Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival | Manori’s Picks

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In its fifteenth year, Canada’s largest Asian film festival, Reel Asian, continues to be one of Toronto’s pre-eminent fall festivals. Showcasing works from the Asian diaspora, the festival presents films and videos from East and Southeast Asian artists the world over. This year’s events run from Nov. 8 to 13 in Toronto, with additional screenings on Nov. 18 and 19 in Richmond Hill.

SURROGATE VALENTINE

Dir. Dave Boyle | USA 2011 | Goh Nakamura, Lynn Chen, Chadd Stoops

FEATURE PRESENTATION | SUN NOV 13 | 3:00 PM | THE ROYAL

Dave Boyle’s quietly endearing Surrogate Valentine is something of a love letter to nomadic musicians. Filmed in black and white, the White on Rice director’s third feature follows musician Goh Nakamura, playing himself, as he tours the West Coast. Hired to teach TV actor Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops) the basics of being a musician (i.e. knowing how to play an instrument), the unlikely pair sets off on an auspicious roadtrip.

Interestingly, Turner and Nakamura aren’t the most likeable characters; in fact, it’s hard to say if they even like each other all that much. While the former is a hyperactive man-child struggling to hang on to a fading television career, the pensive Nakamura keeps his guard up from both Turner and his fans. Worst of all, he’s stuck in the friend zone with the one woman he has real feelings for.

Surrogate Valentine isn’t the slapdash romantic comedy most of us are used to. Quiet and thoughtful, like its lead, Boyle says a lot with the bare minimum.

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TRAILBLAZERS

Shorts Presentation | WED NOV 9 | 8:45 PM | INNIS TOWN HALL

A 75-year-old grandfather stars in adult films. Two women are chased by a Pink Paper Bag Man. The wildest drummer you’ve ever seen. These are the stars of Trailblazers, a shorts presentation and toast to seniors going against the grain of what’s expected of us as we age.

The five short films included in the program –Totte Mitsu and Let’s Go To Russia, Satoru Yasuda’s Granny’s Rock, Chihiro Amemiya’s Grandpa’s Wet Dream, Mingu Kim’s A Drummer’s Passion and Shasha Nakhai’s The Sugar Bowl – may be united by elderly subjects, but each one is zanier than the next.

The truly bizarre Totte Mitsu and Let’s Go To Russia sees two old friends staging a camera theft and being chased by a mysterious Pink Paper Bag Man. Director Brian Lye explains his “spontaneous” film in a post-script: “These two films are about the love and energy of spontaneous creativity.” Riddled with electronic sounds whirring about in the background as two women race around a park play-fighting, the short, like many of the films in the program, forces us to question our own perceptions of elders as solemn, quiet and often physically inactive in cinema.

What may be the strongest entry in the Trailblazers program, however, is Chihiro’s Amemiya’s Grandpa’s Wet Dream. A provocative title secures the fate of this film about 75-year-old Shigeo Tokuda who has been acting in adult films for 15 years without telling his family. The juxtaposition of an elderly Japanese man pacing the aisles of a porn palace, and later acting in a film himself is jarring, if not a little unsettling. But Tokuda’s determination to leave his mark on the world challenges any discomfort with his pastime, and endears us towards the man.

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