The “Lil Tokyo Reporter” DVD release party was held Aug. 29 at Los Angeles Center Studios.
A screening of the half-hour film — a fact-based drama about journalist and community advocate Sei Fujii — was introduced by Jacob Zuniga of Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young LLP, the event’s sponsor. He said he became aware of the film when he happened to sit next to its director and co-screenwriter, Jeffrey Gee Chin, during a Southwest Airlines flight.
It was not such a stretch for a law firm to host the event, Zuniga said, noting that Fujii went to USC Law School but was not allowed to practice law because he was born in Japan. With his friend and law partner J. Marion Wright, Fujii was instrumental in overturning laws that discriminated against Japanese immigrants.
Charles Koyama, vice president of studio operations at Los Angeles Center Studios, provided the venue for the party.
During the post-screening Q&A, Chin was joined by:
Cast — Chris Tashima (Sei Fujii), Sewell Whitney (J. Marion Wright), Keiko Agena (Mrs. Sato), Eijiro Ozaki (Mr. Sato).
Crew — Fumiko Carole Fujita, executive producer; Michael Iinuma, producer; George Shaw, composer; Kimsun Vong, graphic designer; Kenneth Nakada, visual effects supervisor; Linda Jewell, stunt coordinator.
The film, which has won more than 14 awards at 10 film festivals, depicts a battle between Fujii and corrupt elements in Little Tokyo in the mid-1930s. The filmmakers noted that there are many other aspects of Fujii’s life that were not addressed, from his detention as an “enemy alien” during World War II to achieving U.S. citizenship shortly before his death in the 1950s — “a heartbreaking yet inspiring story,” Fujita said.
Fujii also had a reputation as a womanizer, Fujita added, but this was not incorporated into the film.
The filmmakers planned to meet Fujii’s great-granddaughter, who has heard of the film, during an upcoming trip to Japan, but the meeting had to be postponed due to a death in the family, Fujita said.
Chin announced that he is working on a feature-length screenplay about Fujii and Wright’s involvement in a 1928 Supreme Court case that led to the building of the first Japanese hospital in the country.
Tashima, a Sansei, admitted that he didn’t know about Fujii before becoming involved in the project, but learned a lot from research done by the producers and the Little Tokyo Historical Society, including interviews with people who knew Fujii and copies of The Kashu Mainichi, the newspaper that he founded. “I really enjoyed learning about this part of my history,” Tashima said.
Whitney, who previously worked with one of the film’s producers, Mayon Denton, said he had “a great experience … I’m really fond of period films. I think we have a lot to learn from the past.”
Ozaki, who also appeared in “Letters from Iwo Jima,” compared that film’s director, Clint Eastwood, with Chin, saying that both had a very calm directing style.
Jewell, who staged a fight scene between Fujii and the film’s villain, Yamada (Ikuma Ando), and one of his henchmen, played by Hiro Matsunaga, said that although there were last-minute changes and some language problems, “we all made it work. They were all incredibly athletic. Chris went through tons of times being choked.”
The event concluded with DVD signings by the cast and picture-taking on the red carpet.
For more information on the film, visit www.ltreporter.com.
— Story and photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo