Terminal USA Presentation- Tien Le and Nina Lee

December 7, 2015 at 5:49 am Leave a comment

Terminal USA (1993) is a film directed by Jon Moritsugu featuring a Japanese American family. It is classified as a part of the underground film movement, which arose in opposition to clean, industry driven Hollywood films that reinforced hegemonic culture. While Moritsugu was primarily an independent, underground filmmaker, Terminal USA was funded by and produced in order to be aired on PBS. This relationship caused tension between what Moritsugu wanted to produce and what PBS wanted him to produce, leading to a hyper-satirical representation of an Asian American family.

In this film, Moritsugu took the quintessential American family story line, filled all the traditionally white roles with Asian American actors and actresses, and then pushed them all to their limit. As the film goes on, each of the characters is revealed to be more twisted than any family friendly TV sitcom would ever allow. The the film’s campy style further accentuates this extreme exaggeration of what is usually meant to be a portrayal of a happy, functional family.

Moritsugu satirized not only the typical American family narrative, but also PBS’s standards for what would be appropriate to air on television. PBS forced to Moritsugu to censor the original version of Terminal USA that he wanted to air, and he did so in the same campy, over-the-top manner in which he chose to portray the characters in his film. In fact, his censored version made the film look far more explicit than it was in the first place.

Discussion questions:

  • How can we apply the previously discussed concepts of dismantling stereotypes and refunctioning representation to Moritsugu’s alternative usage of stereotypes in Terminal USA?
  • Shothat and Stam challenge the preoccupation with stereotype analysis and the  idea of representation realism trapping people into image analysis rather than discursive analysis. How does Moritsugu’s film support Shothat’s and Stam’s call to
    • critique both image and voice
    • question the genre of realism in regards to ethnic representation?
  • In his Giant Robot interview, Moritsugu talks about the preference for certain kinds of films based on minimum quota-filling ideals. How can restrictive support (funding, acknowledgement from film festivals) affect the creation of content?
  • Traditionally, Eurocentric Asian American representation that is the only kind of representation that is supported and funded. Does Moritsugu’s film critique “Asian American film”?Presented by Tien Le and Nina Lee

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