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About Hatsumi... with Toronto Director Chris Hope: Part 3 of 3

Read part 2 >> 

Is it important to preserve Japanese Canadian cultural centers and institutions for future generations? 

Critically. The Japanese Canadian and Japanese American community story is one of strength, determination and perseverance. It doesn’t matter how much “Japanese blood” future generations have, it is vitally important that the original settlers; those that came to North America and, through great personal sacrifice, broke down racial and cultural barriers, are remembered.

In Toronto, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre was founded with “friendship through culture” as its deceptively simple mandate by a group of Issei who put their personal finances on the line and mortgaged their own homes to build the centre. The original concept was that by bringing the world into “our” Japanese Canadian home, we could show them that “we” were not the fiendish foreigners that we had been portrayed to be, and that we were as Canadian as anyone else, with different traditions to introduce to the wider community. What a brilliant concept; offering first hand knowledge and experience as the antidote to fear of “the other.” That mandate remains as effective as ever, and I find it a shame, frankly that cultural centres of all stripes don’t have the same open-door policy.

In any case, in addition to continuing to exist to preserve and celebrate Japanese-North American history, as long as the Japanese language serves as a barrier and modern Japanese culture remains “foreign” and to to a large degree, impenetrable, to the average North American, cultural centres and institutions will continue to play a vital role inviting North Americans a comfortable introduction, and the chance to become immersed in that culture, from the comfort of their own communities.

Any rough patches during the filming and editing?

Instinctively, I would prefer to embrace my own form of ‘shikata ga nai’ and not answer this question. However…I once ran the risk of getting kicked out of law school for skipping class for a week when a window opened that allowed me to shoot the west coast portion of the film. That could have been an interesting headline—“Student Kicked Out of Law School for Returning Grandmother to the Locations of Her WW2 Internment.” Thankfully my professors of the day were very understanding and fully supported my unorthodox actions. I was thrilled to host no less than three of them at the recent gala for the film.

The rest of the rough patches have all been financial but I do think they’re worth discussing as they illustrate the Quixotic mental state that may be necessary to survive such a quest. In the course of simultaneously funding the film and years of grad school, I’ve been absolutely underwater for the past decade. Even with the generous support I received from my family to assist with daily life and from individuals within the community to finish the film, it will be a long time before the expenses incurred as a result of the production are paid off. I am of course absolutely grateful for all of the support that I’ve received. But with regard to the debt that I’m carrying, as noted elsewhere, that’s not at all what this experience has been about. I’d prefer to not have to deal with the heavy financial pressure, but those are the breaks. In the long run the “short term” sacrifices will have been worth it. Finishing the film and presenting it to the world has been a huge psychological relief. It took a lot of faith to keep it moving.

The Atom Egoyan comment is impressive. How do you know him?

I met Atom Egoyan in the course of my work at Alliance Films. He knows me as a lawyer, so I think he was a little surprised when I mentioned one day that I had made the film. I was really reluctant to say anything about it as I’m sure he’s inundated with people asking him to review things for them. However, Egoyan’s 2002 film Ararat was centred around the Armenian genocide in the early part of the 20th Century, a major historical event with which Egoyan had become fascinated with in the course of discovering his own ancestry, so I had the sense that he might be a kindred spirit. He absolutely is. He graciously accepted a copy of the rough cut, and responded shortly thereafter with the most detailed constructive critique I’ve ever received in my life. I was truly overwhelmed with his graciousness, and his support gave me the momentum I needed to get the project across the finish line.

How satisfied are you with the telling of your grandmother’s story?

Almost completely. Even after working on it for so many years I occasionally recall elements that I wished that I had included, but it really is as good as it can be—I have no reservations saying that.

What has been her response?

My grandmother was initially very reluctant to share her story—which is actually part of the story itself, but as she saw the film beginning to evolve, she became more comfortable with the idea. She has been very flattered at the level of interest that her story has received.

Chris' grandmother about to say "thank-you" to the audience for coming to the gala on stage immediately following the gala screening. Assisting his grandmother are her surviving children from L-R Betty Brooks, Chris' mother - Marion Hope, his grandmother Tom Okura and Chris Hope. (Photo courtesy of Chris Hope)

And the family?

Our family has been completely supportive of the project from day one, which has been a big help. We’ve all conspired over the years to make sure my grandmother is as comfortable as possible discussing what used to be a painful chapter in her past. That discussion turned out to be a very cathartic experience for all of us.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

It’s finished. I learned a heck of a lot in the process. I’m thrilled with the results. No room for second guessing!

Any thoughts about the legacy of the Nisei and the importance of it for future generations?

To me, the Nisei are an enlightened people. They’ve seen such collective adversity that they are able to live with a level of self understanding and restraint that is foreign to most of my generation. Even the most established Nisei that I have met over the years have a very special appreciation for simple pleasures and minimalism, and there are many Nisei that are among the most resourceful people I’ve ever met. Because of the massive trauma that they experienced—regardless of their age through the process, they take little for granted and, even now, they seem to individually strive to better themselves and the communities around them. My generation has a lot to learn from them.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on subtitling the film in Japanese. I’ll be presenting that version at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival on June 11th. A Canadian broadcast and distribution deal may be in the works, and I would love to be able to have the film distributed in Japan, and, even modestly, in the U.S. I recently had the privilege of having a long conversation with actor George Takei when he was in Toronto to receive the Sakura Award from the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (in recognition of his humanitarian and community work) about his family’s experience during the U.S. internment. The difference in the experience on either side of the border is quite remarkable. I think the contrast in the experiences would be of interest to a U.S. audience; particularly in areas along the west coast like Seattle, where the population may be aware of the difference in the treatment, but may not be aware of the details. As I explore in my film, and as has been covered at length of course by this publication, contrary to popular perception, the Canadian government revealed itself to be much less benevolent than the U.S. when it came to the removal the “Japanese” population from the coast. Ideally, I would love to introduce the film to PBS for U.S. broadcast—any help toward that goal would be much appreciated!

I’m also assisting director Denny Tedesco to bring his “family story” to the screen. Denny has spent the last fourteen years working on a documentary about The Wrecking Crew—an elite group of L.A. session musicians that, with little to no credit, played on more #1 records throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s than any group in history. From Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra to The Beach Boys and The Captain and Tenille, everyone has heard them, but no one has known who they were—until now. Denny’s father, Tommy Tedesco, was among the most recorded guitar players in the group. I welcome all to check out the trailer for the film at www.wreckingcrewfilm.com. During this, the 50th Anniversary year of the Beach Boys, we’re looking for a U.S. distributor for that film.

Any personal reflections on the 70th anniversary of internment?

This anniversary year is an important one. The 70th anniversary of the internment is the last significant anniversary that many who were adults when the internment began, will live to see. The youngest of them are, like my grandmother, in their 90s. I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to finish my film to present it first to a group of conference delegates at the Keisho Conference—the 70th Anniversary Commemorative Conference at the JCCC in April. That was the best tribute that I could offer them, and wow—what an amazingly gracious and appreciative group. Having their support for the film meant a lot to me, and hearing repeatedly that so many in attendance were riveted to “see” their own family history come to life in the film sent a bit of a chill up my spine.

For many years I felt like I was alone with a singular vision for the film, but after hearing that response I realized that the project is the fulfillment of a duty to help to pass the legacy of our ancestors forward. I’m thrilled that there are so many now willing to receive it.

For more info check out www.walkingthroughpictures.com/thefilm

© 2012 Norm Ibuki

british columbia Canada chris hope family film hatsumi jccc keisho Toronto yonsei