This year marked the 20th anniversary of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), the annual event exhibiting the talents of Asian filmmakers around the world. From July 15 to July 31, Manhattan’s Lincoln Center hosted various film screenings and talks featuring prominent Asian actors and directors.
Takashi Shimizu, the Japanese filmmaker, known best for the Ju-On franchise and American remake of The Grudge, attended this year’s NYAFF. During a panel discussion, he revealed his own interest in the horror genre had global origins. Although he initially disliked the horror genre, his interest grew after watching E.T. as a child and realizing he enjoyed subtly thrilling media, rather than explicit or graphic horror. This preference guided his own approach to filmmaking, leading to several box office hits and eventual collaborations with American producers like Sam Raimi (Spiderman trilogy, Evil Dead). Takashi Shimizu revealed his experiences working with American filmmakers on projects like The Grudge exposed cultural differences that affected the film production process. According to him, the style of horror itself differs between the global East and West: the former favors a more “indirect, feminine, psychological” tone, while the latter tends to be more “violent, explicit, masculine.” As such, efforts had to be made during the filmmaking process to bridge the divide in audience preference.
Nearly 20 years after the remake of The Grudge was released, Asian entertainment continues to impact American popular culture. The Asian population in the United States is approximately 21.3 million people and has an annual $1 trillion in spending power which rivals the GDP of entire nations like Mexico and the Netherlands. Despite a very strong presence in the United States, Asians historically are excluded from domestic filmmaking opportunities. For this reason, collaborative entertainment is even more important for representing Asians in American popular media. As such, the New York Asian Film Festival is intended to be a tool for bridging these cross-cultural divides by bringing a better understanding and appreciation of Asian entertainment to the United States.
Harini Narayan is a member of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, and a master’s student at Columbia University studying South Asian Studies.