Each year, organizers of the San Diego Asian Film Festival pride over their compilations of the short submissions. This year has ten that focuses on certain themes. Here we feature some relating to Japanese culture.


Director Shingo Usami stars in his 2015 film “Riceballs” as Kenji, a Japanese man who must raise his son Josh by himself after his Australian wife passes away. The responsibility becomes more difficult when Josh doesn’t like the riceballs he prepared as the boy’s school lunch. When his family back in Kyoto offers him a job in their business and help from them. Kenji must decide where the next steps for his family will go.

Usami brought a very moving story about how both son and father deal with loss, understanding and identity. During the post-film discussion, Usami spoke how he casted his friend’s child who was half-Japanese and half-English as Josh since he had no children. Though he had no direct experience as a father, he said he conveyed his feelings of being an Asian man living in a different country like his current residence of Australia. He gave a performance with an authentic feel of isolation and ostracization. Josh’s story can be found within other children of mixed races who might have gotten fond of one culture and have yet to understand the other(s). However his situation with the death of his mother makes it such a delicate matter, but Usami wrapped it all up nicely through food, something both kids and adults know and love.

“To & Kyo”

The audience of “Shorts for Shorties” joined in the wild chase around Yanesen, Tokyo in Director Tsuneo Goda’s movie “To & Kyo”. Two tiny creatures who took the appearances of miniature felt Japanese ogres (oni) To and Kyo ran around the neighborhood. As they jumped from place to place, they used a bit of their magic to help out some of the locals. Though it was a very small short film, it featured the quaint beauty of the more suburban part of the Japanese capital. It was a part of the “Piece of Tokyo”, a playful project that mixed the imagination with the Japanese capital. Visit their site to watch “To & Kyo” along with the other two collaborations.

Chromosome Sweetheart

As part of “Shorts: Queers As Us. Not Sad!”, Director Honami Yano’s 5-minute piece showed the feelings of a woman who loved another. It seemed that the creative chose to rotoscope the scenes with two distinct art styles reminiscent to German expressionism and pop art minimalism. The roughness of the expressionist illustrations added to the metaphors presented the emotions including lustful desires and loving affection.

Negative Space

Max Porter from the U.S. and Ru Kuwahata from Japan of Tiny Inventions transformed Ron Koertge’s poem into a visual stop-motion narrative called “Negative Space”. The film, part of the “Shorts: Best of Asian Animation” program, featured a man packing his suitcase and recounting the unique way he and father bonded. Viewers noticed the fine details the duo and their production team put into the animation to the patterns in the clothing to the light texture of snow-covered objects. The attention and effort was necessary for having a delicate and bittersweet story.

“Negative Space” received many accolades including jury awards from the 2017 Budapest Short International Film Festival and recently a Jury’s Special Award from the second New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival in November.

Jazz Abroad

Viewers of the “Shorts: Can You Hear Me Now?” screening learned about one of Japan’s unique jazz band, “G.G” formerly known as “Groovin’ Girls”. Director Yuta Yamaguchi brought together the female trio of drummer Masumi Jones, bassist Noriko Ueda and pianist Takana Miyamoto to recount the journey of the group from formation to around the time they released their album “Ruby Road” in 2015. It was interesting to hear how things fell into place by coincidence including how they all met when studying at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and their reunion after pursuing other works. Music fans will enjoy the film’s soundtrack containing music from “G.G” and watching them tell the process of making it.  

“Floating Light”

Director Natalie Murao brought the audience into a piece of her past through her film “Floating Light”. Two young sisters’ stay at summer camp was cut short by the death of their grandfather. The adults kept them away from the Japanese buddhist ceremony and the two tried to understand what had happen.

Murao wanted to reproduce her experience as a child, focusing on the disconnect between the young and old generation. She filmed it by the Richmond Fishing Villages in Vancouver, BC where she grew up and also used clips from “Cardcaptors Sakura” as one of the shows from the era she watched cartoons along with having scenes of reciprocal motion. “Floating Light” was nominated for “Best Canadian Short” at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and won the “ShortWork Student Award” at the Whistler Film Festival in 2017.

“First to Go: The Story of the Kataoka Family”

Like Director Murao of “Floating Light”, Myles Matsuno took viewers of the “Shorts: Disinherit Me” into his family past but through a documentary about his grandmother Mary who lived at one of the WWII Internment Camps in Utah. She told the story of her father Ichiro Kataoka who helped many Japanese immigrants settle in San Francisco but whom FBI arrested soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Matsuno filled the two-year project with original photos and footage from his family. During the post-film discussion, he mentioned how he “was nervous to approach the subject” but wanted this as something to pass down to the younger generations. It was a film that served as a reminder of racial injustice that still lingers but also the resilience those oppressed have. He also said that he will be donating the film along with possibly making a narrative film based off of his great grandfather Ichiro.

To read more on these films and check out some similar recommendations, visit the San Diego Asian Film Festival’s page containing all their short programs of 2017. Follow Pacific Arts Movement to find out what other events they will be hosting.