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VC Filmfest 2007

American Zombie

{mosimage} Grace Lee’s American Zombie, the centerpiece presentation in this 23rd edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (a.k.a. VC Filmfest), is a purported documentary about L.A.’s substantial, if largely closeted, community of the undead. In her translation of the Christopher Guest–ian comedy of manners into bone-nicking Swiftian satire, Lee and posse horn in on the everyday lives of four urban zombies, each of whose virtual normality (pace Andrew Sullivan) is belied by chain-locked refrigerators, tissue decomposition, and sinister shenanigans at a desert “Live Dead” gathering whose countercultural pretensions rival those of Burning Man. As to the actual documentaries at VC Fest, the standout this year looks to be Linda Hattendorf’s The Cats of Mirikitani, whose subject — 80-year-old Japanese-American artist Jimmy Mirikitani, who was robbed of property, family and reputation by the World War II internments — is presented with an opportunity to recover his identity and his pride. The filmmaker, who orchestrated the rescue operation by taking Mirikitani into her Greenwich Village flat, wisely remains on the margins of the picture, which records, over 18 months, the literal unbending of a homeless man so trapped in his wounded isolation that the transformation of his circumstances, his attitude, his art and even his physical posture is nothing short of miraculous. Other mentionable docs include Cambodian-American Socheata Poeuv’s New Year Baby and Vietnamese-American Tien Nguyen’s The Story of Spirits, two “you can/can’t go home again” stories told by children of war-scarred Southeast Asian immigrant parents. While following similar narrative paths and adopting much of the same methodology, both films carry their audiences into territory that seems unfamiliar, even revelatory, by managing to appear at once representative and intensely personal. Dramatic films worth catching include Lee Jun-Ik’s King and the Clown, a transgender tragicomedy of 16th-century Korea that’s like Hamlet as viewed from the perspective of the visiting Players; Negishi Kichitaro’s What the Snow Brings, in which the sumo-esque spectacle of Japanese draft-horse racing is developed into a metaphor for the external and internal struggles of its characters; and Thai writer-director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Invisible Waves, a follow-up to 2003’s Last Life in the Universe so sinister, suggestive and beautifully photographed (by Christopher Doyle, natch) that 15 minutes in, I decided to shut off the DVD player and save it for Monday night on the big screen. (Directors Guild of America and other venues; thru Thurs., May 10. 213-680-4462, Ext. 68, or www.vconline.org.)

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