California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3) partnered to broadcast the “Reel Asian Podcast” to deliver students an insightful and empowering discussion about Asian representation in film and cinema on Jan. 29. Hoping to make conversations about Asian Americans and their history mainstream, “Reel Asian Podcast” shined light on the critical need to diversify our media, allowing everyone an equal opportunity to have their stories heard.
Led by hosts Raymond Luu, Renee Ya, Alan Duong and Baldwin Diep, the podcast began with introductions of their backgrounds, notably all being first-generation Asian Americans. From childhood, it was apparent to them people viewed in movies or TV shows didn’t look or classify themselves as Asian. When there was Asian representation in Hollywood films, it served no justice to the reality of who Asian and Asian Americans are.
“One reason why I’m passionate about this project is we get to share our stories,” Duong said. “Without these stories, there is no representation. Representation is reality.”
Following a roundtable format of discussion, each host spoke for two minutes about their personal takes from the movie “Princess Mononoke,” a 1997 animation film by director Hayao Miyazaki highlighting environmental and human relationships.
“Miyazaki told a complex story without holding anything back,” Duong said. “He portrayed themes of human versus nature, progressing and coexisting, while at the same time a beautiful story with complex characters and villains.”
Ya focused on the importance of portraying strong female leads, something that often gets overlooked. Instead of using the classic damsel in distress attitude, Miyazaki offers women a protagonist role.
“Each domain has their own struggles,” Ya said. “And by that definition alone, every single character, every single facet has a three-dimensional kind of viewing.”
Luu was surprised by how Miyazaki’s themes, including the preservation of an enduring spirit, are still relevant today, leaving viewers with important life lessons. “I hope our audience can appreciate Miyazaki’s message,” Luu said, “while also thinking about their personal responsibility to the environment.”
“Princess Mononoke” paved the way for Asian American cinema. Miyazaki incorporates animation and majestic storylines. Looking deep into the relationships of human interaction with others, the Forest Spirit and its struggles to blossom in a destructive society, and the demonic possession of animals caused by the consumption of hatred. Miyazaki reminds his viewers to appreciate the beauty of nature, leaving things untouched allows for a universe where co-existing is not only possible but the best alternative.
Diep correlates “Princess Mononoke” with childhood nostalgia. The hidden messages in the animation allows for Diep to reconnect with his feelings of having first watched the film in high school. Taking on a childlike innocence, the film gives strength to younger characters.
“The animation of the movie is beautiful. It’s like watching a moving painting,” Diep said. “The characters are alive and nature is alive.”
Similar to Diep’s fondness for the animation, Luu admires Miyazaki’s artistry. Pointing out the fact that animation created during “Princess Mononoke” was often geared towards children, as “Toy Story” made its debut only two years earlier in 1995, Luu respects the darker storyline and command for attention “Princess Mononoke” delivers.
“I look at how detailed the eyes of the animals were to convey emotion,” Luu said.
After sharing their overall personal takeaways and favorite moments about the film, Luu asked his co-hosts their insight on Miyazaki’s underlying message to humans. Agreeing the existential crisis lingering back in the ‘90s and still appearing today, the inner-conflict of how humans should engage with nature is undoubtedly confused and blurred. “Princess Mononoke” depicts climate change and the villainous nature of industrialization.
Describing the cultural impact “Princess Mononoke” has made, Luu noted how the universally understood themes enabled kids like himself to thoroughly enjoy Miyazaki’s message. “Having an English-dubbed version exposed first-generation Asian American kids who only knew English, like me, to this whole world of Japanese anime.”
“It opened my eyes beyond just Hollywood movies,” Luu said. “For “Princess Mononoke” to be well received in America was a cultural win for us Asians I didn’t fully appreciate until years later.”
When asked for advice on how to start one’s own podcast, Luu recommends not overthinking the process. Starting with the basics – microphone, internet and computer – puts the podcaster in a position to record and start the journey forward. Free platforms, such as Anchor or Red Circle, can host and distribute one’s content which can push the podcast onto Spotify or Apple.
“If podcasting is something you want to do long-time, you have to ask yourself why,” Luu said. “Think about what type of show you want to create that is exciting for you week-in, week-out.”
After executing the brainstorming process, recording three to four episodes generates a conclusive idea on proceeding or calling it quits. “If you believe it’s good content and your audience enjoys episode one, they’ll come back for episode two, three and so on,” Luu said.
Reflecting on past episodes, Luu tends to favor Reel Asian Podcast’s “Mulan,” episode where he believes they portrayed themselves as show “being able to critically analyze a movie and give an honest opinion about it.”
Reel Asian Podcast has a new episode coming out on Feb. 12, “Over the Moon,” discussing the overall mood of 2020, relating cinema to reality. Be sure to check them out on Instagram and Facebook with the handle @ReelAsianPodcast.