INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Tashima Helps Reintroduce Sei Fujii in ‘Reporter’

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By GEORGE T. JOHNSTON

Over the past few months you, like me, may have seen posters at Southern California’s shops and community centers catering to Japanese Americans and Japanese expats advertising a movie titled “Lil Tokyo Reporter.”

Although I knew nothing of the movie’s content, said posters intrigued me for a couple of reasons: one, I’m interested in Nikkei journalism and journalists, thanks to having gotten my start in print journalism at Pacific Citizen, as well as writing this column for The Rafu Shimpo these past 20 years.

Two, the movie stars multi-hyphenated talent Chris Tashima (actor-writer-director-producer), a longtime friend who is best known for having won an Oscar for “Visas and Virtue” several years ago. He and I had been exchanging emails over the past few months because I was interested in learning more about “LTR” and writing about it in this space. With screenings set to take place in February, it finally looked like the time was right for me to chat with Chris and learn about his involvement with the movie and what it was about.

To be honest, I was unaware of Sei Fujii’s story — but I didn’t feel too badly about that because I wasn’t alone in that regard. “I have to admit that I actually did not know who Sei Fujii was,” Tashima said of his awareness of the man prior to joining the movie’s production. Knowing what he does now, Tashima calls the contributions of the Issei journalist who founded the now long-defunct Kashu Mainichi “quite remarkable.”

“He died in the 1950s, which is why I think no one has heard of him because it’s been so long since his death,” Tashima said, “but nevertheless, he’s a pretty important figure when you talk about Southern California Japanese American history.”

According to Tashima, the genesis of the roughly 30-minute-long movie goes back to a 2010 program jointly sponsored by the Little Tokyo Historical Society and the Japanese American National Museum about the founding and history of L.A.’s Japanese Hospital.

Fujii was a part of the hospital’s history, but the research by LTHS also uncovered other aspects to his life. “He ended up being the individual that sued the State of California to overturn the Alien Land Act and that was in 1952. Then he died a couple of years later, which is why I think no one’s heard of him,” Tashima added.

Thanks to Tashima’s involvement in Asian American filmmaking, he became acquainted with Jeffrey Gee Chin, a young Chinese American filmmaker from the Bay Area who had produced a documentary about immigration hub Angel Island. Chin was so taken with Fujii’s saga, thanks to the LTHS-JANM program, that he and his producing partner asked to meet with Tashima and present him with a script in the hope that Tashima would play Fujii in the drama Chin wanted to direct.

That movie, which is now ready to take its bow, deals with (from what I’ve been able to discern as someone who’s not seen it) Fujii and the personally dangerous stand he took in 1935 against Japanese gamblers who were exploiting immigrant Japanese farmers in Little Tokyo with dishonest card games.

“This particular story actually delves into a darker side of J-Town that we really don’t hear much about, which is the gambling dens,” said Tashima.

In addition to Chin, who is now attending film school at USC, the producing team included Michael Iinuma and LTHS’ Carole Fujita.  LTHS and Visual Communications would eventually team to co-produce “LTR.”

Chris Tashima portrays journalist Sei Fujii in “Lil Tokyo Reporter.”

Tashima said that the film is finished but they’re still in need of money, despite a recent donation from Union Bank; early on, the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program also provided some funds. Filmmaking is simply one of those endeavors in which there’s never enough money and never enough time. (To donate to “Lil Tōkyō Reporter,” visit: ltreporter.com/donate.html.)

In the meantime, there are three screenings set for Saturday, Feb. 23, since, says Tashima, the movie hasn’t screened yet in Los Angeles or, to be more precise, in Little Tokyo. It looks like the tickets will be $9 for general admission and $7 for seniors and students, with matinees at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 in the afternoon. (Check ltreporter.com before the screening, when the website is sure to be updated with more specifics.) He noted that there will probably be T-shirts and CDs of the movie’s music to help raise money to cover costs.

So, while there have been a few screenings and this one that is coming up, “Little Tokyo Reporter” hasn’t premiered at a film festival. Since VC is one of the producers, it will screen in their upcoming festival, but the filmmakers are trying to get it accepted in other festivals now.

“It’s one of those projects that’s a community piece and it took so many people to come together and help out with this, and now, to help share it. I’m just thankful for that kind of support,” said Tashima.

Regarding Sei Fujii, Tashima added, “I’m glad people are learning about him.”

Japanese Military Experts Needed Dept.:  “Crowdsourcing” and “crowdfunding” are a couple of terms that have arisen in recent years when describing a means to tap the energy and intellect (and wallets) of the many to achieve a particular goal, especially when applied to the Internet.

A friend of mine who’d like to remain anonymous was a teenage conscript for the Japanese army during the waning months of WWII. He saw most of his young friends die as Japan’s military became increasingly desperate in the advancing onslaught of the island-hopping Allies (mainly the United States) toward mainland Japan. He wrote: “I would love to have access to the official history of my army air force air division headquartered in Fukuoka to get a forest view of the war theater.” What he is looking for specifically are the official wartime records of the Imperial Army Air Force’s Dai-Roku-Ko-Ku-Shi-Dan or Sixth Army Air Division.

This is in addition to a quest he wants to undertake this summer if his health allows, namely to visit Okinawa and the “old Yontan air base site if it still exists.”

I’m wondering if among The Rafu Shimpo’s readership there is someone who knows this sort of information and how to access it. If that person is you, please contact me via the email address listed below. I’ll be happy to share the details in a less public forum.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2013 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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