Seeking Help in Support of History

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This early publicity still from "Lil Tokyo Reporter" furnished by Toyo Miyatake Studios shows Tashima as Sei Fujii, founder of the Kashu Mainichi.

The Little Tokyo Historical Society, a volunteer organization operating under the Little Tokyo Service Center, is dedicated to documenting the heritage and stories of the Japanese Americans in early Little Tokyo.  Since its inception in 2006, LTHS has uncovered a variety of stories, many of which tell of the struggles during the hardships of 1920-30s Little Tokyo.

In April 2010, LTHS sponsored a successful joint seminar with the Japanese American National Museum about the historic Japanese Hospital that was built in 1929 after a landmark Supreme Court case that provided adequate access to health care for Japanese Americans for the first time.

The latest of their projects is a narrative film expanding on the research of the Japanese Hospital that will share the untold story of Sei Fujii and J. Marion Wright.  Fujii, an Issei newspaperman and founder of the Kashu Mainichi, and Wright, civil rights attorney and close friend, defended the Japanese of Los Angeles against unjust laws and unethical business practices. These same men were responsible for overturning the Alien Land Law in 1952, and laid the groundwork for redress and the future civil rights leaders of today. The narrative takes place during the Great Depression, exploring the early struggles of Fujii as a newsman and community leader after his accomplishments in 1929.

Chris Tashima, Carole Fujita and Jeffrey Gee Chin during a Little Tokyo Community Council meeting last month to discuss the film project. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

The star of the film, acclaimed actor Chris Tashima, has an inextricable connection with his Japanese and American heritage, having produced narratives highlighting community forerunners, including his 1997 Academy Award-winning film, “Visas and Virtue,” in which he directed and starred as Holocaust rescuer Chiune Sugihara. He provides his insightful perspectives and clever performance as Fujii in this narrative film.

Keiko Agena, best known for her role as Lane Kim in the TV show “Gilmore Girls,” will play Tashima’s opposite and love interest.  Recently, she played Dr. Cheng on Fox Television’s “House” and this summer will be the Blackberry-wielding assistant to Frances McDormand in “Transformers 3.” Agena was featured in People Magazine’s” 100 Most Beautiful People” issue, in the “they play meek and geeky, but off screen they shine” section, with America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”), Jenna Fischer (“The Office”) and Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24”).

The film’s cast also features the Nisei Week Queen of 2010, Lani Kume Nishiyama, who studied acting at the USC School of Theatre and the Wayne Dvorak Studio in Hollywood.  Her talent and rooted sense of community strengthens the film’s purpose.

Executive Producer Fumiko Carole Fujita is a Sansei activist who spent the first two years of her life during World War II interned in the Santa Anita Assembly Center in California and the Rohwer internment camp in Arkansas.  She fought and won two cases before the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission to change the political climate to correct the underrepresentation of women and Asians in pharmacy administration.  For the past three years, Dr. Fujita has spearheaded the research on the Japanese Hospital to produce the joint program at JANM.

Director Jeffrey Gee Chin is a renowned filmmaker with the San Francisco-based Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation who focused his honors research at UC Berkeley on the early 1920s and ’30s Asian American enclaves in New York, and California. His work has been showcased on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and at the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles.

To produce a film takes a team of talented and dedicated individuals, many giving their time for the love of art, community and a story that needs to be told.  However, there are costs to do a project like this and so the community is asked to become an active participant. The Little Tokyo Historical Society is currently raising funds to support the significant expenses of this film, planned for production in the summer of 2011. The LTHS is asking for your tax-deductible contributions to help provide funding for this project. LTHS appreciates your support in making this film possible to share the forgotten history of early Little Tokyo with the next generation of Americans.

The Little Tokyo Historical Society will be launching its fundraising campaign for the film; for more information, visit http://ltreporter.com. Make donations payable to “Little Tokyo Service Center.” Include your name, address, phone number and email in order to receive updates on the project.

The Little Tokyo Historical Society is located at Casa Heiwa, 231 E. Third St., #G106, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Phone (213) 473-1602 or e-mail [email protected]

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  1. This is all so amazing to me! The story and the history of Sei Fujii. I just learned on my own who this man was 2 days ago. I have been doing genealogical research on my grandfather and just found out yesterday my grandfather John J.McMahon was in his graduating class in USC law school in 1912!! I am thrilled this movie is coming out! I just got copies of my grandfather’s yearbook pictures and his name along with Seii Fujji was on the same list! Even when I inquired about my grandfather, I also included Sei Fujii’s name just to pinpoint the two of them being in the same class. Perhaps they spoke to each other. My grandfather’s daughter, my mom, is still living and it was so exciting for me to tell her about both of these men!! I am proud of them both.

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