Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023


Table of Contents

For the second year in a row, the Heroic Purgatory podcast is covering the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) which took place between March 10 and March 19. As usual, the podcast will present John's and Jason's favorite films of OAFF 2023 (in addition to a general overview of the festival). Additional, this page includes short written reviews by John of all the OAFF movies he managed to see. 


Top 5 films of the Hosts

List of films shown on the 2023 Osaka Asian Film Festival

Jason's top 5:

  • Hong Kong Family / The Narrow Road
  • Sekai
  • The Burden of the Past
  • December 
  • New Religion /  Swallow Flying to the South

John's top 5:

  • You Are Still There After the Rain
  • Day Off
  • Like & Share
  • Daddy-to-be   
  • A Room of my Own


  • VCinema closure

    • John’s reviews will be archived in heroic-purgatory. 

  • OSCARs: Everything Everywhere All at Once (Big Winner: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor & Actress, Best Screenplay, etc…)

  • Asian Film Awards: 

    • Best Film: Drive My Car

    • Best Director: Hirokazu Koreeda (Broker)

    • Best Actor: Tony Leung (Where the Wind Blows)

    • Best Actress: Tang Wei (Decision to Leave)

    • Best Screenplay: Park Chan-wook (Decision to leave)

    • Lifetime Achievement Award: Sammo Hung

  • Hong Kong Film Awards nominations

    • Ceremony on April 16

    • “The Sparring Partner” leads nominations (16)

    • Some overlap with OAFF (The Narrow Road, Sunny Side of the Street) 

  • Japan Film Festival + 6 new films ready to stream:

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto has passed away


This page will be updated as more reviews are added. 

Day Off (Taiwan, 2023)

Runtime: 107 min
Director: Fu Tien-Yu
Starring: LU Hsiao-fen, FU Meng-po, SHIH Ming-shuai, Annie CHEN, FANG Chih-yu 
Winner of the Yakushi Pearl Award for Lead Actor Lu Hsiao-fen and the Audience Award.

A-rui is a veteran hairdresser (played by veteran actress Lu Hsiao-fen) who takes great pride in her work. She has turned her profession into a daily ritual, almost a religion, and it has become the greatest source of meaning in her life. But time is no one's friend, and in her old age A-rui begins to ruminate over the past and the life paths her children have taken. One day, she decides to take a day off to give a haircut to one of her old regulars who lives in a far away village.

One could interpret "Day Off" as a tragedy, with A-rui slowing surrendering to the inevitable passage of time and the loss of any control over her children. The phrase "time really flies" is uttered many times throughout the movie, always with deep melancholy. However, one can't help but appreciate the way A-rui finds meaning and solace in her hairdressing (an otherwise "banal" activity), greatly amplified by Lu Hsiao-fen's fantastic performance in the film. In her hands, the scissors appear as an extension of her acting repertoire as the character has chosen to view every facet of her life through the lens of her profession. There's a poetic delight to her performance that inevitably mesmerizes the viewer. Perhaps to the film's detriment, none of the other characters (or actors) are as interesting, but that speaks primarily to the strength of the lead who justly won the Yakushi Pearl Award in the festival. 

The director makes an interesting choice to present parts of the film non-linearly without any obvious indications of the time cuts. In principle it is a technique that underscores the passage of time, a core theme of the film, but in practice it leads to a quite a bit of confusion, especially early in the film. It's a minor gripe, but a noticeable one nevertheless. Otherwise "Day Off" was one of the highlights of the festival, a beautiful meditation on the twilight of one generation and the dawn of another, all encompassed within an expertly told, bittersweet family drama.

Hong Kong Family (Hong Kong, 2022)

Runtime: 112 min
Director: TSANG Hing Weng Eric
Starring: Teresa MO, TSE Kwan Ho, Edan LUI, Hedwig TAM, Angela YUEN

Ling (Teresa Mo) is driving with her family to her mother's house for a celebration of the Winter Solstice festival. Something is clearly out of balance. What start as a tense family situation escalates quickly into shouting matches and threats of violence. Cut to eight years later, the family is still in shambles. Ling and her husband (Tse Kwan-ho) sleep separately and barely talk to each other. Their son, Yeung (Edan Lui), has ran away from home. Their daughter, Ki (Hedwig Tam) has moved back home after her divorce, but can't wait to leave again. One day, they arrival of their cousin Joy (Angela Yuen) forces them to reconsider their chaotic predicament.

"Hong Kong Family" is a compelling drama of a dysfunctional family that seemingly knows no other way to live. The characters are deeply broken in a way that no single family dinner can fix. And to the film's credit, it doesn't. It just provides a brief respite for the characters to gather their thoughts and take a break from their regrets. Most likely, these people will continue on their separate ways, but at least it's good to know they can put all that aside for a single night. I'm not entirely sure what exactly makes the titular family a "Hong Kong" family, though thankfully that is not the original title. 

Sadly, not all subplots in the film stand on their own. Ki's brief relationship with the Malaysian backpacker feels out of place with the rest of the film. Similarly, Yeung's exploits in video game design are just a tad over-the-top, considering they are mostly used as a placeholder for his loneliness. Nevertheless, there's enough heart in the family drama to keep the audience compelled. Mo's and Tse's performances are especially superb, keeping the core of the drama always on focus.

Swallow Flying to the South (USA/Canada/China 2022)

Runtime: 17 min
Director: Mochi Lin
Winner of the Housen Short Film Award.

In "Swallow Flying to the South," director Mochi Lin has composed a wonderfully evocative stop-motion animated film to honor the memory of her mother. Set near the end of the cultural revolution, it depicts the life of 5-year old Swallow as she survives the harsh reality of her near-militaristic pre-school in the big city. Relying on colorful (yet somehow still bleak) sets and distinctive sound design, Lin's film is able to successfully bring cutout drawings to life, in a way that no actor or live-action cameraman ever could. The dark and claustrophobic surroundings of little Swallow convey with an almost sinister perfection the authoritative setting of the time, the purpose of which was to erase the individual in favor of a supposed collective "good."

Watching this film reminded me of stories from my parent's generation who grew up in a similar totalitarian communist state. Lin's choice of art style, other than brilliantly economical and convenient (she produced it almost single-handedly), helped evoke a sense of absurd surrealism that my parents often spoke about. While Mao's era may be gone -- accompanied by a wave of public tears, not too different from the more recent showings of North Koreans crying at the death of Kim Jong-il -- the warning that it represents is by far not over. It is a scary to think how easily we can all succumb to mass delusion. Let's hope that Swallow will never have to relive the same experience ever again


When Morning Comes, I Feel Empty (Japan 2022)

Runtime: 76 min
Director: Yuho Ishibashi
Starring: KARATA Erika, IMOU Haruka, ISHIBASHI Kazuma, ABE Oto, NAKAYAMA Yuto, YASHIBA Toshihiro

Nozomi (Erika Karata) is a content 24-year-old convenience store clerk with a bothersome past eating away at her. She is reluctant to open up to anyone, especially her parents who still think she works at a prestigious ad agency. A chance encounter with an old classmate encourages to explore her pent-up feelings of regret and inadequacy. 

Ishibashi's crisp 76-minute drama is a reflection on the state of the modern workforce and the pressure that many young (and perhaps old) white-collar professionals in Japan are experiencing. To the film's detriment, it takes a while to get to the point since for more than half of the runtime we see Nozomi have what appears to be a normal life. Nevertheless, there's an intimate naturalism about the Nozomi's daily interactions with her friend and coworkers that brings focus to the main character's internal struggle. It is subtle, low-key, and without much funfair, reflecting Nozomi's quiet personality. Karata's subdued performance goes a long way in forging a fully-form character in an otherwise constricted plot. Her struggle is not one that everyone will necessarily identify with, but it is certain that all of us have experienced similar pressures once or twice.

You Are Still There After the Rain (Japan 2022)

Runtime: 60 min
Director: Pan Junhua
Starring: SHIMIZU Kurumi, KAWAMOTO Miyuki, KAMEYA Takaya, KIRA Yukika, SHIMOMURA Ryosuke

Erina (Kurumi Shimizu) is a lonely young girl who spends the majority of her days painting, talking to her stuffed animals and the ants in her front yard, and often contemplating loneliness in made-up stories. Except for the occasional meal with her overworked father, she seems to care for nothing other than the pastel-colored world of her drawings. When an outspoken older woman approaches her doorstep, an unlikely friendship begins that brings Erina out of her emotional shell. 

Whether it be the even-tempered line deliveries, the dead stares into the distance, or the Beckettian dialogue, there's something otherworldly about the way that director Junhua Pan has chosen to shoot his film. With an almost matter-of-fact resignation about the perpetual sameness of their daily routines, the two characters explore their loneliness and pain in a deep yet understated manner. While there were some amateurish inconsistencies in the film's cinematography (blown highlights in certain scenes, etc.), I absolutely loved the pastel color-palette in which this small coastal town was shot. It helps bridge the gap between the real world setting and the rich world of paintings that Erina seems to have created. It also helps underscore her loneliness and isolation, as punctuated when her father is surprised by her painting skills. 

"You Are Still There After the Rain" is story of both friendship and self-discovery in the face of crushing ennui. The conclusion is ambiguous, but the time spent with the characters is rewarding. 

Like & Share (Indonesia 2022)

Runtime: 112 min
Director: Gina S. Noer 
Starring: Aurora RIBERO, Arawinda KIRANA, Aulia SARAH, Jerome KURNIA, Kevin JULIO

Lisa (Aurora Ribero) and Sarah (Arawinda Kirana) are two high-school students from Jakarta yearning to escape the conservative world around them. Together, they have started a food ASMR YouTube channel which they hope will lead them to fame, success, and independence. However, they soon discover that their dreams hit a brick wall in the form of an unfair and patriarchal Indonesian society. 

At times, "Like & Share" may feel like a after-school special, though one that shelters a compelling and poignant drama under its surface. It is certainly one of the most flashy films of the festival (at times one might think they are watching a sideways Instagram video), skirting the line of style-over-substance but never quite crossing. Underneath the melodramatic overtones of the film simmers a grounded story about the very real struggles that women in Indonesia and everywhere else face on an almost daily basis. Driven by the excellent performances of Kirana and Ribero, the film lands perfectly on its main message with a deliciously ironic ending. Even if ASMR is not your thing, the film makes you appreciate its role in the lives of these characters. 

In addition to the obvious issue of the treatment of women in Indonesia, the film is a multifaceted affair that tackles themes of friendship, family, religion, and anxiety in an increasingly modern world. Several times in the film the protagonists mention how many people cannot go to sleep without listening to ASMR. For all the benefits that modern technology brings (and indeed they are many), there's a terrifying interdepency that feeds straight into our anxieties (a real epidemic among the younger generation). Central to the film is the loss of privacy and the impending threat that simply being connected represents for all of us. It's a feeling that many viewers will surely recognize. 

Supermarket Affairs (USA/Vietnam 2022)

Runtime: 15 min
Director: Nguyen Luong Hang
Starring: NGUYEN Thi Minh Ngoc, Quyen NGO, Jonathan MOON, Eli BERKE, Thanh BUI

While shopping for her husband's first death anniversary, Mrs. Hoa develops a rather adolescent crush on a young supermarket employee. As an elderly Vietnamese woman living with her daughter and her white boyfriend in Texas, Mrs. Hoa feels alone, isolated, and unable to find happiness after her husband's death. 

Like a long joke building towards a singular punchline, the entire 15 minute runtime of "Supermarket Affair" seems like one escalating buildup to an exquisite final scene, where a mother, a daughter, and a confused supermarket employee smoke a cigarette in silence. The enclosed buildup is the heartfelt story of an immigrant family which, like most immigrant families, struggles to find generational unity among such vast life transitions. Carried by the wonderful performances of Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc, Quyen Ngo as the mother and daughter, "Supermarket Affairs" delivers a lovely snapshot into the many struggles of an immigrant family in the US. Somehow, director Nguyen Luong Hang manages to encompass an entire lifetime of happiness, regret, and even resentment in the span of 15 minutes without giving the impression that something is missing. It's only a snapshot, but an exquisite one at that.