Apr 30, 2017

Film Screenings in Remembrance of Japanese Internment Camps


      On Wednesday evening, April 26, I went to room 674(6 floor, Tisch, NYU) to see the Japanese Internment Camp film screenings: Where I Live, produced by my cinema studies classmate Conan Ito and Luyao Ma. A couple of weeks earlier, Conan invited me to go to their upcoming documentary screenings, which would include a film he and Maloo (as we call her) recently made. He said their film is about the World War II Japanese concentration camp. The phrase “concentration camp” he used, instantly made me associate this with what the Nazi regime had done to its Jewish victims. Thus I started to question myself: why didn’t I know anything about this period of history before? But later Conan told me that most of the Japanese Americans in these camps had survived. At the screening, I also found the presenters changed the word “concentration” into “internment,” a more apt term.
      The screening showcased three films in this order: Robert Nakamura’s Something Strong Within (1995), Ito and Ma’s work-in-progress, Where I Live (2017), and Rea Tajiri’s History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991). The first and the third are documentaries, but quite distinct from conventional ones. Something Strong Within is an assemblage of home movie footage, with intertitles giving the names of their makers. It unfolds these images of the real life in multiple Japanese internment camps across America. In a mix of black-and-white and color footage, we witness how American Japanese reconstruct a new community far away from the outside world, celebrating their traditional holidays; holding sporting events, games, and art classes; chopping firewood and working in the field. But History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige is far more fragmentary and experimental with its use of documents.
      In the discussion that followed the screenings, Maloo answered a question about why they selected these two to juxtapose with their film. She admitted that even she started to understand them in this second viewing. What’s more important, Conan added that there are plenty of mainstream documentaries which introduce the history of American Japanese in a more dramatic tone, whereas what they intend to do is more directly reveal the truth of this period of history.
      As for their new documentary, I wanted to praise them for doing a good job. From the perspective of the present, they interviewed three women involved in the past and historical trauma in different degrees. What interests me most are the multiple identities of these female interviewees. Instead of being the so-called survivors or the descendants of survivors of that period and experience, they constructed new identities, socially or professionally, to integrate into the multicultural society they have known since the war years. Theodora Yoshikami, the 74-year-old interviewee who came to the screening, was once a dancer. I was deeply moved by seeing the old images (performance record from NYU Tisch, took in 80s, Theodora used to be a student in Dance department in Tisch.) that she was performing traditional Japanese dance in Where I Live.
( Theodora Yoshikami)

      I want to end with some words from the conversation between Theodora and a Japanese girl in the Q&A section. The girl said in Japan she had never heard of the history of American Japanese internment camps. She thought it must be a big part of American history, so she wanted to know how important the issue is to Americans. But Theodora instantly answered it was never a big part of America. What she meant is the American haven’t widely discussed or memorialized the internment camp and it will never appeal on the official textbook no matter in America or Japan. So how should the younger generation consider the issue? Memorize or let it go?

Ni Lei

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