One month after a private screening at Japan Society, the documentary Stories from Tohoku will enjoy a public viewing as part of the 37th Asian American International Film Festival on Sunday, July 27. In addition to telling the stories of survivors of the devastating earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011, Stories from Tohoku introduces us to Japanese Americans compelled to help in the recovery efforts and how that involvement has changed their lives. (Click here to read JC•NYC’s recap of that evening.)
The filmmakers, Californian sansei Dianne Fukami and Debra Nakatomi, spoke on July 25 at a meeting of the New York-based social networking group JAJA (Japanese Americans and Japanese in America) to discuss their experiences in making the film. “It helps illuminate the traits and values of Japanese Americans,” says Fukami, who believes she and Nakatomi took on the role of “cultural translators for people who don’t live the Japanese experience.”
The filmmakers were careful to make their intentions clear to their subjects before interviews began.
“They were initially shy,” says Fukami, “but after a while we were stopped on the street with our camera crew in Ishinomaki and they thanked us for telling their stories.”
One of the stories is about Setsuko Abe, a woman who has been living in temporary housing in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, since the disaster. She makes little dolls from recovered kimono fabric, and Fukami and Nakatomi are now selling them to help with fundraising efforts.
Fukami had the opportunity to screen the film in Japan last month, and her audience was shocked that Japanese Americans care so much about the people of Tohoku and found the parts of the documentary about the JA activity there to be the most interesting.
For the Japanese American college students who spent time in Tohoku, the film captures their exploration as Americans of Japanese ancestry. “Some had been to Japan before,” says Nakatomi, “but for many of them life has changed forever.”
While the filmmakers begin preparations for their next project, a documentary on the life of Japanese American and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, they are not quite finished with Stories from Tohoku. They are working on creating school curricula in conjunction with the documentary, pressing DVDs of the documentary, and fundraising for a screening in Miyagi Prefecture in November. Fukami and Nakatomi say Stories from Tohoku is about survivorship and life philosophy, ideals to which anyone from any background can relate.
Stories from Tohoku screens at the 37th Asian American International Film Festival on Sunday, July 27 at 3:30 p.m. at City Cinema Village East, 189 2nd Avenue. To purchase tickets, please visit AAIFF’s website.
To learn more about JAJA, please read freelance writer Nancy Matsumoto’s account.