The Best Asian Literature, Historical Fiction and Audiobooks - ASIA BOOKS -
A collection of impressive and beautiful movies and documentaries set in Japan, China, India, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia
Directed by Naoko Ogigami
Genre: comedy, drama
Location: Yoron Island, Okinawa
Takao, a Japanese woman goes to a Japanese island with clear skies and bright landscapes to spend time of from her job as an university professor.
Upon arriving at the Hamada Inn, Takao meets all kinds of eccentric local inhabitants. All off the characters in the movie wear glasses and on the island little else seems to matter beyond the recharging of spiritual batteries (morning gym on the beach) and the enjoyment of eating.
After a few days she has enough of the simple life of the local people and checks into the island's other hotel, but she soon realises that this environment is also not to her liking and returns to the Hamada Inn, where she becomes to appreciate the unhurried way of life of the persons around her.
Like Father, Like Son
Directed by: Kore-eda Hirokazu
One day, Ryota and his wife, Midori, get an unexpected phone call from the hospital with the message that their 6-year-old son, Keita, is not their biological son. Because when their son was born the hospital accidentally switched 2 boys so that Ryota and Midori went home with another couple’s son. Their natural son Ryusei is raised by Yukari and Yudai. The two couples meet and discuss their mutual dillemma: will they, after spending 6 years together as families, choose between 'nature' and ‘nurture’ and switch sons?
Kore-eda Hirokazu was also director of the films ‘Nobody Knows’, ‘Still Walking’ and ‘I Wish’.
Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Genre: television drama series
based on: the novel of the same name by Kanae Minato
A young girl, Emili, is killed by a stranger in her elementary school. The body of Emili is found by four classmates with whom she was playing. And although her friends saw the suspect, they keep insisting that they don't remember the killers face. Emili’s mother, Asako, torn by grief over her daughter’s death, wants the girl to do penance for the fact that they won’t identify the killer.
Fifteen years later, the incident still unsolved, Asako masterminds psychological repercussions on each of the four girls, which eventually triggers a tragic chain of events.
"Throughout the series the Kurosawa style, minimalist but atmospheric, imparts an eerie, intimate tension to even the most mundane scenes, while revealing inner lives more by incisive suggestion than the usual TV-drama shouting.” Mark Schilling of The Japan Times
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Directed by: David Zellner
Genre: Fiction based on a real story
Kumiko is living in Tokyo in a small appartment with her rabbit Bunzo. She is twenty-nine years old and isolated from the rest of the world through solitude, her character cannot subscribe to Japanese societal norms. She works a dreadful, dead-end job under a boss she hates, is intimidated by her well-off peers, and nagged by her overbearing mother to find a man and get married. The only joy in her life come from her rabbit, Bunzo, and a VHS copy of the film Fargo. Kumiko is convinced that he Fargo is based on a true story.(The film opens with the following text: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred”),
Kumiko obsesses over a scene in which a character buries a satchel of ransom money along a snowy highway in Minnesota. With a crudely drawn treasure map and limited preparation, she escapes her unhappy life in Tokyo on a journey over the Pacific and through the frozen Minnesota plains to find the mythical fortune.
The story is based on the legend surrounding the 2001 death of Takako Konishi who was reported in the media to have died of hypothermia outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Konishi believed that the movie Fargo was real and went looking for buried cash buried in the snow. In 2003, filmmaker Paul Berczeller made a documentary about Konishi titled This Is a True Story.
Tip: first watch the movie Kumiko and then (if you want) watch the Paul Berczeller’s documentary.
Directed by: Juzo Itami
genre: comedy, drama, also called the first "ramen western", a play on the term Spaghetti Western
A pair of truck drivers, Gorō and Gun stop at a decrepit roadside ramen noodle restaurant. The shop is owned by Tampopo who struggles to keep her business afloat. When Tampopo asks their opinion about her noodles, Gorō and Gun tell her they are "sincere, but lack character.” After Gorō gives her some advice about cooking ramen, she asks him to become her teacher. Tampopo and Goro decide to turn the shop into a paragon of the "art of noodle soup making”. Gorō takes her around and points out the strengths and weaknesses of her competitors and they even steal recipes. In their quest for the perfect ramen they pass through amusing adventures and meet different characters all with their own stories.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
directed by David Gelb
genre: documentary film
Soundtrack: Philip Glass compositions
The film follows Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old famous sushi master who pursues his lifelong quest to perfect the art of sushi. He is owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a small sushi restaurant, that has 3 Michelin stars and is inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Sushi lovers from around the world come to visit this restaurant were they eat a menu of 20 courses for as little as 300 USD.
Eventually Jiro’s son Yoshikazu will take over the legendary restaurant, but not before he has mastered the perfect piece of sushi.
The Chinese Mayor
Directed by Hao Zhou
Gives a captivating insight in China’s bureaucracy, corruption, and the urban planning policies and it’s consequences for the Chinese people.
Special about this documentary is that Geng Yanbo gives permission to the documentary maker to film and publish everything.
This documentary follows the day to day activities of a period of two years of Geng Yanbo, mayor of the Chinese city Datong. Geng Yanbo has put his heart and soul into realising his dream project - the restoring of Datong to its former glory, the cultural haven with it was some 1600 years ago. Yanbo is convinced that when this gigantic project is complete the tourists will come pouring in, ensuring the economic future of the city. However, to accomplish his dream he wants to reconstruct the enormous city walls and this all at the costs of the relocation of half a million residents, who are watching with grief and anger when their family homes are bulldozed. And then, with the city in ruins of construction, billions of dollars spent and the project far from complete, the central government in Beijing decides to move Geng Yanbo to another city. What will happen with the future of Datong now, and will Yanbo put all his energy into another gigantic project in another city and will he again be able to draw his own plan, whatever the costs and the consequences.
Farewell My Concubine
Directed by Chen Kaige
Based on a novel by Lilian Lee ‘Farewell My Concubine’
Farewell My Concubine won Cannes Palme d'Or
Set in China in the 1930’s Duan Xiaolou and Cheng Dieyi work at the Beijing Opera Troupe.
In the operastage Dieyi has the female roles and Xiaolou acts a male role. They often perform the opera ‘Farewell to My Concubine’, which is a well known opera in Beijing. Dieyi and Xiaolou have a complicated friendship as Dieyi becomes obsessed with his love for Xiaolou, not only in his role as a concubine at the stage, but also in real life.
But then a beautiful woman, Ju Xian, comes between them. When Xiaolou marries Ju Xian the friendship between Dieji en Xiaolou breaks up. In the Cultural Revolution Xiaolou and Ju Xian are separated and Ju Xian kills herself when she hears that her husband doesn't love her at all. After decades the former friends meet again and they decide to play their roles of the opera 'Farewell my Concubine’ one last time.
“the Chinese epic that has proved so troublesome to the Communist authorities at home, is one of those very rare film spectacles that deliver just about everything the ads are likely to promise: action, history, exotic color, multitudes in confrontation, broad overviews of social and political landscapes, all intimately rooted in a love story of vicious intensity, the kind that plays best when it goes badly, which is most of the time”. New York Times
Movies directed by Yang Zhimou
directed by Yang Zhimou
Genre: Drama, family tragedies
based on the novel ‘Red Sorghum’ by Mo Yan
Winner of the Golden Bear at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival
Set mostly in the 1920’s this film narrates about a poor young woman named Jiu. She was sent by her parents into a pre-arranged marriage with an old man, Li Datou. Li Datou owns a distillery for sorghum liquor in a rural village in China's eastern province of Shandong.
After her husband's death, Jiu’er takes over managing of the business. One day when she brings lunch to the workers on the field Jiu is shot dead. The film is told in flashbacks from the point of view of the grandson of Jiu and her death becomes the thread that links the past to the present as the narrator moves back and forth recording the war's progress, the fighting between rival Chinese warlords, and the history of his family.
Raise the Red Lantern
directed by Yang Zhimou
Genre: Drama, family tragedies
based on: the 1990 novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, later renamed after the film
It is noted for its opulent visuals and wonderful use of colours. The film was shot in the Qiao Family Compound near the ancient city of Pingyao, in Shanxi Province.
The film is set in the 1920’s in China. After her father's death, nineteen year old Songlian is forced by her stepmother to marry Chen Zuoqian, the lord of the powerful and wealthy Chen family. She becomes the fourth wife of the fifty years old Chen, who already has three wives, each of them living in separate houses within the great castle. Songlian has a good education but now finds her life reduced to a small living quarter at the Chen’s compound.
Each night Chen must decide with which wife he wants to spend the night. A red lantern is lit in front of the house of his choice. Intrigues and conspiracies between the concubines are part of daily life, because all the wives want to be chosen for the night. The master's attention carries power, status and privilege. Eventually Songlian’s attempts to become part of these schemes of treachery come at a high prize.
directed by Yang Zhimou
Genre: Drama, family tragedies
based on the novel of the same name by Yu Hua
Due to its critical portrayal of various policies and campaigns of the Communist government this film was banned in mainland China by the Chinese Government
This film narrates the tragic history of a family that manages ‘to live’ through the turbulent episodes of Chinese history from the 1940’s to the 1970’s.
Fugui is addicted to gambling and he lets his family fortune slip from his grasp. Fugui's wife, Jiazhen (actress Gong Li), begs him to stop gambling for the sake of their small daughter and the baby she is carrying. But Fugui loses everything, including their house. He joins a traveling shadow-puppet show, but whilst on the road he is forced to join the army. Eventually, when he returns home, he learns of the misfortunes of the family he loves and Fugui has to reconsider his own role.
directed by Ritesh Batra
Genre: Comedy, drama, romantic
directed by Ritesh Batra
The film is set in contemporary Mumbai, where every morning around 5000 Dabbawallahs(lunchbox deliverymen) deliver hot meals from the kitchens of housewives to the offices of their husbands. At the end of the working day, the Dabbawallahs return the empty lunchboxes back to the housewives. The Dabbahwallahs are illiterate and instead rely on a complex coding system of colors and symbols to deliver dabbas through the crowded and chaotic streets of Mumbai. Research concluded that only only one of the 8 million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address.
This film is the story of that one lunchbox.
Saajan Fernandes is a widower who is about to retire from his job as an accountant.
Ila is a young wife seeking her husband's attention and looking for ways to put romance back into her marriage. One way to do this is to cook delicious food for his lunchbox. But one day the lunchbox is mistakenly delivered not
to her husband but to Saajan. When Ila finds out she puts a message in the lunchbox about this mix up. In the days that follow Ila and Sajaan share memories and events of their own individual lives by the exchange of the messages sent back and forth in the lunch boxes. By fantasising about each other’s lives and a possible future together they create a world that’s far from their day to day reality.
Life of Pi
directed by Ang Lee
based on Yann Martel's book Life of Pi
Pi grows up in Pondicherry, India. His father owns a zoo, and Pi loves the animals, especially a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. One day, his father explains that the municipality is no longer supporting the zoo and he has decided to move to Canada where the animals will be sold. They board a cargo ship together with all the animals. A huge storm breaks out and the ship capsized taking everyone and everything into the deep waters.
But Pi survives, when he wakes up from the storm he is in a small lifeboat with a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena and the Bengal tiger Richard Parker.
In order to survive Pi realises that he needs Richard Parker. Overcoming life threatening hardships in the middle of the never ending Pacific Ocean, a special bond between Pi and Richard Parker begins to evolve.
“This is grand adventure on an epic scale, a survival story… This is a Darwinian place that Pi must learn to command. Using state-of-the-art 3D and digitally created beasts, Lee and his team of technicians make it utterly real, as they do a mysterious island that briefly provides a dangerously seductive haven. The 227 days at sea are a test of physique, mental adaptation and faith, and Suraj Sharma makes Pi's spiritual journey as convincing as his nautical one”. - The Guardian
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker
3 hours long !!
Set in the year 1893 during the height of the British empire in India, in a small village called Champaner (in the state of Gujarat, western India) the film narrates the story of the inhabitants of a village struggling to pay off the annual debts (Lagaan) to the British.
Captain Andrew Russell, the commanding officer of the Champaner cantonment, has imposed high taxes on people from the local villages that they are unable to pay due to a prolonged drought. The British and the local people challenge each other with a game of cricket; if the local people win they don’t need to pay the taxes. The villagers now face the difficult task of learning the foreign game and playing for a result that will change their village's destiny.
3-Iron / Bin Jip
directed by Ki-duk Kim
The lonely bike rider Tae-suk breaks in empty houses and lives there a normal life while the owners are away. He does not steal anything, he cleans the house, provides small repairs, waters the plants, or washes some clothes to pay for the hospitality. When Tae-suk thinks that the owners will return he moves to yet another house.
But one day he enters a house and sees a wounded woman. The woman, Sun-hwa, is beaten by her husband Min-gyu. Tae-suk helps Sun-hwa and when her husband returns, Tae-suk hits the husband with a golf stick and with Sun-hwa at the back of his motorcycle they leave the house.
Together they break in the house of an old man and find that the man is dead. Although Tae-suk arranges a funeral service and burries the old man, when his sons returns, they are both arrested. Tae-suk is sent to prison on the charge of murder, trespassing, and kidnapping. Sun-hwa is forced to return home. But she will never forget Tae-suk.
directed by Bong Joon-ho
genre : Crime, Drama
A mother and widow lives quietly with her twenty-eight-year-old son, Do-joon, in a small town in southern South Korea. Making a living of treating people with acupuncture and selling medical herbs.
One day, A high school girl is discovered murdered and people are pressuring the police to find the killer. Circumstantial evidence is pointing to Do-joon as the one being near the scene at the time of the crime. The police arrest him and pressure Do-joon into signing a confession. Mother does not believe that her son is capable of murder and n her determined quest for justice starts investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of the girl.
The Killing Fields
directed by Roland Joffe
location: Thailand and Canada
Haing S. Ngor plays Dith Pran
Based upon the true story of Dith Pran - Sydney Schanberg's ‘The Death and Life of Dith Pran’
Between 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge coerced most of Cambodia's people into forced labour, Between 2 and 3 million people (around 30% of the entire population were murdered, died from starvation or died under other terrible conditions
New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg is one of the few American journalists who is still in Phnom Penh when the city falls to the Khmer Rouge guerrillas in 1975. He persuades his Cambodian assistant, friend and interpreter, Dith Pran (played by Haing S. Ngor) to remain behind in Phnom Penh with him to help cover the story after the communist Khmer Rouge take-over.
However, soon Schanberg and the last remaining westerners are evacuated out of the capital. Dith Pran can’t get away and is forced to stay in his home country. In the years that follow Dith Pran endures the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime and is captured by Khmer Rouge because of his friendship with the Americans.
As many other fellow countrymen Dith Pran struggles to stay alive in a re-education labor camp and he undertakes two futile and highly risky escape attempts. Finally he starts on his terrible journey to Thailand, on foot, seeing the remains of massacres, the Killing Fields.
Dith Pran escaped over the Thai border in 1979. Sydney Schanberg flew to Thailand to meet him. Together they flew to America where Dith Pran became a photojournalist for The New York Times. Dith Pran died in 2013, he was 65 years old.
The Scent of Green Papaya
Directed by Anh Hung Tran
Anh Hung Tran was born in Vietnam and relocated to Paris with his family when he was six years old. His other films include Cyclo (1995) and Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000) The film takes its title as the director said: "the smell of green papaya is for me a childhood memory of maternal gestures”.
Saigon 1951, little girl Mui starts working as a maid in a household where the mother is still mourning over the death of her daughter, who would have been Mui's age. Mui spends 10 years with this family and experiences up close the misfortunes of the once wealthy and steady family. She ten moves to be a domestic servant for a young pianist and his fiancee. The musician falls in love with Mui and he teaches her to read and write. They eventually marry.