Houston Community News >> Asians Cheering Oscar Inclusion

2/23/2007-- Asians the world over are obsessed with American pop culture, and that, of course, includes American films. So when an American film in Japanese is nominated for an Oscar, guess who will be tuning in?

Asians, especially Japanese.

In Japan, travel agencies compete fiercely to offer cruises to Iwo Jima in the wake of director Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" being nominated for best picture.

"Oh, my God, I'm so excited! I'm so excited!" gushed Mimi Yamashiro, a college student from Kyoto visiting the USC campus, where she is considering transferring.

"I went to see this movie – yes, not many movies are from my language – and it could maybe win!"

This year, the Oscars are of double interest for Asians, with the wistful-looking Rinko Kikuchi in "Babel" dominating headlines across Tokyo.

Like her cousins and classmates, Yamashiro was thrilled to see "Babel," the star vehicle for Kikuchi and a labor of love for Mexico's Alejandro González Iñárritu. The movie is a mesmerizing saga focusing on families on three continents linked by tragedy in the African desert. It garnered seven nominations, and is sprinkled with Arabic, Berber, Spanish and Japanese dialogue.

The Oscars in "2007 is big, it's huge for our country," Yamashiro said. "We must celebrate."

It's nice to see the Academy Awards "go international," says Lindy Saito as she fills her shopping basket at Marukai Market in Costa Mesa. She cited the British talent emerging from the field – the picture-perfect Kate Winslet as well as critics' favorite Helen Mirren. But she's definitely rooting for her fellow countrywoman.

Kikuchi, 26, could be the first Japanese to walk away with the Oscar since Miyoshi Umeki won for her supporting role in "Sayonara" half a century ago.

The Asian media and the Asian American press feed the cultural addiction with photo after photo, and both translated and original articles leading up to Hollywood's biggest night this Sunday.

Want to know who will wear what? Who will present? Who the odds favor and how much Kikuchi (previously confined to low-budget films) is preparing for the spotlight?

"Movies are how the rest of the world learns about each other," Saito says. "In Japan, other parts of Asia, we see things on the screen that we consider ideally American, helping us to know – how do you describe it – American character."

She believes other nations don't have the resources to support the cinema industry the way the United States does, which reinforces her admiration for U.S. films. "Disney is here, first, and so is Hollywood."

Vietnamese actress and Orange County resident Kieu Chinh watches the annual Oscars telecast to track "the criteria that Hollywood looks for. I want to see how they choose, how they look at their actors," she said. "Is there a pattern? Some years, the most deserving films have no prizes, and you need to be able to understand the trends."

Others say that some years the most deserving individuals lose – such as Taiwan's Ang Lee, who snared best director in 2006 but whose "Brokeback Mountain" lost to "Crash" in the best picture race.

"We were heartbroken," said Taipei native David Li of Irvine. "People become a hero in their home country when they have made a success here in the U.S. American cinema is not the type of traditional career anyone in my family would choose."

But "we admire the innovation and the way of hard work," he said. "I think that's why my sisters like to watch the Oscars. Someone famous can get lucky, but a lot of hard work gets rewarded. They are artists."

(Contributed by OC)