Book Review: Ghostlife of Third Cinema

What is the current state of Asian American film? And what exactly is Third Cinema? How do these two worlds intertwine? Alvin Shen reviews Ghostlife of Third Cinema, in which author Glen Mimura attempts to address these questions and more.


By Alvin Shen

“I began searching for a history – my own history – because I had known all along that the stories I had heard were not true, and parts had been left out. I remember having this feeling growing up, that I was haunted by something.”

–Rea Tajiri as quoted in Ghostlife of Third Cinema

What is the current state of Asian American film? And what exactly is Third Cinema? How do these two worlds intertwine? Glen Mimura explores these questions and more in his new book, Ghostlife of Third Cinema, published in 2009 by University of Minnesota Press.

Central to the author’s approach to dissecting the histories of Asian American and Third Cinemas is the idea of diaspora. But not just any diasporic scattering of peoples across the globe, specifically the Asian diaspora, from its origins as a byproduct of a world history shaped by migration, war, famine and racial exclusion in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and China to new homelands in the U.S. and Canada. Drawing parallels with the Third Cinema Latin America movement in the ’60s, Mimura examines developments in Asian American cinema as a result of migration, decolonization and the impact of globalization.

In Ghostlife, Mimura doesn’t get too far ahead without taking time to familiarize the reader with “Third Cinema,” a social and political movement which embodied the values of liberation, independence, and decolonization, and spread throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia in the 1960s. Mimura then walks us through a brief history of the Asian diaspora, familiarizing us with the pain, struggle, and gains of social political art movements in the U.S. In later chapters, he also takes time to challenge readers with the prospect that perhaps Asian American “Third Cinema” as we know it – radical, progressive, laborious and refreshing – is dying with the continued rise of mainstream Asian American films.

Both an academic endeavor and an offering to the lay reader, the book draws readers into some classic Asian American films. From the travails of a wayward Cambodian American teen in Spencer Nakasako’s “A.K.A. Don Bonus” to Curtis Choy’s “The Fall of the I-Hotel,” which covers reflections on housing struggles amongst Filipino veterans in San Francisco, Mimura pays tribute to foundational Asian American films. The author also interestingly explores the emerging world of Queer Asian American media, and by doing so, not only succeeds to educate and immerse readers, but also draws greater attention to some of the hidden tales of Asian American film and media.

Mimura dedicates an entire chapter to the exploration of the emergence of the Asian sexual diaspora. And as far as queer cinema has come, queer ASIAN cinema’s struggle rightfully embodies the Third Cinema spirit of marginalized peoples. Mimura draws on the stories of the queer Asian movement of the 1980’s when frustration over lack of proper representation and recognition drove organization for social and political solidarity. From that emerged social groups, and print publications such as Q&A, Queer in Asian America. Mimura also explores the evolution of sexual commoditization in Asia, and the exotic nature of the fascination. He distinctly cites Paul Bautista’s 1992 film “Fated to be Queer” set in the Bay Area as a movie that tries to dispel the racist erotic fascination with queer Asian Americans that previous works such as “Maybe I Can Give You Sex?” addressed in Southeast Asia.

Overall, Ghostlife is a thorough academic piece that extends the cultural studies of this nation and the globalized viewpoint of racially marginalized people.

Ghostlife of Third Cinema represents Glen Mimura’s first offering in Asian American literary publishing. Mimura currently serves as an associate professor of film and media and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Alvin Shen is currently earning his M.F.A. in Directing, Editing and Screenwriting as a graduate film student at the Academy of Art University. Alvin is serving at CAAM as a film festival intern for 2010, but likewise wouldn’t mind spending a good portion of that year chasing the winter season in both hemispheres for some of the world’s best snowboarding. Contact him at