A Rather Unexpected Career in Film


A seniors’ course leads to two works screening during the upcoming Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

By MICHI TANIOKA, Special to The Rafu

The new filmmaking class for seniors was going to begin the next day. My first excuse several weeks prior was that I didn’t have a story to tell. One day before the class was to start, my excuse was that I didn’t have a way to get to Little Tokyo.

Michi Tanioka’s father, Kunio Tatsui, is the subject of one of her two films screening on April 26.

Michi Tanioka’s father, Kunio Tatsui, is the subject of one of her two films screening on April 26.

A friend overheard my comment and immediately volunteered to drive me to class, so now I had no excuse. Winston took me to class twice a week for 11 weeks. That is one nice guy!

Being a tech-ignorant senior, it was frustrating at first but gradu­ally my interest was aroused. For a homework assignment, I decided to tell a story of how a fellow we met in Maui attempted to commit suicide because he thought my husband and I had deserted him. This fellow had be­come attached to us and we couldn’t go explore Maui on our own, so we ditched him and took off early one morning to Kapalua.

I wrote the script and started shooting. One scene showed a razor held to a wrist with catsup oozing out. To shoot emergency-room scenes, my husband, George, had to accom­pany me as Ididn’t know how to put the camera on the tripod. A hospital security guard came over and chased us off the grounds.

By this time, George was yelling, “Quit the class, quit the class!” It was a hot day and he was tired.

Michi and George Tanioka.

Michi and George Tanioka.

There was no way I would quit the class because now I was hooked. This was back in 2006, and since then, I have made 13 films on various social issues such as female sexual­ity, homosexuality, tutoring school children, women facing the death of a spouse, and Japanese American concentration camps.

I have filmed a trilogy on George’s and my life together: “May I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life,” “…and the Dance Continues,” and “The Last Dance,” which screened at the Los Angeles and the San Fran­cisco film festivals.

For the 2014-2015 class year, I made two films. “Gio: A Man Won­derfully Created” is a story about growing up gay in the conservative Deep South with a Southern Baptist minister father. Gio’s interview is very poignant and powerful. My hope is that it will help us become more accepting and affirming of our LGBT friends.

My second film is called “A Suitcase in One Hand — A Paintbox in the Other.” It is the story of my father, Kunio Tatsui, who emigrated to America as an 18-year-old to study painting. After retirement, he enrolled at the Otis Art Institute and studied sculpting.

His works were exhibited at JACCC’s Hyakunen Sakura — Hundred-Year Cherry Blossoms, which is a metaphor for artists who have continued to produce things of beauty in their advanced years.

These two films are a part of 13 Digital Histories films, which will be screening at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy theater of the Japanese American National Museum on Sunday, April 26, at 2:30.

Digital Histories is under the auspices of Visual Communications, sponsors of the 31st Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, running from April 23 to 30.

For festival ticket and program information, visit www.vconline.org/festival. For more information about the Digital Histories Program, please email [email protected]

Photos provided by Michi Tanioka

Kunio Tatsui poses at the JACCC Doizaki Gallery with artist Kenzi Shiokava.

Kunio Tatsui poses at the JACCC Doizaki Gallery with artist Kenzi Shiokava.



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