Cultural differences have been of interest since the earliest interactions between different groups of people. The introduction of spices into European cuisine following the Crusades and the adoption of Hollywood production values are both ways in which cultures have come together and left with something new. The arts are an excellent way to introduce a child to a new cultural understanding, and the internet makes this process easier than ever. While the live performance aspect of theater is appealing, finding events in Western New York that fit the bill can be difficult. In recognition of this difficulty, then, today we’ll focus on utilizing foreign films to increase cultural awareness and understanding.
While Hollywood is the leader in film production across the world, it is not the sole purveyor of entertainment. India, France, Japan, and other nations also maintain their own film industry. For younger children, it’s best to watch films that have been dubbed into a language they can understand. Many films, including anime features from Japan, can be found in English. Japanese artist and film director Hayao Miyazaki has created many entertaining film options for children to watch, including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Miyazaki has often been called the Disney of Japan, and a deal made with Disney to distribute his films (in English) worldwide is only further evidence of that comparison. These films are sweet, light-hearted glimpses of Japanese culture, focusing on a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, as well as promoting elements of Japanese history. To fully experience these films, be sure to have conversations with your children comparing them to similar American films. Are the messages the same? How do American animation styles and Japanese animation styles differ? How are they the same? Some foreign films require no dubbing or subtitles, which make them perfect for younger viewers. The French director Albert Lamorisse offers two gems for young foreign film viewers, The Red Balloon and White Mane.
For older children who have mastered reading, subtitles open a whole new world of film-watching opportunities. A personal favorite is Roberto Benigni’s Italian masterpieceLa Vita E Bella, or Life is Beautiful. A mesmerizing and daringly funny portrayal of the Holocaust, the humanity of this film makes it better for slightly older children, although there is the option to watch the film dubbed in English rather than Italian with subtitles. Other foreign cinema greats include the Chinese blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although the film does include scenes of fighting, the stylized movement is more reminiscent of a flawlessly choreographed dance than a brutal brawl.
There are plenty of foreign films available for children of all ages. Rather than buying these films, it may be best to check for availability through your local library or to utilize a Netflix account. Watching these films is sure to spark conversation within your family about cultural differences, and is a valuable experience for children who may have only been exposed to American films before.