By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
“Don’t Normalize Hate” is the theme of a new public service announcement posted on YouTube to coincide with this week’s transition from President Obama to President Trump.
The PSA — which Grammy-winning singer Katy Perry has shared with her 155.2 million followers on Twitter and Instagram — begins with these words: “In 1942, over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in internment camps across the U.S.”
An elderly woman appears on the screen and says, “My name is Haru Kuromiya. I’m 89 years old. I was born and grew up on a chicken farm in Riverside, Calif. I remember it as being a happy childhood.
“I was with my father when the FBI picked him up. It was 1942 and we had no idea how soon we’d see him again. It was just a lot of confusion. My entire family was put on a registry. They were given nametags and numbers, and we had to wear them.
“And we were put on a train and I had no idea where we were going. But we ended up at this internment camp in Manzanar. We had to leave our businesses, our homes and our possessions behind, even our pets. We were an American farm family now living in an internment camp, and our constitutional rights were taken away from us.
“It all started with fear and rumors, then it ballooned into the registration of Japanese Americans and then labeling with physical tags, and eventually internment.”
“Haru” then removes the prosthetics from her face and reveals herself to be a young Muslim American. “Don’t let history repeat itself,” she says.
The closing message: “A Muslim registry is the first step in repeating history. Don’t turn against each other out of fear. #Dontnormalizehate”
Prompted by Donald Trump’s statements about banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and a supporter’s talk about establishing a registry of Muslims in the U.S. — citing the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II as a precedent — the PSA was co-directed by filmmakers Aya Tanimura and Tim Nackashi and executive-produced by Perry. Kuromiya provided her own voice and Pakistani American actress Hina Khan appeared onscreen.
Tanimura, who has directed music videos, commercials and short films, said the project began about two months ago. “During the election process, a lot of the policies and ideas that were being discussed as well as the growing sense of division and unease was a motivator for us to create a piece that could act as a warning as to what the consequences could be should we continue down this path.”
At the time, the filmmakers did not know Kuromiya, who has spoken publicly about her family’s experience, particularly the fact that her father was one of the Japanese immigrants held at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station in Tujunga after Pearl Harbor.
During a rally at Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights after the November election, Kuromiya said, “I do not want to see any community suffer like we did. As a member of the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, I also believe that we have a special responsibility to speak out when we see others being discriminated against or scapegoated.
“Since Sept. 11, 2001, NCRR and the Japanese American community have stood with the American Muslim and South Asian communities. Over the past 16 years, we have held Break-the-Fast programs during Ramadan and have learned about Islam. We have gone together to Manzanar, one of the ten concentration camps, so that the American Muslim community could learn about our history.
“We created a program called Bridging Communities to bring our Japanese American and American Muslim youth together to learn about each other’s communities and issues. And now, more than ever, we are committed to building bridges and to stand together against any threats to our rights and to our safety.”
“Once we had figured out what it was that we wanted to create, we set about finding the perfect person and their story to use in the piece,” Tanimura recalled. “We were introduced to Haru through a friend, and as soon as we spoke to her we knew we wanted to work with her.”
Tanimura explained the decision to use prosthetics rather than have the real Kuromiya transform into Khan. “We wanted this process to be organic as possible — as organic as it can be with people morphing into each other — but also, Haru did not want to be on camera and CG effects are really expensive and time-consuming. We were against the clock to get this piece completed before inauguration, and doing any heavy post [production]work would have delayed the release.
“The makeup/ prosthetics was what took the longest for the project. From the day that we did the face cast of Hina to the day that the prosthetic was complete was approximately three weeks, so it was extremely labor-intensive. We were lucky to be working with Oscar-nominated SFX makeup artist Tony Gardner and his company, Alterian, who are the best in the business, so although it took a long time, we were in the best hands.”
Perry’s involvement resulted from the filmmaker’s long-standing relationship with the singer, known for such hits as “Roar,” “Firework” and “Rise.” Tanimura did all the lyric videos off Perry’s last album and created a stop-motion PSA with Perry last year for Donors Choose to raise funds for school supplies. “I think there is something really gratifying to know the work you are creating is also making a difference,” Tanimura said of the latter project.
While making the “Haru” video, Tanimura and her team “realized that we were not going to be able to make it without some cash flow for the prosthetics. We knew we had to reach out to people we knew agree with our message and want to get involved. Katy just happened to be our first call and she was gracious enough to cover the entire cost of the prosthetics and come on board to executive-produce the project. She not only donated the money, but she was also creatively involved and gave us some great notes.”
Little Tokyo-based Asian Pacific American media nonprofit Visual Communications provided a crew pro bono.
The PSA has received both praise and scorn in YouTube’s comments section. Here is a sampling:
“Yeah, I’m not fooled by this. I’m not letting jihad into this country all in the name of acceptance. The people who went to internment camps were completely safe and allowed to leave after WW2 was over. I want a Muslim registry because we the people including innocent Muslims are not safe without one. Piss off with this bulls–t propaganda.” — “Joy Charisma”
“Do not compare being on a list with being held in camps against your will. It’s not right to have a Muslim registry, but it’s also not right to make a false equivalency with such a serious case of civil rights abuses.” — “J Ribs”
“What a moronic overly simplistic piece of trash. You freaking morons are such slaves to your feelings! How many sad tunes will you play if New York City is destroyed by a nuclear weapon? You freaking babies!” — “John B.”
“This is extremely powerful and important, this video needs to get more exposure. Please share it on your social media. More people need to see this.” — “Leonardo Salinas Navia”
“To all the people saying ‘This is 2017, they definitely won’t put people in camps,’ remember how everybody used to say ‘No way will Trump be president, what a joke.’” — “Princess Buttercup”
“This is so beautiful. Thanks for raising awareness for this issue and I would really like to thank all the people who are standing up against Islamophobia and the bullying and harsh treatment of Muslims which is being planned by this upcoming elected fascist trump government, especially would like to thank the Japanese American activists who have vowed to protect Muslim Americans from the policy which once destroyed their parents and grandparents in America.” — “Amir Dadou”
“In this day and age of Internet where people can protect their identities and therefore say whatever they feel like with the safeguard of an avatar, we knew we would receive some negativity,” Tanimura commented. “However, I don’t think we were expecting the level of hatred and blatant racism that we have seen and experienced. It has been an eye-opener for sure.
“The flip side is we have also been flooded with positive comments and notes from people around the world expressing their gratitude that this PSA was created and for the message, so I would say its about 50/50.”
According to her IMDb biography, Tanimura was born in Hong Kong to a Japanese diplomat and an Australian teacher, and spent most of her childhood traveling from one country to another, including Japan, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Slovenia, England, and Mexico. She exhibited a flair for the arts early in life and sold her first painting at the age of nine.
Her career in photography reached its pinnacle when she produced the internationally renowned Lucie Awards (International Photography Awards) and the Palm Springs Photo Festival. She also worked as a production intern for the TV series “Boston Public” and a producer’s assistant on Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”
In 2010, Tanimura was awarded the People’s Choice entry by the 100% Pure New Zealand Your Big Break Competition, in which five finalists are provided with the funds, crew, and cast to shoot an original three-minute short to capture the spirit of New Zealand.
In 2011, she was a producer of “Unite for Japan,” a film by Ken Watanabe in which Japanese and American celebrities asked for support for the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region.
Tanimura, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, said she enjoys her current work on music videos, which “allow the director a lot of creative freedom as ultimately you are coming up with the concept. I did a piece for the recording artist Alessia Cara last year for the Disney movie ‘Moana.’ We created sand art on a beach in Malibu that was on a massive scale. It was a huge challenge but gratifying to watch once it was completed.”
She is currently signed to RSA, director/producer Ridley Scott’s company, as a director of music videos and commercials. To see samples of her work, visit www.ayatanimura.com