My Niagara

40 minutes 16mm 1992

Grasping the texture of half-expressed desire, this beautifully drawn drama evokes the complex dislocations of an Asian American woman. Shadowed by the death of her mother, Julie Kumagai's life with her widower father is marked by pained, turbulent exchanges. Indifferent to a break-up with her boyfriend and the lure of a long-planned trip, she finds some refuge in her workplace where meets Tetsuro, a young Korean man newly emigrated from Japan who is obsessed with all things American. But together they discover no easy resolutions.

My Niagara was funded by the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"An inspired and resonant portrait of tenuous teen sensuality emerging from seamless suburban facades." David McIntosh, Toronto International Festival

Toronto Festival of Festivals, Special Mention Short Film Jury

"Well portrayed drama evokes the unexpressed longings of an Asian American woman." Booklist

“Helen Lee is a second-generation Korean Canadian who grew up in Toronto, studied film at New York University and now, like other Canadian independents, has been moving back and forth between the two countries in order to do her work. Her 1992 film My Niagara, both responds to American constructions of Canada and shows how “Canadian” identity is composed of specific local, regional, and ethnic identities and the conflicts among them. The film Lee responds to is Hitchcock’s Niagara (1963). In that film Marilyn Monroe plays one of several characters who, like many other Americans, makes it only as far into Canada as the title suggests, that is, only as far as the border city of Niagara Falls. Referencing and parodying Niagara, Lee’s film fills the earlier film’s bland, uniform image of Canada with a conflicted and multiple identity. My Niagara deals with the internal struggles of Asian communities in Canada. It interrogates Japanese racism towards Koreans, while also addressing the struggle to locate and maintain Japanese identity, never as a stable thing but always as a negotiation across borders. The film’s emotional impact also has to do with cultural displacement, it is partly about the main character’s struggle to figure out who she is when the person who embodied her cultural identity, namely her Japanese mother, is gone.

Lee says, “My Niagara is definitely set in Toronto for people who know Toronto. But I wanted it to be able to be read both ways, the character to be either Japanese Canadian or Japanese American. It’s also a matter of political self-definition, of what it means to be Asian American or Asian Canadian… It’s a matter of dissolving boundaries, about collapsing categories, as much as about self definition.” Lee uses Asianness as a category that crosses national boundaries, and her film’s characters performatively establish the Canadian location as a permeable space.” (“Packaged for Export, Contents Under Pressure” by Laura U Marks, Fuse Magazine, Fall 1993)


Available from:

Women Make Movies
462 Broadway Suite 500WS, New York, NY 10013
telephone: 212-925-0606 x360 email:

Reviews & Articles:

Intercultural cinema at Women Make Movies by Laura U. Marks, commissioned by Women Make Movies, a New York based media arts distributor

My Niagra, Korea Times, Toronto, September 1992

Little Baka Girl (working title) A screenplay by Helen Lee and Kerri Sakamoto

Interview with Helen Lee, by Francisca Duran, LIFT, October 1992

My Niagra, Full Frame

My Niagra, Toronto Festival of Festivals Catalogue, Perspective Canada

The Spirit of the Falls, The Standard, Friday, September 11, 1992

"My Niagra" debuts at Toronto Festival, The Korea Times (English Supplement), September, 1992