SFIAAFF Kick-off and Japanese American film

March 8, 2009

White on Rice

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The cinematic slacker takes center stage in David Boyle's White on Rice, a comedy that follows Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe), a recently divorced Japanese man who mooches off his enabling sister Aiko and harried brother-in-law Tak in the US while trying to find love. His dates are a disaster and understandably so: Jimmy is probably one of the least likable hapless losers you'll see on film, that familiar archetype of the schmuck who thinks he's entitled to dating the Prom Queen. In one scene, he ridicules his date for being too tall even after she tries to strike up a friendly conversation about his life-long fascination with dinosaurs. When Jimmy falls for Tak's niece Ramona, a gorgeous graduate student (played by Saving Face's Lynne Chen) recently reunited with her high school love Tim (played by Heroes' James Kyson Lee), he takes the creepy, sycophantic suitor role to a whole new level.

Sub-plots swirl around Jimmy's pursuit of Ramona, namely the family issues brewing between Tak, Aiko, and their oft-neglected young son Bob. Tak wants JImmy out of the house and wants Aiko's affections re-focused on him. Aiko can't seem to stop taking care of her brother, though we never learn if there's a root cause of the babying nature of their relationship. Meanwhile, Bob has learned to operate independently from his distracted family. Newcomer Justin Kwong conveys the weariness of a child surrounded by idiot adults perfectly and Boyle, also a co-writer, was smart not to add a precocious kid character into the mix.

The struggles of this family aren't particularly new and a lot of familiar plot conventions will be spotted easily. Your dream girl was sitting next to you all along! A missing kid makes us realize we've been neglectful! A medical emergency brings us all together! But the multicultural environment created by director Boyle is refreshing with its mix of Asian and Asian American characters and languages and Caucasian actors taking the quirky bit roles typically reserved for people of color. But with a hammy performance by Watanabe who never quite injects that base amount of humanity or dignity into the character for us to root for him, it's difficult to care if he comes out on top as he vacillates from creepy to pathetic to screwball throughout the film.

Luckily, the rest of the cast has enough charm and comic timing to pull the film along, namely Lynn Chen, James Kyson Lee, and Joy Osmanski who plays the goofy cutie that Jimmy can't seem to appreciate. Despite a pat story line, the humor embedded in the dialogue is pretty sharp and indicates that Boyle has a promising future in comedic film.

Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority

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Kimberlee Bassford's documentary Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority powerfully highlights the contributions and mission of one of the most active American voices for underrepresented people. As the first Congresswoman of color in the United States, Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink worked tirelessly on behalf of women, people of color, and those living in poverty whether she was on the House floor opposing the American war in Vietnam, co-authoring Title XI (recently renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act) which guaranteed equality for women in higher education, or vocally opposing the Patriot Act after 9/11.

Archival footage and photos show Mink though the various stages of her life such as her childhood in Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, her status as a "foreign" student at the University of Nebraska, and her bid to be the first female president of the United States in 1972. The ups and downs of her political career are also emphasized, a true testament to Mink's tenacity to overcome racial and gender discrimination in order to effect change in America. If anything, this film is worth checking out strictly to see the footage of Mink's political speeches; she was a truly gifted orator and an inspiration even after her death in 2002 at the age of 74.

This blog entry is graciously sponsored by Toyota Matrix. Check out their website dedicated to the best in Asian American film.

Toyota Matrix


Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at www.sylvie-kim.com and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.