Coming to New York City on October 18, 19, and 20, and Orange County on November 10 is Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience.
This documentary, a co-production between JANM’s Watase Media Arts Center and KCET for the series ARTBOUND, explores five second generation Japanese American artists—Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, Gyo Obata, and S. Neil Fujita—following the ways in which their camp experiences impacted their lives, influenced their art, and sent them on trajectories that eventually led to their changing the face of American culture with their immense talents.
The film will screen three times as a part of the Architecture & Design Film Festival at the Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas in New York City.
Showtimes are Friday, October 18 at 9:15 p.m.; Saturday, October 19 at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, October 20 at 1:30 p.m. Q&A with Mira Nakashima (furniture designer and daughter of George Nakashima), Kenji Fujita (artist and son of S. Neil Fujita), and filmmaker Akira Boch will follow the Friday night screening.
Masters of Modern Design will also screen in Orange County on Sunday, November 10 at 12:30 p.m. at the Orange County Buddhist Church. A Q&A with the filmmakers will follow. This is a free event, but please rsvp to: email@example.com.
Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience is available on DVD at the JANM Store. JANM members receive 10% discount!
On May 25, we are opening At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America,a multimedia exhibition that explores and celebrates the emergence of a politically defined Asian Pacific American consciousness and identity. A co-production of Visual Communications (VC) and JANM, At First Light chronicles the transformation of the un-American categorization of “Oriental” to the political identity of “Asian Pacific American” that rejected racist stereotypes, stood up for human rights, recovered lost histories, and created new cultural expressions. The exhibition draws from the collection of VC, the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country, which formed in Los Angeles in 1970 to capture and cultivate the newfound unity that was Asian Pacific America.
Scholar, author, producer, and JANM Chief
Curator Karen Ishizuka, part
of the curatorial team who helped put At
First Light together, says that selecting from thousands of photographs,
hundreds of films, and a vast array of educational materials produced during
the first 20 years of VC’s existence was the most challenging part of creating
this exhibition. Ultimately, there are 30 short videos telling the
stories of places, like Historic Manilatown, and events, such as the first
Asian American march against the Vietnam War.
The largest artifact in the exhibition is a
free-standing cube sculpture created by VC Founding Director Robert A. Nakamura
in 1970. Featuring then
never-before-seen photographs of America’s World War II concentrations camps, the
sculpture was conceived to promote awareness for the repeal of the Emergency
Detention Act of 1950, which granted the government the power to preventatively
detain people during an emergency. Wanting to start an Asian Pacific American
media organization, Nakamura called it a production of Visual Communications.
Ishizuka also says that she is most looking forward to displaying a new video installation entitled FSN 1972, which repurposes early VC productions. Onto the windows and doorways of a 1972 graphic of East First Street in Little Tokyo, filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura inserted motion picture footage from VC films to invoke the current issue of preserving Little Tokyo and the Save First Street North campaign.
The resiliency and resistance embodied in At First Light serve as a reminder—as
well as a call to action—of what can be accomplished when people unite as a
community with commitment. Ishizuka says she hopes visitors learn about how VC has used media as a tool for
self-empowerment and community building and that there has been a long history
of community activism that must be continued.
To commemorate the opening day of the exhibition on May 25 at 2:00 p.m. JANM will host VC co-founders and exhibition curators Duane Kubo, Robert Nakamura, and Eddie Wong in a panel discussion about the history of VC and the creation of this show. They will be joined by Karen Ishizuka, who will moderate the discussion, helping to place VC’s history as the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country within the context of today’s changing world. RSVP here.
On May 9, join us for a special free screening
at JANM of Masters of Modern Design: The
Art of the Japanese American Experience. This documentary, a co-production
between JANM’s Watase Media Arts Center and KCET for the series ARTBOUND,
explores how the World War II American concentration camp experience impacted
the lives of five Japanese American artists and designers and ultimately sent
them on trajectories that led to their changing the face of American culture
with their immense talents.
From the hand-drawn typeface on the cover of The Godfather to Herman Miller’s
biomorphic coffee table, the work of Japanese American designers including Ruth
Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, S. Neil Fujita, and Gyo Obata permeated
postwar culture. While these second-generation Japanese American artists have
been celebrated, less-discussed is how their WW II incarceration—a period of great
hardship and discrimination—had a powerful effect on their lives and art.
We talked to Akira Boch, Director of the
Watase Media Arts Center, about the process of making this documentary.
JANM: Did you learn anything surprising or new
about the featured artists that you didn’t know before?
Akira Boch: I only had a basic knowledge of each of these artists before jumping into this project. I knew the highlights—that Fujita created The Godfather logo and legendary jazz album covers, Noguchi made the Akari lanterns and lots of public sculptures, Asawa made her iconic hanging wire sculptures, Obata was the architect behind America’s most celebrated sports stadiums (and JANM of course), and Nakashima was famous for his live-edge wood furniture. Delving deeply into their lives made me realize that each of them lived boldly, and had lives of great adventure. They lived with curiosity and without fear—which made each of them a great artist whose work we’re still celebrating today. I hope that we were able to capture some of that and do justice to their lives in our film.
JANM: How long did it take to produce the
AB: The idea for the film came from an article written by Alexandra Lange for Curbed. I was first contacted about working on the project in September of last year. I immediately started researching and making contact with potential interviewees. We shot the film primarily in October and November of 2018. Editing started shortly after that.
JANM: What was the most challenging thing
about making the documentary?
AB: The most challenging thing was creating a
structure for the film that told the stories of five main characters and tying
them all together thematically. Ensemble stories are difficult to tell because
a limited amount of screen time needs to be shared equally. We wanted to be
sure that the audience got a good sense of each of the artists, their struggles
JANM: Was there a location you visited while
making the documentary that stands out in your mind?
AB: We shot this film primarily in San
Francisco, New York City, and New Hope, Pennsylvania. I think shooting in New
Hope was the highlight in terms of locations. There, we were able to see the
magnificent compound—utopia, if you will—that George Nakashima created in the
woods of Pennsylvania. He was the architect of all of the structures on the
property, which includes a couple of houses, a work studio, a showroom, a wood
storage barn, and a guest house. Because he had worked as an architect and
lived in Japan for several years, he embraced Japanese aesthetics. So, it was
amazing to see those Japanese architectural influences in the middle of an
American forest. And of course, the buildings were full of his gorgeous
JANM: What did you learn by making the
AB: All that I learned about the extraordinary
lives of the artists that we featured could not be included in the one-hour
time limitation of this film. That’s why the final piece is so packed with
fascinating material. For the audience, I hope this film is a jumping-off point
for further investigation because each of these artists led such rich, complex
lives. In terms of life lessons gleaned from these artists, I’d say that the
combination of persistence, hard work, curiosity, and courage can lead to a
This screening is free, but RSVPs are recommended using this link. A Q&A with the filmmakers and some of the people interviewed for the film and a light reception will follow the screening. If you’re not able to make the screening, starting May 15, the film will be broadcast in Southern California on KCET and available for streaming on kcet.org/artbound.
Our Man in Tokyo (The Ballad of Shin Miyata) is my short documentary about the struggles and obsessions of Shin Miyata, a Tokyo-based record label owner and promoter who specializes in the difficult task of distributing Chicano music in Japan.
Shin’s goal has always been to bring authentic and diverse representations of Chicano and Latinx culture to Japan. He has done so with a purity of intention that hasn’t brought him financial gain, but has instead delivered a wealth of understanding that has educated, enlightened, and actually changed the lives of many people.
The documentary was made in conjunction with JANM’s exhibition, Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo. Like the art that was featured in the exhibition, Shin’s work provides a prime example of the intersectionality of Japanese and Latinx cultures and artistic collaborations.
As we were planning our first screening in Tokyo, set for April 7 at an event space called Hare-Mame, Shin was nervous. Not only was he reluctant about promoting a screening of a film about himself, he was also worried that not many people would show up.
He wanted to add more entertainment—more films, maybe even a band. We decided to include Tad Nakamura’s poignant short doc about a little-known slice of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District, Breakfast at Tak’s, plus a few of Shin’s favorite DJ’s—the Trasmundo crew and DJ Holiday.
Regardless of the additional entertainment, when the night of the event arrived, Hare-Mame was packed to the gills. It was full of Shin’s friends and followers, all eager to watch the documentary about him.
As the film played, the crowd’s reaction was amazing to see. It was much different from audiences in LA and Mexico City, the two cities where the film had previously screened. I don’t know if it was because of cultural differences or personal knowledge of Shin, but the Japanese audience burst into laughter at unexpected moments and actually cheered (!) during a section of the film where other audiences had remained silent.
As the credits rolled, they erupted into a sustained applause—not just for the film, but also for Shin himself, who has impacted their lives in a deeply meaningful way for many years by introducing them to the art, culture, and politics of Chicanos and Latinxs from the US. It was an acknowledgement of all the tireless work he has done for Chicano/Latinx artists and the people of Japan.
Many people thanked me afterwards for telling Shin’s story, but I was just grateful that they had shown up and were open to Shin’s mission of cultural understanding and unity. As I write this, I know that he is already on to a new project—searching for the next band to take to Japan, digging up a long-forgotten album to re-release, or planning another live event. His struggle continues and countless people are better off for it.
On March 19, JANM will hold its annual Gala Dinner, Silent Auction, and After Party at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles. A lavish affair that typically attracts over 1,000 guests, this event raises crucial funds that support the museum’s operations throughout the year.
The theme of this year’s dinner is “Moving Images, Telling Stories.” Those who know JANM for its exhibitions exploring various facets of the Japanese American experience, from the World War II incarceration to Hello Kitty and Giant Robot, may not be aware that the museum is home to a groundbreaking collection of home movies and video life histories—the former dating back to the Issei of the early 20th century.
Representing rare footage of Japanese American life taken by Japanese Americans, the home movies are a glimpse back in time, providing an invaluable counterpoint to mainstream media in which Asians were either absent or portrayed unfavorably. The video life histories are in-depth interviews conducted by JANM with a diverse spectrum of Japanese Americans, recording the lives of Japanese Americans in their own words. These compelling first-person resources have helped to portray the Japanese American story as an integral part of the broader American narrative.
This year’s dinner will honor Karen L. Ishizuka and Robert A. Nakamura, who pioneered the museum’s moving image collection and founded its Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. Nakamura is also a seminal Asian American filmmaker, having made some of the first films by and about Asian Americans. Ishizuka was instrumental in advocating for the historical and cultural significance of home movies, lobbying successfully for the inclusion of amateur footage shot at the Topaz, Utah, concentration camp during World War II on the National Film Registry. Together, Ishizuka and Nakamura will receive the inaugural JANM Legacy Award, established to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a lasting contribution to the museum’s institutional legacy and helped to distinguish the museum as a unique, vital, and valuable community resource.
Also honored will be the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who has made significant use of JANM’s home movies and other archival materials in three of his highly popular historical sagas, bringing the museum’s resources to a broad national audience. Burns will receive the inaugural JANM Founders’ Award, established to recognize an individual or organization that advances the mission and vision of the museum’s founders in a meaningful way on a national or international scale.
Please visit our newly revamped Gala Dinner website for complete details and to purchase tickets. We hope you can join us for what promises to be a very exciting evening.
The story of Polynesian tattoo art, or tatau, is one of fierce dedication to cultural tradition. Despite attempts by western missionaries to eliminate the practice, tatau has survived for over two thousand years, passed down through generations of skilled tattoo artists. The act of acquiring tatau is itself a grueling test of endurance and tolerance for pain. Thus, wearing these traditional marks is a bold statement of cultural pride.
Recognizing the importance of what tatau symbolizes, and its relevance to JANM’s work of promoting diversity, JANM will present Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, an exhibition on the artistry and legacy of Samoan tattoo.
Opening in Summer 2016, Tatau will build on JANM’s immensely popular 2014 exhibition Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World. Like Perseverence, Tatau is curated by acclaimed tattoo artist and author Takahiro Kitamura. We hope Tatau will inspire and enlighten our members and frequent visitors, while also introducing JANM and the Japanese American story to new audiences.
Because we expect Tatau will appeal to diverse communities, JANM was open to exploring new options for funding the exhibition. Earlier this month, the museum launched its first-ever crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for Tatau. Contributions to the campaign will support photographing tatau, installing the exhibition at the museum, and publishing a full-color catalog. Recently, Kitamura and exhibition photographer John Agcaoili traveled to Hawai‘i to consult with Sulu’ape Steve Looney and Danielle Steffany-Looney of Pacific Soul Tattoo as well as Edward Danielson, lecturer in the Department of Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures, University of Hawai‘i, to ensure the cultural accuracy of the exhibition narrative.
So far, the campaign has attracted interest from around the world and raised several thousand dollars for the exhibition through donations of all sizes. Currently, we are about one-third of the way to our goal of raising $20,000.
Visit our Tatau Indiegogo page to learn more about the exhibition and help us reach our fundraising goal. Our campaign runs through December 3, 2015. And we hope to see you when Tatau comes to JANM next year.
JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum was packed full on Tuesday night for a special community viewing of the latest episode of the Asian-American sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. The episode featured a LGBTQ storyline, and the event drew many members of the Asian American media and LGBTQ communities. The viewing was followed by a panel discussion with writer and showrunner Nahnatchka Khan, guest actor Rex Lee, author/comedian D’Lo, and artist/organizer Erin O’Brien, moderated by filmmaker Curtis Chin. The event was organized by Jeff Yang, journalist and father of the show’s young star, Hudson Yang.
The episode, titled “Blind Spot,” kept everyone laughing. It revolved around a visit from mom Jessica Huang’s old college boyfriend, Oscar Chow. Jessica, oblivious to the fact that Oscar is now openly gay, wonders why her husband Louis feels absolutely no jealousy. Louis, for his part, is oblivious to the fact that the person Oscar really loved in college was him, not Jessica. Much hilarity ensues as the couple confronts one another about their respective “blind spots.”
The panelists, who were all LGBTQ-identified, engaged in a lively and humorous discussion following the episode. Rex Lee, who played the character of Oscar Chow, said that his favorite thing about guest starring on this episode was getting to know the three child actors, who now send him tweets constantly. Erin O’Brien analyzed the gay subtext in Fresh Off the Boat and other popular shows, jokingly proclaiming that “everything has a gay subtext.” D’Lo, who has had roles on the LGBTQ-themed shows Looking and Transparent, expressed his preference for Fresh Off the Boat, which features people of color.
During the Q&A, one audience member called out the Oscar Chow character for being “stereotypically gay.” Lee responded that as a gay man himself, he felt he was able to play Oscar from the inside, rather than via external gestures. This drew applause from the audience, who for the most part seemed to appreciate a television show capable of showcasing both Asian and gay characters with light but intelligent humor. Audience members also approved of the show’s culturally authentic details, such as this episode’s reference to “white flower oil,” an herbal remedy commonly used by Chinese families.
Throughout the discussion, the panelists spoke most passionately about the hunger for media representation of LGBTQ people and people of color, pointing to the huge turnouts both for that night’s event and an earlier community viewing of the premiere episode of the show as evidence. It was noted that fans of the show comprise a highly diverse demographic that includes Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, and whites. O’Brien asserted, “We really want to see ourselves on TV. And as cultural producers, we have realized that we have to do this ourselves.”
Loud hisses came from the audience at the mention of a recent article on the Deadline website, which offended many by asking if diversity in casting had gone too far, reducing the available roles for whites. (The site has since apologized for the story.) “To see more people of color on the screen, how is this not a great thing?” asked Nahnatchka Khan. Later, when complimented by an Asian American man in the audience for a joke in the episode that alluded to Louis’ “big bones” and thus countered stereotypes of Asian men as under-endowed, Khan responded, “You just have to be committed to the message.”
The Tateuchi Democracy Forum welcomed a full house on Tuesday, September 9, as JANM celebrated the 30th anniversary of the beloved film The Karate Kid with a reception, screening, and panel discussion. This highly anticipated event featured live appearances by star Ralph Macchio, director John Avildsen, Aly Morita (daughter of deceased star Pat Morita), and co-stars Billy Zabka (“Johnny Lawrence”) and Martin Kove (“John Kreese”). Among the guests in the audience were Tamlyn Tomita, star of The Karate Kid II; JANM Board of Trustees member Wendy Shiba; and JANM New Leadership Advisory Council president Kira Teshima.
Many avid fans of the movie, some of whom had seen it when it first came out in 1984, were in the audience. During the screening, people clapped wildly for classic scenes, such as Mr. Miyagi protecting Daniel from the gang of teenage boys, and Daniel executing his tournament-winning crane kick.
Jared Cowan, a photographer who recently wrote a cover story about The Karate Kid for LA Weekly, moderated a Q&A session following the film. The stars and director reminisced about the making of the film while Aly Morita shared her childhood memories of her father. The panelists also brought the film’s martial arts choreographer, Darryl Vidal, to the stage for an extended explanation of the iconic crane kick. While inspired by classic martial arts moves, the kick itself was specifically created by Vidal to heighten the drama of the climactic scene.
JANM volunteer Richard Murakami spoke for many in the audience when he offered a heartfelt thanks to the group for creating a sensitive portrayal of a Japanese American man during a time when such portrayals were rare. “It made me proud,” he said, generating a round of applause.
In July, JANM hosted a national conference themed, Speaking Up! Democracy, Justice, Dignity in Seattle. And now, we are pleased to announce that conference audio and video files are now available online!
You can see the breadth of audio and video offerings here, as well as here.
We hope that these offerings will help those who were at the conference—as well as those who weren’t able to make it—continue to learn, grow, and be inspired to speak up for democracy, justice, and dignity!
On November 2, 2013, JANM held a premiere film screening for the documentary, Unexpected Journeys: Remarkable Stories of Japanese in America in the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Democracy Forum.
Produced by the Museum’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center, and sponsored by NITTO TIRES U.S.A Inc., Unexpected Journeys is a 30-minute documentary of selected interviews of individuals whose lives illuminate the astonishing diversity of the Japanese experience in America.
Not only did guests get to watch the premiere public screening of Unexpected Journeys, they also got to enjoy a Q&A session led by director John Esaki with interviewees Sumi Hughes, Jean Schneider, Iris Teragawa, Harry Oda, and Lloyd Inui. The Q&A session continued with videographers Akira Boch and Evan Kodani joining the interviewees on stage.
After the public screening and the enlightening Q&A session, guests, interviewees and their families, project participants, staff, sponsors, and other special guests were able to greet each other over light refreshments. Among Saturday’s special guests, was Frank H. Watase, who JANM’s media arts center is named after!
Check out these photos from the premiere public screening of Unexpected Journeys!
Photo Credits: Richard Murakami and Tsuneo Takasugi