While there was nothing approaching last year’s “Slumdog” mania, the 2010 Academy Awards did have some wins of interest for APIs. The award for best-animated picture went to the CGI animated feature “Up,” starring Jordan Nagai. Since its release in the summer of ’09, the Pixar film has been a shoe-in for the award, so the big surprise regarding the film came early this year when the nominations were announced and it was up for both best picture and best animated picture. While no one really thought “Up” had a chance of winning, that it is the first animated film to be nominated since the creation of the Best Animated Feature award category was instated says something about its overall impact.
I and many others have written about the overall quality of “Up” and of how it’s a wonderfully positive depiction of Asian Americans on screen, so there isn’t too much more to say.
The impact of “The Cove” winning for best documentary picture is not as clear-cut a victory for Japanese Americans. On one hand, the cruel slaughter of dolphins perpetrated by Japanese fisherman and sanctioned by the Japanese government has nothing to do with the Japanese American community. At the same time, since Asians and Asian Americans are so often conflated, these films and issues are hard to ignore. While the actions of these fishermen and the government are certainly despicable, their most vocal critics sometimes racialize the argument, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly. To the filmmakers credit, Ric O’Barry, the star of the film, and Psiphoyos, the filmmaker, have denounced anti-Japanese racism perpetrated in the name of environmentalism.
In a 2009 interview with the Nichi Bei Times, O’Barry said that he opposes boycotting Japan as a tactic, saying that it encourages the bullying of Asian American children in U.S. schools and allows the Japanese government to claim cultural imperialism, a conclusion he came to in the ’80s after meeting with the late Clifford Uyeda, former president of the Japanese American Citizens League.
This issue is a complex one, which I intend to cover in a future column.
While it did not win, another best documentary feature nominee, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,” does have a Nikkei connection. Mike Yoshida, the late, great Gina Hotta’s husband, is credited with the recording studio on the excellent film.
Ben Hamamoto is a writer born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He currently edits Nikkei Heritage, the National Japanese American Historical Society’s official magazine.