Ordinary citizens’ extraordinary deeds come to life in ‘The Art of Activism’ program

George Wada’s “Honor, Recognition and Respect” with former incarcerees holding one of Judge Johnny Gogo’s flags. photo courtesy of George Wada

Ordinary citizens’ extraordinary deeds come to life in this year’s Films of Remembrance “The Art of Activism” program presented by the Nichi Bei Foundation. Here’s a preview of the short films:

‘Stamp Our Story’ (2022, 19 min.) by Kaia Rose and Robert M. Horsting

Aiko Ogata King and Fusa Takahashi of “Stamp Our Story.” courtesy of Kaia Rose and Robert M. Horsting

Three Nisei women were on a mission, and they were not going to be denied.

They wanted national recognition for the Nisei soldiers of World War II, and they wanted it in the form of a special U.S. postage stamp.

“Stamp Our Story,” a short film by directors Kaia Rose and Robert M. Horsting, tells the story of Fusa Takahashi, Aiko Ogata King and Chiz Ohira and the grassroots movement that overcame all odds to successfully achieve their dream of a “Go For Broke” stamp.

It took them 15 years, but through perseverance, persistence and a “Go For Broke” spirit, they got it done.

“This story is a testament to the impact a small idea can have and that you’re never too old to make a difference,” said Rose.

Wayne Osako, executive producer and a key player in the stamp’s grassroots campaign, wants people to be inspired. “I would like viewers to walk away being moved by the Nisei soldier story, and to take their own actions to keep sharing the story. To share a story is to preserve the story,” said Osako.

Horsting said believing in your cause and sticking to it is key.

“I hope this film conveys that if you have a dream, a goal and the determination to see it through, you can move people to join you in making it happen.

You’re never too young or too old to change the world!” said Horsting.

‘Honor, Recognition and Respect’ (2022, 10 min.) by George Wada

George Wada’s “Honor, Recognition and Respect” with former incarcerees holding one of Judge Johnny Gogo’s flags. photo courtesy of George Wada

The mission of filmmaker George Wada’s short film can be found in his title: “Honor, Recognition and Respect.”

The film recognizes Santa Clara County Judge Johnny Gogo, who traveled across the country to honor Nikkei concentration camp survivors by having them sign eight 48-star American flags in recognition of their sacrifices and in tribute to their devotion to their country.

And it shows Wada’s respect for all those Japanese Americans who were incarcerated, survived the experience and had the resilience to rebuild their community after the war.

In filming Gogo’s journey, perhaps the greatest impact of Wada’s film is seeing the Japanese Americans’ emotional reactions as they sign the flags, and the deep respect Gogo shows them.

“In the face of adversity, they are still loyal Americans and proud of it,” said Wada. “Recognition was long needed and deeply appreciated by those who signed.”

‘Point of Departure’ (2022, 10 min.) by Katie Jennings

Lily Kodama of “Point of Departure.” courtesy of Katie Jennings

On March 30, 1942, 227 Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island in Washington state were taken off the island at gunpoint and shipped to a concentration camp destination unknown.

In “Point of Departure,” director Katie Jennings takes us behind the scenes to the artistic creation of a newly installed art exhibit on the exact walkway where Issei and Nisei departed the island for their wartime exile.

Although 80 years have passed, Nisei Lilly Kitamoto Kodama remembers. “That was me,” she says, looking at a photo of herself being taken away.

“That’s why I want this new artwork to convey that this was not a good departure. It’s got to be a place where people realize that this was a terrible time for us.”

Eerie metal silhouette cutouts placed along the walkway and a recurring image of the ID number tags that all incarcerees wore successfully create a space that immediately evokes an ominous sense of unease as you walk down it.

“This is a Japanese American story,” says artist Anna Brones. “But it’s also an American story.”

‘Those Who Helped Us’ (2022, 18 min.) by Seattle Channel
An animated film brings a graphic novel to life in “Those Who Helped Us” by award-winning video producer Randy Eng.

The book, written by Ken Mochizuki with illustrations by Kiku Hughes, honors those Americans — white, Black, Native American and Filipino — who stepped up to help Japanese Americans during a time when they needed it most.

The film takes a segment of the book and tells the story of the incarceration and the people who helped as seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Sumiko Tanaka.

“The one thing that stood out to me when producing this film was the intersection of ‘old fashioned’ Asian attitudes and modern beliefs,” said Eng. “We don’t show emotions; we have to prove our loyalty; we don’t want to burden others. Calling them out, I believe, helps draw attention to their absurdity and moves past being just ‘model minorities.’ Allies come in many shapes and colors. We are stronger together.”

Ken Mochizuki agreed. “This is a story of what America can be capable of,” he said.

The Art of Activism Program will screen Saturday, Feb. 25 at 4:35 p.m. at the AMC Kabuki 8 at 1881 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown and Sunday, Feb. 26 at 5:05 p.m. at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin at 640 N. Fifth St. in San Jose’s Japantown. It will also be available online from Feb. 25 at 10 a.m. through March 12 at 11:59 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit www.filmsofremembrance.org.

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