Series: Film Screenings
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Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Arts in the World War II Internment Camps
For over twenty years, executive producer Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, a teacher and performer of the 13-stringed Japanese zither known as the koto, has researched the history of Japanese traditional performing arts as practiced in the camps. She tracked down, located, and interviewed both teachers and students from most of the ten main prison camps. Her fascination with the subject began after discovering that her mother, who taught her the koto, first learned the instrument as a child in the Topaz and Tule Lake camps. The mystery of how anyone could get the 6-foot long instrument into the camps when internees were only allowed to bring what they could carry sparked her quest to find out how Japanese Americans managed to carry on their art traditions under the watchtowers of the camps.
The cultural traditions that had always tied Japanese American immigrants to their faraway homeland, now came to serve as a solace during their wartime incarceration. In the vibrating strings of the koto and shamisen, the graceful moves of buyo and obon dance, the emotional release of shigin singing, or the stylized dramatics of kabuki and gidayu, an escape from the bleak predicament of the camps became possible, if only for a moment through these arts.
"I believe in this project because it does two great things," states filmmaker Joshua Fong. "One, it allows history to speak for itself from those who lived it, the last of whom are passing on; two, it tells the camp story from a fresh cultural perspective rather than the traditional political one. A culture's spirit lives in its art, and the flourishing of music, theater and dance in the camps is the best testament to how Japanese Americans, shouldered the ordeals of internment."