Asian Studies institute unveils new series

Portland State’s Institute for Asian Studies will host a new quarterly series called Dialogs across Asia. The inaugural event will take place on March 11 at 6 p.m., and is titled “Expression, Repression, Terror and Backlash: A Glimpse of 6 Asian Film and Conversation with PSU Asian Film Scholars.” The event is open to the public and free for students.

Dialogs across Asia arose to facilitate further discussion among the faculty in Asian Studies at PSU.

“There are over 70 faculty on campus with interest in Asia,” said Sharon Carstens, director of the Institute for Asian Studies. “Often, we only talk to those who share our same Asian regional interest.”

Carstens said that another goal of the new series is to attract a broader audience. An issue, theme or topic is chosen for each discussion, and professors with expertise across Asian countries get together to have a round table discussion with each other and the audience. Each professor has 10 minutes to introduce his or her topic to the audience.

“Expression, Regression, Terror and Backlash” focuses on these themes across India, Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Dr. Jennifer Ruth, a professor in the department of English, is the presenter for the Chinese movie Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul.

Ruth said she chose this film because Hu Jie, the director, has made over 30 documentaries, but his first work is his most accomplished. It also launched his later interest in films about the history of politics in China.

“[It is an] amazing story about a woman [named Lin Zhao] who was originally a strong believer in the party but started having doubts,” Ruth said. “She began to see her peers persecuted. She did not get persecuted because of her opinion, but for defending other people’s rights.”

Ruth said anyone who is passionate about something should care about this movie. It is about someone who has the courage to stand up against the crowd. It is a story of heroism and how groupthink targets the vulnerable and persecutes whistleblowers.

As a strong proponent of a liberal arts education, Ruth said this topic is important not only for those attending
university, but also for citizens to think for themselves.

Dr. Jon Holt, assistant professor of Japanese, is the presenter for the Japanese movies Eternal Zero and The Wind Rises, both about the notorious World War II figher plane, the Zero.

Holt has been fascinated with how Japanese history is being reinterpreted under Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. Japan wants to change its constitution so that it can rearm itself.

“A great symbol for Japanese interest is the Zero,” Holt said. “For the first part of World War II it was a devastating weapon against the U.S.”

The Japanese have great pride in it.

Eternal Zero was directed by Takashi Yamazaki, a powerful force in current Japanese culture. Holt said that Yamazaki comes from a background of writing for television shows; serves on the corporate board for the NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization; and is a prolific novelist. Yamazaki has conservative views of Japanese history and contemporary Japanese politics.

Holt said the film contains strong nationalistic sentiments.

“I am somewhat confident that Eternal Zero is just as bad as Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.”

The second film, The Wind Rises, was directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Holt said Miyazaki is just as obsessed with the Zero, but as an artistic and engineering feat. Miyazaki turned away from the ugliness of Japanese history and instead looked at the artistic side of it, which, in turn, weakened his political position at the time.

The Wind Rises is the only animated film in the selection.

“A significant part of Japanese cinema output is anime, or Japanese animation,” Holt said.

Holt said that Miyazaki and Yamazaki are both giants in their genres and are pushing people toward certain opinions.

“They are using this battle about the airplane to represent different voices in Japan,” Hold said. “Through film and through art we can understand Japanese culture.”

Dr. Priya Kapoor, of the International Studies department, and Dr. Mary Erbaugh, of the University of Oregon, will also be presenting.