Lens on Little Tokyo Struggles

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Documentaries on J-Town's redevelopment era to be shown for first time in 30 years.

Members of the Little Tokyo Peoples’ Right Organization are seen picketing in front of one of the storefronts on Weller Street slated for demolition, circa 1977. Pictured from left: Joanne Sakai, Lucien Kubota, Alan Kondo, Dean Toji, Evelyn Yoshimura, Bruce Iwasaki, Qris Yamashita, Duane Kubo, and Mike Murase. (Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

Members of the Little Tokyo Peoples’ Right Organization are seen picketing in front of one of the storefronts on Weller Street slated for demolition, circa 1977. Pictured from left: Joanne Sakai, Lucien Kubota, Alan Kondo, Dean Toji, Evelyn Yoshimura, Bruce Iwasaki, Qris Yamashita, Duane Kubo, and Mike Murase. (Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

Two controversial and little-seen documentaries that foreground the struggles and consequences of Little Tokyo redevelopment in the 1970s and 1980s will be screened as part of a unique ongoing pop-up exhibition space organized by +LAB, a creative community development strategy of the Little Tokyo Service Center, and curated by Visual Communications, the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts center.

The program, “Standing Our Ground,” set for Thursday, Oct. 6, is the first of two programs of short works organized by VC that will afford audiences a chance to get reacquainted with works that foreground Little Tokyo, the nation’s first Japanese American urban community. “Standing Our Ground” is presented in conjunction with Takachizu, a Sustainable Little Tokyo project initiated by LTSC’s +LAB, that creates a community gathering space to identify, reflect and preserve that which is valued in the Little Tokyo community.

“When you think of it, cinema — whether home movies or ethnographic documentation — holds much value in identifying the importance and vitality of ‘community,’” said Abraham Ferrer, VC exhibitions director. “It isn’t until you revisit that old film or home movie that you realize the things it tells us about community — what we looked like, how we worked and played, how we existed and made a home where we made it.

“Given the parallels bridging community redevelopment struggles in Little Tokyo in the 1970s and the current issues surrounding Little Tokyo gentrification and sustainability, it’s important to kick off this series with +LAB as a means of bridging generations, and as a starting point in determining how those who have a physical, political, or even emotional stake in the vitality of the community influence its direction, moving forward.”

The program will include two works from VC’s award-winning filmography:

• “Something’s Rotten in Little Tokyo,” a 1977 VC organizational production headed by co-founders Duane Kubo and Eddie Wong, takes a rigorous look at the economic, political, and social forces that threatened Little Tokyo with extinction in the mid-1970s. An exhaustive parade of interview subjects, from local bureaucrats to elderly residents of the Sun Hotel (a prime target for demolition and resurrection as Weller Court, a luxury shopping mall), offers a searing indictment of the civic push for market-driven “redevelopment” efforts at the expense of the people that populated largely minority and low-income urban communities as Little Tokyo. One of the first VC productions to be photographed using broadcast-format video, “Something’s Rotten in Little Tokyo” was utilized extensively as a community organizing tool by groups including the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO)

• Inspired in part by investigative reports initiated through her tenure as a reporter for The Rafu Shimpo, Naomi Hirahara’s 1986 documentary “No Vacancy” profiles two Asian American middle-aged men who, faced with the depletion of low-cost housing, find ways to survive in downtown’s Little Tokyo and Chinatown. This documentary, which contains footage of the razing of Little Tokyo’s Alan Hotel (now a market-priced block-wide housing complex), offers a poignant view of a segment of Asian American underclass that is rarely talked about.

Following the screening, LTSC Sustainability Planner Frank Lee will conduct a conversation with directors Hirahara and Wong, and Sustainable Little Tokyo’s Kristin Fukushima. Additional guests will be announced.

Preceding and immediately following the program and conversation, Takachizu will open its doors beginning at 5:30 p.m. for treasure sharing and documenting prior to the screening. Guests with items and/or memories of value to Little Tokyo — stories, images, objects, pictures, flyers, artifacts, histories, and other related materials — are invited to bring those items with them. Details about Takachizu can be found at: http://bit.ly/2dtkk8K; a sampling of items documented so far can be viewed online at: http://takachizu.tumblr.com/.

Takachizu, a community gathering space, is located at VIDA Group Building, 249 S. Los Angeles St. (between Second and Third streets), Los Angeles. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; program starts at 7 p.m. For complete event details: httpL//bit.ly/2dvLzDT; to RSVP, visit the event Facebook page at: http://bit.ly/2ddjvn8. Details on the second program presented by VC in partnership with +LAB, slated for Dec. 2, will be announced shortly.

Takachizu (“treasure map”), a community “show and tell” gathering space designed to identify and reflect on that which is most valuable, celebrated, and in need of protection in Little Tokyo, is a project of Sustainable Little Tokyo initiated by +LAB, LTSC’s creative community development strategy utilizing collaboration and experimentation to advance Little Tokyo’s power over its future. As a means to support the preservation and sustainability of Little Tokyo’s cultural assets amidst rapid displacement, Takachizu is a community participatory asset-gathering model designed by Rosten Woo and team to help inform ongoing community development efforts. Takachizu is funded by ArtPlace America.

VC is the nation’s premier Asian American and Pacific Islander media arts organization. Founded in 1970, the organization’s mission is to develop and support the voices of AAPI filmmakers and media artists who empower communities and challenge perspectives. VC is funded in part by the Aratani Foundation, Asian Pacific Community Fund, California Arts Council, California Humanities, Department of Cultural Affairs-City of Los Angeles, Getty Foundation, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, LAIKA, Sony Pictures Entertainment, VC Stakeholders, and VC Community Partners.

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