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Reviewed by:
  • Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video
  • Ani Maitra (bio)
Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video. Glen M. Mimura. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. 224 pages. $67.50 cloth; $22.50 paper.

Glen M. Mimura's Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video is a welcome effort to archive the history and politics of experimental media produced by Asian Americans between the 1970s and 1990s. The book's many achievements include bringing under theoretical purview film and video that have been ignored by both Film Studies and Asian American Studies; highlighting the different conditions of production and the need to distinguish between Asian media and independent creations by and for Asian Americans; challenging the contradictory but equally prevalent constructions of the Asian American as the "threatening foreigner" and the "model minority"; demonstrating that Asian American artists/theorists are ambivalent about identity politics; and reevaluating the concept of Third Cinema.

Drawing and expanding on the work of media scholars such as Jun Xing, Renee Tajima, and Trinh T. Minh-ha, Ghostlife engages with the heterogeneity of the concept of Asian Americanness, not only identifying its origins in the racial interpellation of US immigration and labor history, but also narrating its force as a mode of cultural resistance in diaspora. Aware of the slipperiness of terms such as the Asian American soul and sensitivity, Mimura grounds them in his historiographic narrative of the development of Asian American media activism. He provides edifying accounts of the often forgotten contributions of and racist constraints faced by generations of Asian artists in Hollywood, from Sessue Hayakawa in the 1910s and 1920s to Bruce Lee in the 1970s. The author thus furnishes a broader context for understanding Asian American efforts toward systemic change in media training and practice such as the Visual Communications (VC) program at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1969. One of Mimura's main claims is that the democratic and participatory practices of VC, eventually a community-based organization, were inspired by Third Cinema, the movement that emerged in Latin America, Asia, and Africa [End Page 183] in the 1960s and 1970s in reaction to the complicity of Hollywood (First Cinema) with neo-imperialism, and the political nihilism of the European avant-garde (Second Cinema) (38-43). Simultaneously, however, Mimura emphasizes the critical distance achieved by this experimental Asian American turn from Third Cinema: even as the artists borrowed from its ideology to produce outside mainstream media and channels of distribution, they also questioned Third Cinema's uncritical valorization of "the nation," its homogenization of both the West and the non-West, and its tendency to privilege class over other categories of difference such as gender, sexuality, and religion (44-49).

Mimura pulls together the best examples of this hybrid art-making practice in his fourth chapter, "Uncanny Memories: Post-Redress Media in Japanese American History." In keeping with his argument that Asian American experimental film and video need to be understood in terms of what Jacques Derrida would call a "spectral" return and persistence of an ostensibly "dead" Third Cinema, Mimura chooses an older historical event that has apparently been resolved—the US government's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—to demonstrate how its effects endure and haunt, particularly in the works of artists who have no direct memory of it. Ghostlife thus underscores the epistemological distinction between what can be redressed through the official Redress and Reparations Movement and the intangible racial-historical wounds that are beyond compensation and cannot be fully accommodated within the dominant rhetoric of visibility, inclusion, and equal rights. Mimura's analyses of the experimental work of Rea Tajiri, Lise Yasui, and Janice Tanake make a compelling case for the power of the cultural memory of the internment among Japanese Americans well into the 1990s and the intergenerational quality and mutating forms of these wounds that are at once individual, familial, and social. Readers will particularly enjoy the chapter's attention to the artists' acute awareness of the shifting grounds of meaning, and their formal deployment of a "critical" postmodernism. Mimura's striking thesis is, in fact, that the theory...


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pp. 183-186
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