Festival takes over the Bijou (or at least part of it). The annual volunteer-run event, which this year will show more than eight feature and 20 short films, is committed to “presenting honest portrayals of the diversity of Asian American experience.” The films range from documentaries (Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority; Manilatown is in the Heart; Vincent Who?) to a lone music video to feature-length narrative films. The festival opens with Children of Invention, which was an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and closes with White On Rice, the story of a 40-year-old man (Hiroshi Watanabe) who’s both newly divorced and taking his own sweet time growing up (the preview for this one is a total charmer, but technical difficulties sadly kept me from watching it).
In between, DisOrient includes I Am That Girl, which is particularly notable for the number of roles — just one onscreen, but several off — taken on by its lead, Grace Rowe, who is also the film’s writer, editor and producer. Rowe stars as Maxine, a seemingly shallow L.A. woman who spends several times her annual salary (at a dead-end job, of course) on drinks and designer clothing. Her life is turned neatly (perhaps a bit too neatly) on its head by nature-loving Noodle (Michael Jaworski), whom she meets when he bursts into a bar bathroom to be sick. Though Noodle doesn’t really seem to think much of Max, he takes her camping in the Sierras, where she reveals some backstory to her gleeful irresponsibility and he, well, he doesn’t reveal much, but he still changes Max’s life completely. Cinematographer Joseph White conjures up lovely images not only of the Sierras, but of the rest of Max’s journey.
Also screening during the festival is The First Breath of Tengan Rei, directed by husband and wife team Ed M. Koziarski and Junko Kajino. Tengan Rei follows its title character (Erika Oda) as she kidnaps a sweet-faced American teenager, Paris (Katori Eason). The kid is the son of a former Marine who was convicted of raping Rei in Okinawa 10 years earlier. Rei is in the U.S. to find something, some kind of closure; it seems as though she wants revenge, but she’s a bit more subtle than that as she drives a wedge of disappointment and anger between Paris and his father, Nelson (Sean Nix). Koziarski and Kajino gradually fill in the story of what happened in the past, setting Rei’s terrible experience against a beautiful day, all sun and sand and bright water. They find beauty, too, in the dingy hotel room to which Rei takes Paris. Rei is a story of forgiveness in multiple directions, and a graceful debut.
The DisOrient Asian American Film Festival takes place April 17-19 at the Bijou, with opening and closing night receptions on the UO campus. For full schedule, see www.disorientfilm.org