After the South Korean film Parasite won the best picture award at the Oscars, it was the first time I had ever witnessed my parents watching a movie in a language different than our own. And not only did they watch it, but they were hooked from start to finish, as many of us who saw Parasite were.
It was at that moment, that I began to think about how many masterpieces had been ignored by the Academy Awards, and thus would never be on my parents or other casual movie watchers radars. I like to credit my discovery of international cinema with a lot of my development as a more culturally aware and well rounded human being, and I feel like all movie watchers can find a benefit in exposing themselves to this category of film. Not to mention that some of the greatest movies of all time aren’t in the English language!
You never forget the first international film you watch, and for me, that was Battle Royale (2000) from Japan. If you have watched and enjoyed American movies like The Hunger Games (2012) or more recently The Hunt (2020), then Battle Royale will blow your freakin’ mind. In an age of Fortnite and Call of Duty Warzone, if this movie was released today to a wider audience, I have no doubt it would be more than a cult hit. This tends to be a theme when comparing American films to the international films that “inspired” them (remakes, remakes, and more remakes!). I love Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006), and so did the Oscars as evidence by winning best picture that year, but did you know that it was a remake of a Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs (2002) which wasn’t even nominated in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars.
Many of us have dreams of traveling the world, but don’t currently have the finances to back it up. I’ve found that watching international cinema can take you to not only the place of your choosing but the time period as well. Amélie (2001) gives us a beautiful portrait of Paris, France, while In the Mood for Love (2000) transports us back to a stylish yet hectic 1960’s Hong Kong. Or maybe you’re looking for something more gritty like the favelas of 1970’s Rio de Janeiro in City of God (2002). Movies have always been a means of escapism, so why not escape to a country in a film that was directed and written by the person from there.
Watching international cinema is easier today than its ever been with the advent of streaming services. I recently subscribed to HBO Max, and was amazed to see the options available to me to watch some of the greatest foreign language films ever made. There’s literally a platform available that you can watch Bicycle Thieves (maybe the greatest Italian movie ever) or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (a German masterpiece) or any number of Akira Kurosawa’s legendary filmography. If you just venture into the international section on Netflix, or Hulu, or whatever you’re paying for, I promise you won’t regret it.
We haven’t even touched upon the wealth of amazing international animated films to explore. Of course we have all been exposed to anime in some way, in the form of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, or maybe Sailor Moon. This means you’re only a few steps away from watching legendary animated films such as Akira (Kanye’s favorite anime), or Ghost in the Shell (it inspired the Matrix!). But even aside from anime, other countries like France have made awe inspiring animated films like I Lost My Body (2019) or Persepolis (2007). And if you’re not watching these movies with subtitles, then you’re doing something wrong. Children’s animation is synonymous with Disney and Pixar, but imagine the twinkle in a child’s eye the first time they watch My Neighbor Totoro (1988), or Spirited Away (2001).
In the America we live in, cultural ignorance is an issue that I believe can be treated in part by expanding your horizons with the content you intake. Watching movies is an ingrained pastime in millions of Americans, so why not take the time to occasionally watch something written, directed, and produced in a country that’s not your own. I challenge those of you who don’t typically watch “non-English” movies to give it a shot, and I guarantee you’ll find something that captures your interest. If my parents could rave about a movie like Parasite, then I think there’s hope for everyone. Widen your perspective, sate your curiosity, and watch something international.