Lodestone Theatre's first musical production revamps 1885's controversial opera, The Mikado, and celebrates Asian American theatre with dose of politics and sweet harmony.
Spring is festival season here in Los Angeles, especially for fans of Asian and Asian American cinema. But rare is the new festival that combines innovative programming with a love for contemporary world cinema.
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"Memory Arcade" offers a staggering variety of ways to examine and interpret the perception of memory.
Nine different directors are brought together in SFIAAFF's short film program "Memory Arcade." Each short ruminates on memory and how it affects us emotionally. The characters and subjects in each short are all profoundly affected and shaped by their memories, which are presented differently in each short. From photographs to answer machine tapes and even a radio station, the collection successfully shows that memory exists in nearly every aspect of our lives.
The first piece, Recollection, features an elderly Korean man in declining health reminiscing over old photographs and letters. Confined entirely in his room, he speaks directly to the camera as if he were addressing an unseen person. Each monologue sequence is framed like a portrait, as the old man reflects on his childhood and his deceased wife. The short is the least visually flashy of the bunch, relying on the old man's wistful storytelling and the sympathy we feel for his declining condition. However, it does employ some visual subtlety, like how his room progressively becomes emptier as he grows more ill. Despite its short length and simplicity, Recollection's regretful, melancholic theme does a great job establishing the tone for the rest of the collection.
Silence is about a young ABC reflecting on his attempt to bridge the language gap between him and his parents as their family fell apart. The short adopts a straightforward narrative that follows him as he takes the train to see his father. Narrated in Mandarin, the young man poignantly describes his estrangement from his family as he studies Chinese in hopes of reaching an understanding with his father. The moody shots of him studying and riding on the train alone impart a sense of monotony and regret. Out of the all the shorts, Silence is the most conventional, but still provides an effectively engaging glimpse in the young man's plight.
Pierre-Pierrot is a non-fictional, two-part home video exchange between twin Laotian brothers separated during the Vietnam War. Each brother -- Pierre in Vietnam and Pierrot in France -- attempts to reconcile their decades-long separation through interviews and footage of their current lives. Pierrot's segment provides a glimpse into their backwater village's day-to-day activities. He encourages Pierre to visit and reminds him to never forget his origins. Pierre's half conversely takes place in a contemporary urban setting, observing how the Laotian war refugees' lives have turned out. Although they continue the Laotian traditions, the refugees all agree that it would be difficult to return after becoming acclimated to France. Out of all the shorts, Pierre-Pierrot is the lengthiest and most emotionally touching. Although their lives have clearly moved in different directions, their videos reveal the unspoken pain of separation they both endured. Their inability to reunite despite their feelings is the true tragedy.
The Nothing Pill takes place in a distant, decaying future, featuring a female scientist researching a cure for loneliness in an attempt to cope with painful memories. The short adopts a science fiction aesthetic, with an unsettling color scheme that reflects the desperate, delusional tone. Lingering shots of an empty cradle and ghostly apparitions of her parents effectively create an eerie sensation of despair. Unlike the other characters in the collection, the scientist overtly expresses her anguish. The vague narrative and abrupt cuts make the short a little difficult to follow, but it succeeds in conveying the sense that memories can be painful.
Crossfade features black and white footage of an insomniac woman wandering through a vacant radio station. The station is a metaphor for memory, as brief shots of a beach is interspersed between each dream-like sequence. The black and white footage creates a sense of nostalgia, reflecting the girl's search for an important memory. The empty radio station imbues a sense of isolation as she searches through each room. Although beautifully executed, the dream-like quality and lack of a narrative altogether makes this the most abstract and vague short in "Memory Arcade."
Dan Carter is the most humorous short, with a sometimes jarring story presented through answering machine massages and director Alison Kobayashi irreverently acting out each character. Her garish performance of each character, man, woman, or child, is punctuated by the sheer number of costumes and make up she puts on. Beneath the silly nature of Kobayashi's one woman show is a disjointed narrative about a love affair and a crumbling marriage. The absurdly humorous reenactments contrast with the very serious and emotional tone of the recordings. The constant and random jumps makes it difficult to follow at times, but the liveliness of Kobayashi's performance makes this the most entertaining short by far.
24 Frames Per Second offers an unconventional presentation of an Indian woman's encounter with cultural stereotyping and identity through an audio recording and time-lapse footage of a door. Most of the audio focuses on a conversation between her and a taxi driver, who asks if she is an "Indian with a feather or an Indian with a dot." This short was the most lacking -- visually and in substance -- of the collection. Without a clear sense of how memory plays a role in the short, it fails to connect to the viewer. The time-lapse footage of the door alludes to the passage of time, but doesn't offer much else to a mostly dull recording of random conversation and ambient sound.
Dream of Me is similarly atypical, with a narrative told through telephone recordings and scrolling newspaper archives, symbolizing the director A. Moon's search for information about her deceased, half-Korean sister. The second half of the short is presented visually through a video recording of her sister, as the telephone recording continues as the voiceover. Although the scrolling newspaper archive footage is a clever complement to the various recordings, the second half thankfully breaks the monotony with a much more personal glimpse of her sister ice skating. The transition from the bland archive to the home video creates an emotional payoff that is both gratifying and a little regretful at the same time.
The collection concludes perfectly with The Chestnut Tree, a simple, but effectively touching cartoon about a young woman who dreams about playing beneath a chestnut tree with her deceased mother. The lightheartedly whimsical nature of the cartoon lends a storybook quality that doesn't require any spoken words to convey the young woman's sentiments. The short nostalgically appeals to the viewer's inner child, with all the imaginatively fun transformations the characters undergo. Since the characters do not speak, the simple, tender music plays an important role in establishing the tone. Keeping in line with the other shorts, by the time the dream is over, a sense of slight sorrow and wistfulness lingers.
Date Posted: 4/4/2008