Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Anime, Hip Hop, Japan And Joe

With that famous Hip Hapa Homee, Tiger Woods, making the hot-marriage-mess news lately, it’s been a field day for the anti-miscegenation folks. Yet, as Your Hip Hapa read through some readers’ comments left at several websites this week, she was pleasantly surprised that vicious verbal attacks on the Thai African American golfer and his Swedish wife were minimal. Instead, she discovered that the majority of remarks neglected to address the issue of race altogether—whether it was Tiger’s, his wife’s, or the other women’s. Could it be that we’re coming closer to a color-blind world?

Or, is Your Hip Hapa just overly optimistic? Some of the week’s bad news contained stories like the continuing attacks on albinos in Tanzania and how South Korea is dealing with mixies, particularly those of partial Chinese ethnicity.

If you haven’t had a chance to read any of those articles, join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook. While you’re there, become a member of the Watermelon Sushi Fan page and Networked Blogs for Watermelon Sushi World, too. And, don't forget the t-shirts!

Here at Watermelon Sushi World, we strive to stay on top of topics that are of interest to not only those who consider themselves biracial, blended, first-generation or multi-generation multiracial, hapa, mixed, mulatto or trans-racial adoptees, but also to those of our supporters and those in interracial relationships. U is a part of us!

This week’s featured Hip Hapa Homee is award-winning filmmaker Joe Doughrity whose film, Akira’s Hip Hop Shop, is getting some serious play. If you missed its November 22 airing on BET (which was hosted by the sensational Sanaa Lathan), you can catch a repeat showing on December 5, at 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. Or, consult your BET schedule. Above is a pix of the movie poster and, below, a shot of Joe (former assistant to Boyz n the Hood's John Singleton) at our fab confab in Santa Monica. Check out the links for the film here:

Then, read the Q&A here:

Q: What's a nice African American guy like you doing making films about Japanese folks?

A: Hmmm... Well, I grew up consuming, better yet devouring, Japanese pop-culture as a kid in the Midwest. My favorite TV shows as a kid were Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman). I was also a huge fan of Godzilla. My mother said I used to draw pictures of the big lizard everyday from when I was a young child. By third or fourth grade, these pictures grew more elaborate and came to include other giant monsters such as Mothra and Gamera. I had a group of friends and we'd stage these crazy battle scenes.

When I got older and became a teenager, my obsession only grew. I got even more into Japanese animation and had pen pals who would send me VHS tapes of shows and collected and contributed to fanzines focusing on anime. Eventually, when I started thinking of what I wanted to do with my life, filmmaking became the focus. So naturally, my films reflect my obsessions; which include Japan, comics and how this stuff relates to me as a black man.

Q: How did you get the idea for Akira's Hip Hop Shop?

A: The idea for Akira came to me when I first visited Japan back in 2004. I went on a tour with a bunch of other American anime fans. It seemed wherever we went, there was rap music playing! In cafes, restaurants, clothing boutiques.... Sometimes, there wouldn't be any Americans or gaijin present, but this was the soundtrack/background music for daily Japanese life in Tokyo. I'm sure a lot of Japanese didn't even understand the slang and profanity.

Since I'd dated outside my race a few times and dealt with all that comes with that including scrutiny from family and friends, I started wondering why you didn't see more Asian men who did the same. This led me to do a lot of research in books, online and among my Japanese male friends on the subject. Out of this and flipping through Japanese hip hop magazines like WOOFIN', came the character of Akira Kubota, an expat Japanese guy with a love for old school rap music who had come to America to be involved with the scene.

Q: The characters speak Japanese very well. Were they coached? Do you speak Japanese?

A: No, I don't speak Japanese. Not anywhere fluently anyway! I do know quite a few words and phrases, but that's it.

The characters were coached by my Associate Producer Hitoshi Yoshikawa who's a native Japanese speaker. And, also since James (Kyson Lee) speaks Japanese a lot on the TV show Heroes, he's become quite proficient with the language. But Hitoshi gets the credit for both supervising the native Japanese speakers as well as coaching the non-Japanese characters like Daphne (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who utilize the language in the film.

Q: But James Kyson Lee is not of Japanese ethnicity. Why did you feel he was right in the role of a Japanese man?

A: Actually James is of Korean ancestry. There were many factors that led me to believe he was the right actor for the job. First, he'd actually come to America as an immigrant from Korea as a kid, and I thought that was important that he had that experience. Also, he used to be part of a rap group growing up in Boston so he knew something about the music and being part of a culture as an outsider.

I saw a lot of actors for the role of Akira and, initially, I was adamant about casting a native Japanese or Japanese American actor for the role. I kept saying I didn't want any of that Lou Diamond Phillips stuff where he played Ritchie Valens in La Bamba! But here again, Hitoshi was a great help. I showed him the pilot for Heroes while we were casting without telling him James wasn't Japanese and afterwards he said, "His Japanese.... There's something funny about it." I told him about James' background and after comparing him against the 100% Japanese actors we'd seen, he told me to go with James because (in his words), "Americans don't know the difference anyway."

Q: Akira's Hip Hop Shop does such a nice job of shattering stereotypes. Do you have any idea why people continue to support films that don't?

A: Because it's easy and we're conditioned to accept the status quo. It's easy to eat junk food and not be challenged. I'm convinced a lot of people, especially black moviegoers, unfortunately don't WANT to be challenged when they go to the movies. They want what they're used too.... gangsta rap and 'why can't I find a good man' movies. Certainly those do well at the box office, and something like AHHS or movies like A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy or Medicine for Melancholy are relegated to the art house or (if they're lucky) find a home on DVD.

Q: What other film projects do you have lined up?

A: Well I've got a bunch of stuff I'm working on. There's the feature version of Akira, which I still would like to get made. Also, I've optioned a comic book that I'm really excited about. I can't say much about it, but it does have a black/Asian element, which is very cool. And I've got treatments for a couple of documentaries that I'm excited about, but I need funding. It's a common dilemma--the life of an independent filmmaker.

Q: What's your favorite uniquely Japanese thing?

A: Hmmm, that's a tough one! I love so many things about Nippon! Food, culture, entertainment…can I pick one of each?

I love the custom of exchanging business cards in Japan. I haven't quite learned how to do it Japanese style, but I love watching it!

Food-wise, my favorite Japanese food is okonomiyaki…Japanese pancake stuffed with bacon, onions and all kinds of stuff. I really love how they prepare it in Osaka, which is my favorite place to visit in Japan.

Finally, entertainment-wise I'm a big fan of animator Yoshihiro Tomino, the creator of Mobile Suit Gundam. I love Gundam robots and mythology, especially the 1985 series Zeta Gundam. Tomino is never afraid to kill off his characters and makes some of the darkest space opera ever written. Whenever I watch his stuff, I feel like a 15 year-old kid again.

Arigato gozaimashite, Joe-san. We Hip Hapa Homeez are looking forward to the feature-length version of Akira’s Hip Hop Shop!

Until next week, ja mata ne, from

Your Hip Hapa,


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