When Karen On first launched in 2010, I had the opportunity to review a few films from the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Two years later, I am now interning for the same festival and am excited to share with you some of the amazing films that are part of this year’s milestone (30th season!) lineup. To find out more about what’s playing and what other events and programs are in store, check out SFIAAFF30 at CAAMedia.org!
As the first-year anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan approaches, the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival will pay remembrance to the victims and survivors through commemorative programs. Part of these efforts include the San Francisco premiere of the stirring documentary short The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.
A 2012 Academy Award nominee in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom examines the duality of Mother Nature—at her most cataclysmic and at her most precious—and her overwhelming power on humans. The film has a winning team in the creation of it, directed by Lucy Walker (Nominated for an Academy Award last year for her documentary feature Waste Land), cinematography by Aaron Phillips, and includes a hypnotic and worldly score composed by Moby. The visuals and sounds, standing as separate elements and combined, are of the most striking caliber. However, most compelling are the first-hand accounts delivered from the people who lived through the disaster. The heart of the film is a genuine showcase of emotion and bravery and a somber yet hopeful celebration of the human spirit through unimaginable hardship.
The film opens with chilling amateur footage of the tsunami viciously sweeping all in its path, as the people behind the camera panic and beg out loud in anguish, “Please don’t destroy our town!” It is a harrowing scene to witness, and extremely difficult for viewers to be devoid of any emotion. That is also true for the rest of the film: Cross-cut between more footage of the devastation and afterward are quotes and lengthier interviews from survivors, recounting their feelings and thoughts at the moment they experienced the unthinkable. One old man breaks down in tears as he speaks of the final time he saw his oldest friend.
However, somewhere halfway through the film, the tones of sadness and mourning flows into and blends with ones of beauty and rebuilding, as the survivors begin to reflect on the bloom of the sakura—the cherry blossom. Already an important symbol for the Japanese, the cherry blossom is even more substantial in a trying time. Most see a strength of character in the cherry blossom, of who they are, who their people are, and what they will become. Even when they are weathered away and they fall, they are still beautiful, and they will come back to full form again. Mixed with the ethereal visuals of these stunning blooms, the elegant words from the documentary subjects—comparing the most extreme ends of nature and relating them to life and their outlooks—truly makes The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom a moving poem told effortlessly and honestly through the film medium, and an unforgettable portrait illustrating unity and resilience.
‘The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom’ is playing as part of the CinemAsia category at SFIAAFF30, showcasing the best feature films coming out of Asia over the past year. Click here for tickets and showtimes.