Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Born In Japan, But Made In America

Big-ups and shout-outs to all you Hip Hapa Homeez for keepin' it real with your comments and emails. We love hearing from you so keep on keepin' on. Remember, if you're an actor, we still want your headshot for our Watermelon Sushi fan page on Facebook. And, join our Hip Hapa Homeez group while you're cruisin' Facebook. Plus, don't forget Hapa*Teez t-shirts for you, your family and friends. Every purchase helps support our Watermelon Sushi film and earns you a rear crawl credit, too. Be a big shot film producer while looking like a hot, haute, hip hapa homee!

Speaking of, this week's featured HHH is award-winning filmmaker Katsumi "Tim" Nagae of Ann Arbor Michigan. Originally from Fukuoka Japan, Tim came to America for school and liked it here so much that he stayed. That's him in the photo above tweaking some knobs in the studio and with Austin, below, the subject of one of his films.

First, check out these links to Tim's films, then join us in the Q&A following.

Austin's Movie

Haley and Madonna

Q: Tim-san, what's a nice Japanese guy like you doing making documentary films in America?

A: Thank you for describing me as "a nice Japanese guy", but I try to be as friendly as possible in terms of communicating with others. In order to make documentaries, I have to meet lots of different kinds of people to interview them. It's my job to make them feel comfortable with me. Also, the fact that I'm an international person definitely helps. For example, Haley and Madonna is about the Miss America pageant--which is very much an American thing. When I started this project, I didn't know anything about beauty pageants because I didn't grow up in this country. So, I didn't have a bias against pageants like a typically liberal person does, and it worked out well for me.

Q: You're known for tackling difficult subjects like autism and physical disabilities. Why do those topics interest you?

A: To be honest, I didn't really choose the topics of autism and physical disabilities. The subjects, Austin and Haley, are interesting individuals who happen to be affected with those disabilities. Both movies are not really about their disabilities, but about themselves. However, I'm glad I underscored those issues which makes the subjects much more interesting and significant. I believe those movies have contributed to public awareness of disability issues. If Austin's Movie was about a talented boy photographer without autism, I don't think it would've gotten so much attention.

Q: How does Japanese and American documentary filmmaking differ?

A: Since I learned how to make films and videos in America, I don't know much about Japanese documentaries. In general, filmmaking in Japan is not as business-oriented as in America. So many Japanese filmmakers try to create their own styles. For example, some directors use
only long shots for everything (like Michelangelo Antonioni's films) no matter what kind of movie they're making. This "I'm an artist" attitude somewhat works out, especially for independent filmmakers, but it also makes it hard for them to produce "everybody's cup of tea" movies. On the other hand, many American mainstream moviemakers and companies take extra efforts to make movies that don't bore the audience. Those movies are fast with a lot of cuts, keeping the audience's constant attention, but many are over exaggerated and make us think, "What's the point of this movie?" I go to movies probably 30 to 40 times a year, and enjoy them. But I wonder how many movies I can honestly call "good".

Also, because of public accessibility to computers and digital video technology, moviemaking is much easier than it used to be. Everybody can make movies now, especially documentaries. Even a movie about next-door neighbors may draw enormous attention if made right. Haley and Austin were just kids in your neighborhood before their movies came out. I feel good about contributing to the discovery of these very interesting individuals who, I believe, should be acknowledged in the community. This is the true mission of an independent filmmaker.

Q: Your next documentary is about an African American artist who went to Nagasaki shortly after the atomic bomb was dropped. How will you tell his story?

A: My purpose in making this film is not to point out who has the responsibility for the atomic bombs. Who is right or who is wrong is not the issue here, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be accepted as a tragic event that happened in human history. However, I do know many people will be upset with this movie so I have to be ready for that. But I also hope many people will look at it as a must-see "American movie" and change their views on war and humanity.

Q: A lot of people think that Japanese are intolerant and prejudiced against other ethnicities. True?

A: Where did you get that idea? If you go to Japan, you'll be surprised to find an intense eclecticism of cultures from around the world. Modern Japanese love American movies, pop music and ethnic food. They love major league baseball, too. Japanese have traditionally been very good at accepting other cultures, interpreting them in their own way, and re-inventing something new for themselves. Unfortunately, it's true that some people--especially in the countryside--are prejudiced against other ethnicities, particularly Koreans, Chinese or other Asian people. But things have been better, especially after Korean television drama became hugely popular in Japan. I wasn't in Japan then, but I heard there are fewer racists than there used to be.

Q: What is the most significant Japanese thing you've had to give up since moving to the U.S.?

A: Japanese people are always concerned about their own position, power and authority. For example, my brother who is only three years older is always arrogant with me only because he's older. I have to call him "Brother" yet he calls me by my first name. He can tell me what to do by demanding, "Do that". Nobody thinks that's rude. But I can only ask him to do something by asking, "Can you do that for me?" If I tell him, "Do that", it will be considered breaking a cultural rule. At work, in both Japan and the U.S., you have to show respect to your boss. But in the U.S., once you leave work, it's up to you to ignore or be friends with the boss outside of your workplace. That's not acceptable in Japan. In my opinion, it's much more stressful to live with Japanese culture than in the U.S. I don't have to follow Japanese customs as long as I live in this country, which is healthier for me.

Q: Can you envision a time in the world when race will not matter?

A: That's a hard question, but I would say race should matter in a positive way. Each culture, whether Japanese, Asian, black, Hispanic or white, has its own cultural heritage that should be treasured by everybody--which means people should respect each other. You may think this is an elitist and overly idealistic answer, but I don't think it's necessary for me to twist my comments over racial issues here.

If I may share my strange idea, I'd say if we found some creatures living outside of this planet, whether or not we saw them as friends or enemies, we'd consider all human beings as one group of creatures and race wouldn't matter anymore. Then, we would stop fighting wars.

Peace, Tim-san! Domo arrigato gozaimashite for sharing. For you budding filmmakers, contact Tim here:

Until next week, when we present another multi-culti Hip Hapa Homee,
I am...

Your Hip Hapa,

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