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Sundance 2023 Review: Jamojaya

A teenage Indonesian rapper signed to a major U.S. record label decides to part ways with his father who has been his manager.

During a television interview discussing a U.S. record deal, James shocks his father by announcing that they will be parting ways.   Over a motion graphic of a banyan tree, the voice of the father tells a folklore tale about the separation of two brothers which explains the title of Jamojaya. To the surprise of James despite being afraid of flying after his older sibling died in a plane crash, his father travels to Hawaii to be with him.  What follows is a conflict where James must either conform to the desire of others or be true to himself.

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An interesting choice by filmmaker Justin Chon is to do the motion graphic of the banyan tree and to have the folklore tale that drives the narrative themes explained as it does set the tone for the rest of the movie.  The artist’s conflict with the record label owner is par for the course and unfolds as expected.  The racial and cultural ignorance of the American executives is best displayed when the father of James just arrives at a restaurant and gets mistaken for one of the servers; that has way more emotional impact than the raging arrogance of the record label owner.

Two inspired moments of Chon playing against audience expectations are when James learns that his father has never left and the latter makes the decision as to whether to go the way of Virginia Woolf.  The real star is Yayu A.W. Unru as the somewhat unhinged yet charming patriarch who has an unwavering loyalty to his family.  Rich Brian does not have an easy role to play as James as he has to convey someone trapped and trying to find his own escape route.  As with any good artist study the focus is on what happens behind the scenes rather than the actual singing.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19–29, 2023, in person and online, and for more information visit

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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