A new take on ‘Tule Lake’


Tule Lake. image by Tule Lake Project

Tule Lake.  image by Tule Lake Project
Tule Lake.
image by Tule Lake Project

SAN JOSE — The Japanese American Museum of San Jose hosted filmmaker Michelle Ikemoto on March 30, as she discussed the process of making of her animated short film, “Tule Lake.” The presentation included a screening and a Q-and-A format session with audience members.

Jimi Yamaichi, the museum’s director and curator, made opening remarks.

“Tule Lake” is a film about perseverance, told from the perspective of one of the inmates. Set in the winter of 1945 during the wartime mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in American concentration camps, the film is based on true events. The lead character, Sakae, is based on Ikemoto’s late grandmother and the film is dedicated in her memory. Just over six minutes in length, the film took a team of animation and illustration students at San Jose State University countless hours to produce.

While making the film, Ikemoto and her team did extensive research, even visiting the Tule Lake site during the winter to get a feel for the terrain. For historical accuracy and background, Ikemoto and her peers relied on research assistance from Yamaichi, a former Tule Lake inmate, and the museum. Ikemoto visited the museum with her team and also borrowed relevant photos from its archive.

The film has won numerous awards and recognitions, including official selection by the San Jose International Short Film Festival, CSU Media Arts Festival (winner, best in show and winner, first place, animated film), CreaTiVe Awards (winner, best filmmaker [under 30 minutes] and winner, best student film [19+]) and a nomination at the Annual Annie Awards.

Ikemoto, who graduated last spring with her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in animation/illustration, said it was the exchange of family stories at her grandmother’s funeral that served as the early beginnings of her film.

“At the beginning of a new semester, my grandmother passed away. At her funeral, our family swapped stories about her life and one of them included how, at Christmastime at Tule Lake, she crawled under a fence to get a tumbleweed to use as a Christmas tree for her family.” Ikemoto’s film would feature a similar depiction in its storyline.

Nearly a year later, Ikemoto was encouraged by her parents to turn her storyboard idea into a full animation. “When I mentioned this to my animation professor, David Chai, he gave me the opportunity to recruit a team of my classmates, peers in the animation department, to turn it into a fully produced animated short within the framework of the class.”

The film is dedicated in memory of Sakae Ikemoto, whose “kindness and strength shaped our family,” Michelle stated.

For more information on “Tule Lake,” visit: tulelakeproject.blog spot.com.

One response to “A new take on ‘Tule Lake’”

  1. Komo Gauvreau Avatar
    Komo Gauvreau

    Michele Ikemoto, the animation department at SJSU, and her friend who did the music for the film all did a great job on this film! Those awards are well deserved! (^_^)

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