I’m going to let you in on the best kept secret in pop culture: there is a place that makes films and TV series reflective of our daily lives, but with none of the “punch up” of drama or the exaggeration of sitcoms. Next time you are looking for something new and different to watch, an Asian film or TV series is a great bet.
There are numerous areas of Asian films: Korean, Japanese live action and anime, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Mainland China–all with rich and unique traditions and styles. They all share a tendency to make more films and television shows about daily life as it is than any other medium save literary novels.
It’s an intimidating field to try to navigate, and there are still many quality productions not in translation, but with streaming and home video, this avenue is more available than ever before. The library has a great selection in these areas and I hope here to provide some welcoming starting points or entertainment for just one night when you are looking for a break from your usual preferred watching!
A frequent critic pick for best movies of the 21st century, In The Mood For Love offers a look at two individuals who live in the same apartment block, their spouses are having an affair and they are attracted enough to each other to consider having one themselves. This simmers at the back of their minds as they go to work and eat dinner, unsure of how they’d feel about themselves should they decide to do what they want, until finally a choice is made. A real slow burner, like a mystery that only comes together when you have the full puzzle.
Another one on a lot of critic’s best of the 21st century lists is Yi Yi. This film steeps itself in the minutiae of life: caring for sick relatives, trying to learn a new skill at school, but blossoms to an epic due to the number of character story-lines in the film. It’s breathtaking to learn about a whole family instead of just a few members. The beating heart is a middle class family of four, it’s a difficult year for them that begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral, and each of them deal with the events in a different way. This film is a rare beast, about daily life, but breathlessly exciting, almost like a thriller.
A Korean film, The Way Home is perhaps the smallest scale film on this list, dealing with only two characters for almost the entire story. A grandson stays with the grandmother he has never met for one summer. He has a real chip on his shoulder and while his grandma does her best to accommodate him, he isn’t sure he wants to make any effort to see past her being mute and living far away from any technology. If you are looking for a movie that will leave you grinning ear to ear, here it is.
Japan provides us with Like Father, Like Son, an excellent introduction to acclaimed director Hirokazu Koreeda. An upper-class couple discover their young son was switched at birth with a working-class couple’s child. The father has a distant relationship with his son, so he’s determined to “switch” the children back to the birth families… permanently. This one is a real tear-jerker.
Anime helps round out our list with In This Corner of the World, a drama that depicts daily life during World War II for one woman who has recently entered into an arranged marriage and moved to a town right by Hiroshima. The film is full of researched details about life at this time and features a strong emphasis on the different bonds between people. Looking for an inspirational watch about staying true to yourself in the face of hardship? This is the one.
We also have some excellent books that can help you navigate these unique cinematic traditions beyond just the slice of life genre: Once Upon a Time in China, and Contemporary Japanese Film being the most aimed at those unfamiliar with Asian film and featuring the widest variety.
Happy viewing and a very happy everyday life to you!