Better late, and light, than never

Samsara, above, a 2001 film set in the Himalayas screens Friday at SAMA's Asian Film Festival. Tokyo Godfathers, 2003's popular animated tale of three homeless characters who find a baby, screens on Sunday.

SAMA's Asian Film Festival takes no risks, but it beats a kick in the head

Movie buffs who pay attention to the world of non-English language film can tell you what a lively and diverse array of work is being produced in Asia. Even if the sad state of American film distribution means we rarely get to see these films in theaters, we hear giddy reports from New York friends and world travelers - and increasingly, we see Asia via Hollywood: From the candy-colored influence of Bollywood to the presence of such stars as Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Asia has made a welcome incursion on our shores.

Fortunately for us, San Antonio Museum of Art has its nose pointed East: They've built a new wing devoted to Asian art (scheduled to open in May), and are throwing a micro film festival to spread the word. Five films will be screened over four days, with appropriate culinary treats - from Magic Wok, Lan's Restaurant, India Oven, and Sushi Zushi - preceding each title. (In the case of Sunday's double feature, refreshments will arrive between the films.)

There's only one title on the bill that Current readers are likely to have stumbled across lately: Tokyo Godfathers, the warmhearted anime from 2003 about three homeless characters who find an abandoned baby. If Triplets of Belleville hadn't appeared here around the same time, Godfathers might have been the must-see cartoon of the year.

   2005 Asian Film Festival

Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker
7pm Thu, Feb 17

7pm Fri, Feb 18

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer
7pm Sat, Feb 19

Tokyo Godfathers
4pm Sun, Feb 20

7pm Sun, Feb 20

Free for members;
$10 per day non-members
San Antonio Museum of Art
200 W. Jones

Rounding out the schedule are: China's Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker (1994), a pre-revolutionary melodrama about a young woman who inherits a fireworks factory; Samsara (2001), set in the Himalayas, a philosophical quest movie with a romantic twist; Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002), an Indian film intended to raise consciousness about social injustice; and the Japanese Sharaku (1995), which recreates the Edo period's kabuki world to tell the story of a crippled stuntman who can't quite say goodbye to his old workplace.

Those of us who have done our own exploring may wish for a more adventurous program. It's understandable that SAMA is skirting the martial arts, as locals have plenty of opportunities to see those films, but have we really already seen enough of the psychedelic musical epics of Bollywood? What better opportunity than this to run a three-hour singing-and-dancing freakout? Also consider South Korea, a small nation that for many cinephiles is the place to to keep an eye on; the celluloid visions percolating there right now refuse to blend in with the international film crowd. But one suspects that the incredibly violent spectacle of, say, cult favorite Oldboy (which may actually get decent distribution stateside) might not go over well with the well-heeled crowd that tends to pay for new wings at art museums.

The unfortunate and counterintuitive fact - long suspected, and voiced in a recent Current interview with art/film crossover figure John Waters `see "Rated pernicious," November 24-30, 2004` - is that the art world's denizens, even those on the cutting edge, are rarely very hip when it comes to the cinema. So we shouldn't be surprised that 40 percent of this fest's films are a decade old, or that rising stars such as China's Hsiao-hsien Hou didn't make the cut. Instead, we should show up at events like these in numbers outstripping the museum's more staid patrons, letting organizers know that, while we're happy for a chance to see these titles that Blockbuster's never heard of, we're also eager to dig as deep into world cinema as programmers' budgets can take us.

By John DeFore

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