Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Robert A. Nakamura Interview
Narrator: Robert A. Nakamura
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 30, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-nrobert-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: So we'll start today with the fact that we're at Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles and we're talking today with Robert Nakamura. The date is November 30, 2011, and I'm Sharon Yamato, and on camera is Akira Boch. So first of all, Bob, I'm curious to know, can you tell us what your full name is?

RN: Yeah, it's Robert Akira Nakamura.

SY: And your parents, that was actually your name at birth?

RN: Yeah, right, right.

SY: And I love the fact that when I google your name, forty-four Robert Nakamuras came up.

RN: Oh, yeah, that's... there's a lot of us.

SY: So do you make a point to use your full name in your work?

RN: Well, I put Robert A. because there were a lot of Roberts. There's a lot of Bob Nakamuras.

SY: Did your family refer to you with your middle name?

RN: No, they called me Akira.

SY: They did call you Akira. And so once you started school, that's when...

RN: Then Bob.

SY: I see. So speaking of family, can we talk a little bit, maybe start with your father. Tell us, give us his full name.


RN: Okay, my father's name was Harukichi Nakamura and he came from Kagoshima, which is on the southern tip of Kyushu, which is the most southern island of Japan. He was from a very small fishing village, very poor. He used to talk about what they would eat most of the year, sweet potatoes, and so he had sweet potatoes in the morning, carry a sweet potato for lunch to school, and have a little fish and sweet potatoes for dinner. And he'd only have real rice on New Year's. So they were very, very poor, and that was part of his reason for coming to the U.S.

SY: Did he have brothers and sisters?

RN: Yes, he had an older brother which I forgot the name now, and a younger brother. And so he, after school, he worked on a fishing boat for a while. And during that time, his brother went to the U.S., came in through Mexico, came in illegally through Mexico, and started, I think, a produce market, business, and then later sent for my father. So he sent him boat fare and five hundred dollars. And so it was a tourist boat that my dad was on, and it landed in, docked in San Francisco, and we had to pay a five hundred dollar bond in order to get off the ship. So he paid his bond, got off the ship, and his brother was waiting for him in the parking lot, I guess, and they went to L.A., so that's how they got...

SY: Amazing story. And his parents, in the meantime...

RN: His mother passed away quite early. And I don't know that much about my father's grandparents. He just doesn't talk about them too much, primarily because I think they had passed when he was fairly young. So, yeah, other than they farmed and fished.

SY: So primarily fished, though, his father?

RN: Yeah, it was primarily a fishing village.

SY: And when he was sent for by your uncle, I guess, was there a reason that he sent just for your father?

RN: Let's see. No, not really. He was next in line. He's the middle brother, so I guess that's... and I don't know, I think my other uncle didn't really want to come, so he sent for my father.

SY: And your other uncle, the younger one, was he someone that they stayed in touch with?

RN: Yeah, he eventually came over. So as my father said, he was the scholarly one who was the one that completed school and everything. And he came over later.

SY: Later as in...

RN: In, I think after the war.

SY: Oh, much later.

RN: Yeah.

SY: So I assume this was probably, when your father came over, was in the early part of the century.

RN: Yeah, yeah. I'm trying to... I told you on dates.

SY: Dates are not good, huh? But when your father came, your uncle had already started this produce business?

RN: Uh-huh.

SY: So it was a natural thing for him to work?

RN: No. He, for whatever reason, he worked as a gardener. He was a gardener until he married my mom and they saved up their money and they opened a produce market in the Los Feliz area right on Franklin and Los Feliz Boulevard, I think, in that area. So they had that until the war came and they lost it all. And when we came back to L.A. my father just didn't have it in him to start a business over again so he went into gardening again and stayed there.

SY: That's the first time I've heard, there were very many Japanese gardeners back in those prewar --

RN: Yeah, I'm trying to figure out the date, but yeah, there were quite a few. Quite a few. That was the first thing that they could do.

SY: And the area in which he worked? And where they settled when they first came over?

RN: Yeah, that would be... he settled in, this area, I forgot what it's called in Japanese, but it's near MacArthur Park.

SY: Part of Los Angeles?

RN: Yeah, there was a kind of Japanese area in the Virgil, what they call the Virgil area.

SY: Sort of close to Little Tokyo but not... within bus distance, just a short bus ride?

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: So then you mentioned your mother, but can we go back and talk a little bit about your mother's family?

RN: Sure. My grandfather and grandmother came -- well, my grandfather came first. He came really early and I wish I had the dates, because my mother's Nisei. Anyway, my grandfather came very early. He came through Canada illegally, and when I visited him a couple times in Japan, he told me about coming through the snow and freezing and some family took care of him and pointed to where the border was and he came across. So he did sharecropping, and let's see, I guess... I don't know where he met my grandmother, but eventually we got married.

SY: I assume she was here, though?

RN: Yeah, I think so. And they did... what's the term? Anyway, they used to harvest fruit, so they would move from area to area up the coast from Northern California to San Diego.

SY: Tenant farming?

RN: Yeah, yeah. And so they would move with the harvest. And so my mom kind lived in different places until she met my father and they opened the produce market.

SY: And can we just say what your grandfather's name and grandmother's name?

RN: Oh, it's Manjiro Nitao. And I don't know my grandmother's first name. Anyway...

SY: And do you know what part of Japan they were from?

RN: Yeah, they were from Kagoshima also, and my grandfather was from a little village called Nitao. And that whole area, district is called Chiran-cho, and there's an area.

SY: Is that common for them to be named after the area?

RN: You know, maybe there were so many, maybe that's where the Nitao clan was or something, but yeah, the village was called that.

SY: I see. And they were both from the same area?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: And somehow met. And as well as your mother and father.

RN: Yeah, well, my mother was born in...

SY: Here.

RN: Yeah, but my father was from Kagoshima.

SY: Interesting. I wonder if that had anything to do with, do you know how they met, your mother and father?

RN: No, I don't. No one's ever told me.

SY: Because she was still living with your parents during this...

RN: Yeah.

SY: And he was probably doing the gardening at that time?

RN: Yeah, yeah. And after they got married they opened up... oh, now it's coming to me. Eventually my grandfather opened up... I don't want to call it a market but it was like a produce stand in Culver City. So they were doing kind of a small business, small produce business and I think that's when my mom met up with my father.

SY: Was your uncle still operating this produce business?

RN: You know, he was such an entrepreneur, he was into everything. Yeah, he was into making... he had an umeboshi and shoyu place in Denver, Colorado, during the war, 'cause he left L.A. before the evacuation for the people into camps. And then later he raised chinchillas and he imported opal from Mexico and had a strawberry ranch.

SY: And that uncle's name was? Is he the one that you don't remember?

RN: Yeah, it'll come to me.

SY: Okay, okay. So he left knowing that the war was going to start, or did he leave way before?

RN: My father?

SY: Your uncle when you went to Denver.

RN: Oh. You know, I don't know, but maybe, I'm going to have to look this up, but I know part of, another reason for my father leaving it was I think to avoid the draft, too.

SY: Leaving Japan?

RN: Yeah.

SY: So he was old enough...

RN: Yeah. Because he must have been eighteen.

SY: I see. And he pretty much settled, then, in Los Angeles? He didn't move around much.

RN: Yeah, he settled in L.A.

SY: In the Los Angeles area.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: And so we get to, then, the point at which you were born. Can you tell us what the date was and where exactly it was that you were born?

RN: Yeah. I was born in Venice, California, July 5, 1936. And we didn't spend that much time there, and then we moved into kind of the Atwater, Glendale area.

SY: How was it that they ended up in Venice? Venice being fifteen miles --

RN: You know, I don't know how they... I don't know.

SY: Were you born in a hospital in Venice?

RN: No, it was at home with a midwife, I know that much.

SY: And were you the firstborn?

RN: Yeah. There was only two of us, myself and my brother.

SY: And how many years younger?

RN: About six. Six years younger.

SY: Years younger. And his name is?

RN: Norman, or Noboru. Norman Noboru Nakamura.

SY: So, again, your parents gave you these American names.

RN: Yeah, yeah. Otherwise it's like my father, I know he just took it on because no one could pronounce Harukichi, so they called him George. But I know that wasn't his real name.

SY: Was he Japanese-speaking only?

RN: Yeah, he really never spoke English fluently. My mother was very bilingual, she spoke English without an accent and she was very fluent in Japanese.

SY: Do you know where she was born exactly?

RN: It's up north. I want to say like Walnut Creek, but I'm not sure.

SY: In the Bay Area somewhere.

RN: Yeah, Bay Area somewhere.

SY: And how many siblings did she have?

RN: She was an only child.

SY: An only child, wow. And your father really pretty much was on his own by this time, then, because the older uncle...

RN: Yeah, although I'm sure my uncle helped him out and everything. I'm pretty sure my uncle introduced him to another gardener who had an established route and kind of apprenticed under someone as a helper and then go off on your own. So I'm sure there was a network there, especially Kagoshima network from that area. 'Cause they have a huge kenjinkai picnic, so you know that there's a lot of Kagoshima people.

SY: The people... that's nice.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: Can you sort of describe your father? I mean, what was he like?

RN: My father was not very tall but he was very, very muscular. I have pictures of him in the JANM exhibit there. Because also he was the judo sensei and so he had the dojo and, let's see, I think it was in the Virgil area.

SY: That was started after the war?

RN: No, this was before the war.

SY: Before the war?

RN: Yeah. In fact, that's one of his big proud moments is that he was part a judo demonstration team. Because they didn't have that as an Olympic sport, but he and his school did the judo demonstrations at the 1933 Olympics here in L.A.

SY: Really? That's impressive.

RN: Yeah, so he was very proud about that.

SY: Very much so. And then was he... he wasn't an educated man so much?

RN: No. I don't think he even finished high school. He went and started working on fishing boats early on.

SY: So the judo was very important.

RN: Yeah, it was pretty much family, judo and work.

SY: I see. And then your mother, can you kind of give us the picture of her?

RN: Yeah. My mother, as I said, when she was young she helped out picking whatever harvest it was. And then later they did settle, that's why they settled in the Venice area and they had the produce stand in kind of Culver City, Venice, that area. So that's probably how I ended up in Venice. 'Cause she went to Venice High School and graduated from there. And there's a big blank area until she met my father.

SY: So was she always a very hard-working kind of person?

RN: Oh, yeah, yeah. You had to help out all the time. So yeah, she was. And yeah, I don't know too much about my mother until she met my father. They had the... the market was on, oh Hillhurst. Yeah, Hillhurst Avenue, just a little ways from the Los Feliz Hills area.

SY: Uh-huh. They really stayed sort of in that central Los Angeles...

RN: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's interesting because where we had our house, home, it was like four Japanese families there. I think what was interesting is that that's why I was kind of multicultural, because on one side of Chevy Chase Drive that we lived on, was pretty white, working class, and then on the other side was a Chicano/Latino barrio called, the gangs called it Toonerville. So it was a barrio on one side. So a lot of my friends in elementary school were Latino. And then when I went to Irving junior high school, it was kind of mixed with a few Asians, but mostly Latino and mostly working class white students. And then because I lived on the east side of this one street, I went to Marshall High instead of Franklin High School. So Franklin, most of my friends went there, and so that was a pretty multiethnic school. Mine turned out to be very white, Jewish, professional class students and so I had a little difficulty transitioning from there.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: Do you remember your first impressions of being Japanese American? Do you remember when you first thought of the fact that you might...

RN: Well, let's see, that's hard to say, 'cause there's different definitions of being Japanese American. So I think up until Pearl Harbor I didn't even think about it too much. But with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II, the day after, I was very aware that I was... I don't know if you'd say Japanese American, but I definitely was not American, unquote, "American."

SY: But going back to elementary school and junior high school, you noticed a racial difference in the kids that you went to school with?

RN: In elementary school and junior high school where there were other students of color, that wasn't too big a deal. Later, when I went to Marshall, it was different but not that different. A lot of the white students were Jewish and they come from an oppressed group, so it wasn't that bad. But yeah, I was always aware that I was Japanese American, but not like really aware.

SY: So before Pearl Harbor, you never... do you recall any kind of racial...

RN: No, not really.

SY: No prejudice that was directed at you?

RN: Yeah. And that's why I remember it so much, 'cause it was such a complete overnight turnaround. I was kind of shocked, I remember that.

SY: You remember exactly where you were when it happened?

RN: Yeah, actually. Well, I remember the day after Pearl Harbor. There was a Japanese family that lived behind our house, and I can't remember his name, but he was also a judo sensei. And I was playing with his two daughters when the FBI came and took him away, so I remember the two suits and knocking on the door and taking Mr... oh, I'm sorry... away.

SY: And you were how old again?

RN: So I had to be five, going on six, I think.

SY: Very young, but that's a strong image for you.

RN: Oh, yeah. Everything was very vivid there because it was such... that's why people say, "How can you remember this?" but it was very traumatic. 'Cause we knew something, I knew something was happening because my dad had burned all of our photos and things, I helped him. They had incinerators then where we burned our trash. He burned everything, anything connected with Japan.

SY: At age five you were helping him doing this?

RN: Yeah. So I remember all of that. And he was... and this I found out as an adult later, that's why he burned and buried anything relating to Japan, 'cause he was a judo teacher too and his good friend was taken away. Because the FBI rounded up all the community leaders, right, teachers and ministers and all that including, especially martial arts teachers. And for whatever reason, he was never separated, we all went to camp together. But he thought for sure. And I don't know how much is legend on the part of my parents, but they said that he had his bags packed ready to go. So anyway...

SY: You have any memory of them talking at the time about it?

RN: No, but the things that I remember is that we couldn't go out at night. And so that was... and then we played a lot of... we did a lot of puzzles and I think we played Monopoly. I remember not even going outside the house, you know, at night.

SY: And this was just the three of you, you and your mother and your father?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: 'Cause your brother was born...

RN: In camp.

SY: In camp.

RN: And there were like three Japanese families, one lived behind us, another family lived across the street, two other families lived across the street.

SY: You all kind of gathered together?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: And do you remember going back to school that week or the way you were treated?

RN: You know, I don't know if I went back to school. I don't remember, maybe I didn't go back to school because I don't remember that I...

SY: You have memories of school, though, before that?

RN: Yeah, yeah, I do.

SY: Because you were still really pretty young.

RN: Yeah.

SY: First grade or something.

RN: Kindergarten.

SY: Kindergarten.

RN: So, well, maybe that's why I didn't have to go back to school. Anyway, I didn't. I remember, though, a lot of the kids... in the old days, kids ran around all over, we didn't have parks or anything. And so all my street friends, they really kind of put it to me after.

SY: You were treated badly?

RN: Yeah.

SY: Really? Do you remember specifically?

RN: Well, once specific is we used to play in vacant lots, and the grass grows high. You pull the grass and there's a lot of dirt attached to it, we called it dirt clot fighting. Then you could spin it around and get a lot of leverage and then you'd throw it. So walking back from somewhere I know I got hit, ambushed by a couple of my former friends. So that kind of thing.

SY: Wow. At that young age it was probably pretty impressionable.

RN: Yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: So there was a period of time between Pearl Harbor and the time that you actually... what was the next step in terms of your being sent to...

RN: I don't remember much except for packing. I remember my mom made these canvas bags. And I remember my dad with a brush putting our name on it. So I remember that. I don't remember getting on the bus, but I remember the bus ride. I really remember there was a caravan of maybe six buses, and that must have been 395 heading toward Manzanar. And stopping at a gas station, and the bus driver or the soldiers having kind of an argument with the owner, and they wouldn't let us use the bathrooms. So the caravan had to go to another place. I remember that. And I remember arriving at Manzanar, it was almost twilight, and seeing the dust, the wind blowing, 'cause it was really windy day and pulling into camp. By that time it had gotten dark. I remember filling our mattresses with straw and going to the barracks were compartmentalized into, I don't know, what is it? Ten by six or whatever. And we had to share it with another family. I remember that my mother was totally, she just hated that. And so we shared one compartment in the barracks for a couple days and then we got our kind of permanent assignment. We were in Block 8 which was right next to -- you want this kind of detail?

SY: Yes, absolutely.

RN: Okay. [Laughs] Which was right near the... they called it the canteen, which was the, you could buy things. And so I lived right near there in Block 8.

SY: When all of this was happening, the bus ride and all that, do you remember how you felt? Was it fear?

RN: You know, that part of it I didn't feel as fearful or anxious. It was with my friends right after Pearl Harbor and a lot of that. Once we were on the buses and there were all these other JAs or Japanese around -- once again, this is a child's view of it -- and I think my folks, my mom was very good about kind of not freaking out too much. She only freaked out when we had to stay with this other family. And so I think because of my parents' attitude, I didn't get too anxious on the trip.

SY: So when you, I'm just curious, when your mother, what is your freaking out as far as you could see as a child, your mother was doing? Was it just her saying to you and your father...

RN: Yeah, she just kept saying over and over, "I don't like this. They shouldn't put us in with people we don't know." So, yeah, and then later we moved to Block 36. Oh, an early memory, another memory which I think I put in my film, was you had communal bathrooms. And I went out to go to the bathroom and then came back out, and all the barracks looked alike, right? So I was totally lost. You need some kind of features to... and so I just sat there crying and then my dad came out and took me in. And then he salvaged a piece of wood and carved our names and cut it in the shape of a finger pointing and put that up so I knew where our barracks was. But yeah, I think that's... at least there I remember that, and then the other, in Block 36, I remember doing my chores and that was, the heating was all kerosene stoves. And so they had big kerosene tanks, two blocks could use that. So I'd have to go with these bottles and get the kerosene. I remember long waits in the line for breakfast, lunch, dinner, which later wasn't that bad if you're a kid 'cause you had your friends and we'd run around 'til we could go in.

SY: When you're at that age you're really kind of in between being attached to your parents and then sort of striking out on your own.

RN: I don't... maybe I wasn't old enough to do that, but I was... I think that's why as a child my camp experience wasn't, quote, "that bad." Because my dad and my mom were very good about kind of keeping things normal. They let me collect bugs or scorpions, kind of allowed me to do kid stuff as much as we could. And then later I made friends on our block, so we'd play marbles or kick the can or hide and go seek and all of that, so it wasn't bad.

SY: You were an only child, basically, at that point. So did they... then they were able to protect you more, maybe?

RN: Could be, yeah.

SY: But you made friends quickly?

RN: Yeah. There were plenty of kids to play with.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: And you went, started going to school right away? Oh, I guess you didn't end up going to an assembly center then.

RN: No, no, we didn't.

SY: Did you ever find out why?

RN: No, I didn't. And I don't remember where we were picked up. We assembled to go get the buses, I just remember being on the bus and those couple incidents. So I don't know how we got on the bus or where.

SY: And did your father and mother, did they start working? Did your father start working?

RN: Yeah, my father was pretty philosophical, so he said, well, obviously they don't have a produce market there, so he said he might as well learn something new. So he started working in the shoe repair shop, so he thought he'd learn a new trade. So he worked in there most of the duration.

SY: There was call for shoe repairs, huh?

RN: Oh, yeah, well, the camp was a self-sustaining city eventually. They had shoe repair, barber shop, the hospital, the hog farm, cattle ranch, vegetable crop growing.

SY: But he must have had somebody teach him how to...

RN: Yeah, I mean, he just volunteered. I think people were paid like ten dollars a month or something.

SY: And he did that for the duration?

RN: Yeah, I think he did, pretty much. Oh, no, I'm sorry. Then later he decided he wanted to work in the mess hall, so he worked in the mess hall. Later he told me the reason why is that he could get food, extra food, and bring it home. So he thought the mess hall was... so he used to bring leftovers home, I mean, back to the barracks.

SY: And do you remember eating together with your mother and father?

RN: Yeah, I remember that a lot.

SY: That was something you didn't necessarily go off with other kids and eat?

RN: No, no. But that was in the evening when my father would get off work and bring leftovers from the mess hall, so we had kind of a late snack.

SY: Yeah, I understand people were able to eat in their barracks, some people ended up eating in there.

RN: Yeah, well, he did mainly because he worked there and brought food.

SY: Brought food, huh? And your mother, did she end up finding work?

RN: No, I don't... because quite soon she, well, she became pregnant then had my brother and everything, so she was pretty well taking care of my brother. In camp it's even more difficult, bringing up an infant and all of that.

SY: And you remember your brother being born?

RN: Yeah, I just remember my dad telling me. And actually, the ambulance coming by to pick up my mom. I mean, we had no transportation, the camp hospital was far. So I remember the ambulance.

SY: And were you in school at that time?

RN: Yeah, yeah, I'm trying to remember what grade. I must have been in first grade. That's what I said about dates and time. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: Do you remember your teachers?

RN: Yeah, I remember her and I can't remember her name. But yeah, I do remember my teachers.

SY: Caucasians?

RN: Yeah. They were, I believe they were volunteer Quakers, because I think the Quakers were the only group that voiced their opinion against the incarceration of Japanese Americans. So there was a lot of Quaker, Friends, what is it called?

SY: American Friends Service Committee.

RN: Yeah, right.

SY: So originally, but didn't that change as you stayed in camp?

RN: No.

SY: You had always had Caucasian teachers?

RN: Yeah, I did. But I know later there were Nisei teachers, but...

SY: For you it was just...

RN: Yeah, they were all...

SY: And do you remember the size of your classes?

RN: Oh, boy, I don't.

SY: You were so young.

RN: Yeah.

SY: And did you feel that camp was harder in some ways in terms of your peer, all your peers being Japanese?

RN: No. Yeah, I can't say... I don't know if I was more comfortable or less comfortable, I can't really say.

SY: Were you a good student back then?

RN: [Laughs] And that's another story I tell in the film is that, well, typical JA family, you come back with anything under an A... and so I brought my report card and I had a C. Then my mom was ironing and she burst into tears. And that was very dramatic for me, and I was a good student ever since that. But now, as an adult, I look back, and I know it wasn't just because I had a bad grade. I think it was just everything, being in camp and all of that.

SY: What was the C in?

RN: I think it was English or something like that.

SY: Something very basic.

RN: Oh, math. I'm sorry, it was math. So anyway...

SY: So you started studying harder after that.

RN: Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]

SY: Applying yourself.

RN: Applying myself a little bit more.

SY: What I've heard is that the competition was really harder in camp.

RN: Oh, well, I think in elementary school that element wasn't there. I can imagine in high school, fellow JA, high achieving JA students.

SY: So you spent time outside of school just playing with your friends?

RN: Yeah. It was actually, that's where I think camp was, for kids, there was a lot of kids. And so we played marbles was a big deal, tops, yo-yos and kind of making things out of salvaged wood. Then they had big firebreaks between all the barracks, and so eventually backstops were made and so baseball fields were made, so we were able to play baseball.

SY: You were old enough to play baseball?

RN: Well, with my friends. We didn't play real baseball. And there was a lot of kite flying there, actually, a lot of the adults flew kites because it was a great place, no trees and a lot of wind. So it was kite flying. I don't want to paint too good of a picture of camp, but you have to... qualify that was I was a kid then. I think my parents did a really good job of trying to keep things normal.

SY: You never heard them complaining?

RN: Yeah, never complained. My mother was a pretty positive, positive person. So I want to put that in context.

SY: You know, I didn't ask you, because your mother is Nisei and your father is Issei, was there a big age difference between them?

RN: Probably nine or ten years, yeah.

SY: More than most.

RN: Yeah. Well, I'm not sure, but it was more than six, I know.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SY: But they... actually, how many years total were you there at Manzanar?

RN: I think two and a half years, then we went to Denver because Japanese were not allowed to move into L.A. yet. So you could get out of camp as long as you moved east.

SY: You left early, huh?

RN: Yeah, yeah. Not too early, but we left before the camps were emptied.

SY: Uh-huh. So was your father's brother in Denver by then?

RN: Yeah. He left before the evacuation. Like I said, he's a smart guy, and so I guess he had heard to leave, so he went to Denver. In fact, that's where we went when we got out of camp. We went to Denver and stayed with my uncle. So that's why we went to Denver.

SY: Uh-huh. Do you remember... or I'm sure this is probably something that as a child you didn't know, but them having to sign the "loyalty oath"?

RN: No, I don't remember any of those things.

SY: Or them talking about leaving camp?

RN: No, no. No, I didn't.

SY: None of that. And generally never any complaints except for the few times you saw your mother...

RN: Yeah, and my grades.


RN: I'm trying to think, yeah, just more of an overall assessment of camp as a kid. It was different but not the same as if I was a teenager or if I was an adult, I'm sure of that. So, yeah, the camp... see, for the real trauma was before camp and getting, after I came out of camp. Camp itself was not that bad once again in context, 'cause I had plenty of people to play with, kids to play with, I had school, and my parents were pretty cool. But just before camp, after Pearl Harbor was very traumatic. And then moving to Denver was okay. Denver was fine, but coming back to L.A. was probably the most miserable. That was very, very openly hostile to the Japanese or Asians probably in general.

SY: So let's talk a little bit more about Denver. So when you went to Denver you were, by that time, eight or nine?

RN: Yeah. Probably eight.

SY: Eight?

RN: Yeah.

SY: So lived with your...

RN: Uncle, which I can't remember his name anyway.

SY: But in a house?

RN: He had... by that time, he had, they made shoyu, umeboshi and tofu. And I won't call it a... well, a factory, I mean. And so he had about five or six workers there, and they all lived right around. But we ate communally. People worked there, including...

SY: All Japanese Americans?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: And most of them had been in camp or had not?

RN: You know, I don't know that. They might have left the West Coast before, I'm not sure. So we lived, it was kind of communal living. We had our own apartment like area, but we would eat together with people who worked there and their families.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: And as far as you know there were quite a few other Japanese Americans living in Denver?

RN: Oh, yeah, there was...

SY: Community?

RN: Yeah.

SY: So it had its own little area?

RN: I think it was downtown. At least most of my friends lived kind of right in downtown. It was great places, they had... it was probably more like Main Street is. They had a lot of movie houses and penny arcades. That's probably before your time, penny arcades. Lot of burlesque places which I couldn't go in because I was a little kid. So it was kind of down in, wasn't probably the best part of town.

SY: But that's where they happened to settle, these Japanese American families?

RN: Yeah.

SY: And how long were you there, roughly?

RN: A year and a half, two years.

SY: Oh, so some time, and so you ended up going to school there, too?

RN: Yeah.

SY: So you met friends there?

RN: Yeah. I didn't keep in touch with them, but...

SY: No one that was, that you knew in camp?

RN: No.

SY: These were all new?

RN: I think most of them were already there. They had left L.A., I'm almost sure they were like my uncle.

SY: And so do you remember the school you went to?

RN: No, I don't remember. I don't remember a whole lot except learning to ride a bicycle and stuff like that.

SY: So you were able to afford a bicycle by then, huh?

RN: Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, my uncle was pretty well-off because his business was going really well.

SY: And did he have a family?

RN: Yeah, he had two daughters.

SY: They were older than you?

RN: Yeah, they were high school. They were in high school.

SY: And your little brother by then was still pretty small.

RN: Yeah.

SY: So you probably... do you remember interacting with him when you were young?

RN: Not a whole lot, 'cause he was, he was very sickly. So, yeah, he spent a lot of time in bed. So I didn't play around with him too much.

SY: Do you attribute that to camp, being born in camp?

RN: Could be. Because it wasn't like he could go see a doctor anytime.

SY: But his health improved?

RN: Oh, he's fine now.

SY: But as a child, a young boy, he was very sickly?

RN: Yeah.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SY: And then do you remember why your father decided to come back to Los Angeles?

RN: Well, he didn't want to stay... yeah, he just wanted to go back to Los Angeles and I don't think he wanted to stay in Denver. Although I'm sure his brother would have kept him on there, but he just wanted to come back to L.A. And the only thing he could do was gardening, so we came, he bought a small Ford coupe -- you know what a coupe is, it's a two-seater, I mean, with a small back -- and we drove across from Denver to L.A. And then he took the same coupe, he cut out the back of the car and made a, kind of a wooden, like a pickup truck except it was smaller. He bought some equipment and just started out.

SY: Doing the same thing. And he, I assume, was leasing the house that you lived in before the war.

RN: Yeah, yeah. In fact, that was probably one of the reasons why we had moved there, was a good friend from Kagoshima had moved out there, and he owned a, I guess he did well whatever he was doing. So he had a couple, three houses there. In fact, I think all the Japanese families, the three other families were living in Mr. Kagematsu's houses. So we went back there. And although we didn't rent the big house, we rented the small house in the back.

SY: And this, again, so when you came back, it was that area, that same kind of Los Feliz...

RN: Yeah. In Atwater.

SY: Atwater.

RN: It was the same, exactly the same place, except we moved into the house in the back, small house.

SY: And your father then sort of took up almost immediately with the gardening?

RN: Yeah.

SY: And had this thing. He was very handy, though.

RN: Yeah, he made a little pickup truck out of his car.

SY: And did he take up at the same judo...

RN: No, he just didn't... he only started back a little bit when I was older. I started judo when I was like... well, actually, pretty much after we came back when I was eight or nine. So he kind of just took me and worked out with me, but he didn't, he was never seriously involved with it since the war.

SY: Did your parents encourage you to do, like, the Japanese sports?

RN: Yeah. In camp they did, there was so much I did... oh, boy. Well, I did calligraphy, they had calligraphy classes. And there was a Japanese... I guess there were like, it's a dance, but it's all done with swords and whatnot, so I did that. I hated it, but my dad made me do that.

SY: Encouraged you. But not judo in camp?

RN: Not in camp. My dad was very active in judo in Manzanar, too, I forgot to mention that. But for whatever reason... oh, I think one good reason is that the dojo was way on the other side of camp, and we were on Block 36, was the extreme north, and then the dojo was built, and that's on the other side. That was a very good reason, 'cause I'd have to walk.

SY: I think people don't realize the distances between going from one place in camp.

RN: Right, so that'd be a long, long walk.

SY: We're going to go back to camp for a second. Did the weather bother you? Do you remember the weather being...

RN: Only the windstorms, because that, if you're caught out in it, it really stings and you had to cover your head and all of that. And the cold. The heat didn't bother me, the cold did, waiting for dinner, get in the mess hall early in the morning. But otherwise it wasn't... I think Manzanar was kind of high desert, so it was moderate compared to Heart Mountain or a lot of other places.

SY: You don't remember them doing anything special to guard against certain weather conditions?

RN: No, other than patching up cracks in the tarpaper and things like that. It snowed there about one winter, anyway.

SY: So, really, in camp, you had no other relatives except for your immediate...

RN: Oh, no, I had some of my mother's cousins, two cousins had their families, so we saw a lot of them, and there were some Kagoshima people which were kind of like relatives. They didn't have a lot of relatives there, but they had some.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: I see. So just a little digression, but back to coming back to L.A., you mentioned that it was a hard time for you.

RN: Yeah, that's probably, looking back as an adult, where I feel the most kind of resentment and anger was coming back. Just a couple... one was I was part of Cub Scouts pack, and we went, as a group went to Bimini Plunge, it was a swimming pool right off of Vermont. And when it came my turn to buy the tickets, they said, "I can't sell you a ticket." And I remember, he said, "No Orientals allowed in the pool." So that was like, in front of all my friends. And so, of course, our whole den, pack, didn't go in, but I'm sure after they dropped me off that they went. So that was... and then probably I know, I can remember four times of not being served in a restaurant and sitting there. And they wouldn't say, like, "Get out," but they just wouldn't serve me. And that's the story I always tell, is even today, this is fifty, sixty years ago, and when I'm in a restaurant and the service is slow, I get really upset, and I know it's not the same. So, yeah, not being served and not being allowed into the pool, being called "Jap" and "go back to Tokyo," all of those things from adults. My peers, I didn't get too much from young people, but the adults. 'Cause that was after the war and I'm sure they had sons who got killed and all of that. Yeah, so that was very, very blatant racism. I mean, you can't get more blatant than being put into the concentration camps, but I mean in terms of post camp experiences, it was very, very... yeah, if I think about those times, I get very angry. The camp itself, it's kind of mixed with nostalgia and all of that. But coming back to L.A. was not a good experience.


SY: We were talking about the continuing discussion of racial prejudice after the war.

RN: Oh, okay. Yeah, so those were the... and any time there's some kind of conflict, they use being Japanese American as the final insult, right, calling "Jap" like that. Someone had rear ended my dad... I went to work with my dad during the summers and weekends, so someone, it was a slight bump, and I remember the guy getting out and saying my dad stopped too fast, etcetera, and my dad saying no. Anyway, and then he says, "You know what you are? You're just a damn Jap gardener," and walked away. But those kinds of things that were quite common.

SY: And do you remember how your father reacted?

RN: Well, he's a fourth-degree black belt, but he knew what would happen. So I know he was really pissed off.

SY: He never showed his anger?

RN: Well, you could see it, yeah. But what can you do?

SY: I was asking you whether you talk about these kinds of things with people who went through it at the same time?

RN: I don't have too many friends who, I mean, that are my age. I don't know why, they're either older or didn't go to camp, so I don't have a whole lot of people to talk about it.

SY: Because it seems to me it happened with more frequency than people usually talk about with you. It seems like you remember it happening quite frequently.

RN: Yeah, maybe it's where I live. Once again, I lived in... not a big Japanese American community area, number one, it wasn't like Gardena.

SY: You weren't sheltered by being within your own...

RN: Yeah. And the other side of the street was pretty much working class white families. And so maybe I got most of it from there.

SY: Was it generally coming from people who were white as opposed to other minorities?

RN: Yeah, my Latino friends, there was no issues at all. Because I think they were used to being treated kind of the same way. So I had absolutely...

SY: So would you gravitate to those kinds of friends...

RN: Yeah, well, even then, there was a lot of gangs around, but if you lived in the hood, you were okay. I didn't join any gangs, nor was I singled out by the gangs there. But I didn't... I had a few friends, but it's not like joining one of the gangs.

SY: Were you in... when you said gangs, they were Japanese American gangs?

RN: No, no, they were Mexican American, Latino gangs. Because that was that whole body over there.

SY: But there was a time at which there were Japanese American gangs?

RN: Yeah, I was a little young, no, or older.

SY: I think was later.

RN: Yeah, it was later.

SY: Yeah, it sounds as if there weren't that many Japanese Americans that you...

RN: No, I didn't really interact with a whole... except for the kind of Kagoshima people, and they were mostly Isseis.

SY: Was there any kind of religious upbringing that you had that your parents...

RN: My parents were Buddhist, but not like real practicing Buddhists, but funerals and all of that, were Buddhists.

SY: They didn't go to temple or...

RN: Not that often, no.

SY: ...encouraged you, you weren't active...

RN: No, no.

SY: So that was a way that a lot of Japanese Americans stayed together, but you didn't necessarily?

RN: I wish I had. Later as an adult, we go to temple all the time, partly for, so the kids could have some exposure to JA, Japanese culture.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SY: So when you came back, then you went right away to junior high school?

RN: I went to elementary school. I must have been in the sixth grade, then I think junior high school started. So I think I started junior high school, seventh grade.

SY: So that must have been disruptive 'cause you had to meet a whole new set of friends again.

RN: Yeah, yeah. But once again, it was pretty multiethnic there, so there was something about being in an area with other people of color that was a little more relaxing than, like, my high school. So I had to change my ways in high school.

SY: So did you become, you were a better student then?

RN: I had to. That's like Eddie Wong talks about his parents had a laundry that's right in, close to the Fairfax High, so he went to Fairfax High School which was pretty all white, Jewish. So he says, "That's why I learned to talk fast and I had to think quick." Anyway, it was kind of like that.

SY: So you think that was an advantage, then?

RN: Maybe made me be more competitive.

SY: Do you remember your interests back then?

RN: It was pretty much football and journalism. Those were the two...

SY: You played football?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: In junior high school and high school?

RN: No, high school, I'm sorry. In junior high school I got interested in journalism, and then later in high school I edited the, I was editor of the Blue Tide, the high school newspaper. And I worked at the Old Alley Examiner writing and covering high school sports and played football. That's my high school experience.

SY: That's impressive. You went from a C in English.

RN: Right, right.

SY: Oh, no, it was math, sorry.

RN: It was math, right, right.

SY: So you liked to write, per se?

RN: Yeah. That was a period there where I wanted to be a writer, and I used to buy all these books on writing short stories and all of that. Then I slowly, because everyone has one teacher in high school who influenced, my journalism teacher, Mr. Edwards, he really encouraged me. So I got interested, and that's what I thought I was going to do. I wanted, at that time, that's what I wanted to do. So I joined the high school sports writing organization sponsored by the L.A. Examiner, and we had our own page in the sports page, prep sports. And so I covered a lot of games and did a lot of writing. And my idea was to eventually work at the L.A. Examiner. So when I graduated, I got a scholarship, the Examiner gave me a scholarship to Pepperdine. And part of the scholarship was a job at the L.A. Examiner as a copy boy. So that's how you start out in the old days, start out as a copy boy and work your way up. I didn't like Pepperdine at all so I gave it up after a year. It was very religious then, they had mandatory chapel hall and all this, so I couldn't take it. But I kept the job at the Examiner. And so I enjoyed working there and I thought I could work my way up as a reporter, but after a while I started hanging out in the darkroom with the news photographers 'cause they were kind of more fun guys, and they let me work in the darkroom and go out with them when they would cover assignments. So that's where I began to rethink writing versus photography, being a newspaper photographer. And one of my copy boy friends and I went to an evening course at Art Center. It's Art Center College of Design, but at that time it was called the Art Center School. And that was my first exposure to kind of like real photography. And I did that one portrait that I have in the museum of my father in front of the house. I did that shot at night school, and so when the instructor said he really liked what I was turning in and I should think about coming full time. So I ended up, that's how I ended up going to Art Center. And there I majored in photojournalism and advertising design, with the idea of now becoming a magazine photographer.

But just backtracking on that, I liked the idea of shooting people. I wasn't like a landscape photographer, and that's why I chose photojournalism, because I thought I could do, tell stories about people through photography. And so that's why I wanted to be a photojournalist. I had seen a lot of work shot by the Farm Security Administration photographers, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, then later Life magazine, like W. Eugene Smith.

SY: This was all in high school that you...

RN: Around that, maybe a little later.

SY: High school, college?

RN: Yeah, just about my senior year, I begin to say, "This is what I really want to do." I got exposed to that in my photojournalism classes at Art Center, I was just introduced to this really whole idea of photojournalism, social change photography. And so I got pretty interested in that. So when I graduated -- I was still, again, I know when my classmates all wanted to go out and get a beer, I couldn't go with them. So I must have been like eighteen or nineteen. So, let's see...

SY: You must have been... well, were you ahead of your class?

RN: Well, it was real interesting because the Denver schools were much better than the L.A. schools. When I came back to L.A., they skipped me a whole grade. I was supposed to come into the fourth and they put me in the fifth. So, yeah, I had that. And then by accident, if you're born at the right time, you start early. So yeah, I was fairly young getting out of high school. And I went, after a year I went back to Art Center.

SY: So do you remember what sort of caused that little shift in your outlook toward this more social kind of journalism?

RN: I think it was my high school journalism teacher, Mr. Edwards, 'cause he was very interested, less in news, but more in social change. He was very progressive. He would go to the Hopi reservations during the summer and volunteer and teach. Yeah, he was a very progressive kind of person. And so I think it was influenced, not only the idea of journalism, but social change. And then when I went to Art Center, my photojournalism class was definitely geared, there was a whole... we had a lot of guest speakers like W. Eugene Smith, and there's a whole European school, Cartier-Bresson and Elliot, Yousef, and there's a whole group that was part of a picture agency called Black Star. And all your famous photographers of that era came out of that. And earlier in the '30s was the Farm Administration photographers who covered the dust bowl and the Depression.

SY: So those were the people you studied.

RN: Yeah, yeah, I was exposed to them in Art Center in the journalism class.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SY: At the time, do you remember reflecting a little about your experiences in camp?

RN: Oh, yeah. No, that was definitely a kind of... especially the work of W. Eugene Smith, he does these really nice profiles. He did an African American midwife in the south, he did one on a country doctor, kind of everyday people, not the rich and famous. So I loved those things. And I saw an exhibit by, called "The Family of Man" put together by a famous photographer, Edward Steichen, and then I really saw from a really international viewpoint, photography that kind of said something about people and those kind of cultural universals. And so all of those. But that clicked, not as much as later, but I thought that I could do something on Japanese Americans. Not camp, 'cause that's still... I was still part of the Nisei generation that I don't want to deal with that. But I did a nice essay on my father, it was kind of like the "Day in the Life of a Gardener," which I can't find the negatives. I'm killing myself. But I really liked that. And then I did a nice... I think a nice piece on a cousin coming from Kagoshima and her getting used to the U.S., I did a short piece on her. So that's what I wanted to do.

SY: And you, at that time, the Dorothea Lange pictures on camp, the War Relocation photos?

RN: I didn't see that 'til later. I just saw her stuff on the '30s, the Depression, the dust bowl and all of that, but I didn't know Ansel Adams had shot at Manzanar or Dorothea Lange had done that. That wasn't until later.

SY: So you mentioned that you did this "Day in the Life" of your father, was there any social stigma attached to being the son of a gardener at that time, do you remember during your childhood?

RN: Yeah, during my childhood -- 'cause once again I lived on, I went to school on the wrong side, or the right side of the... and my friends in high school, their fathers were lawyers or doctors or whatever, and they had cars and I didn't. During Easter they went to Avalon and I had to work with my dad. And during the summers they'd talk about going here and there. So that, yeah, I felt, was more economic, more class than anything else. So I kind of felt that. But I'm trying to think... not a lot.

SY: Did you work with him? You said you helped him a little.

RN: Oh, yeah.

SY: A lot, huh?

RN: Yeah, I'll never, never do gardening.

SY: You don't take care of your garden at home?

RN: I don't. And it took me the longest time to hire somebody 'cause I had access to all my dad's tools and everything. And I said, "I'm not going to do this," so I hired someone. But that was hard to do. Yeah, I worked every weekend all summer. I know that had some kind of impact on me. I'm not going to do manual labor. [Laughs] 'Cause it's really hard work, so from when I was ten years old, eleven years old 'til my senior year in high school, I worked the weekends with my dad. Well, some Sundays, but I'd work Saturday for sure, and then he had other... and then Sundays, but all summer. I used to hate summer was coming. I didn't like the idea. And I'd love it when it rains, so can't go to work.

SY: 'Cause I know I've heard from other gardeners' sons, kind of taking care of other people's... who could afford a gardener, it was very divisive.

RN: Oh, yeah. And you could really see the class difference. Yeah, I saw...

SY: Making you feel a little less than.

RN: Oh, yeah. My dad was good, so he worked with some very prominent people, movie stars and all of that, who really had a lot more money than we did.

SY: But by the time you got through to the Art Center, you decided to do this photo essay. Was that how --

RN: I did that during, when I was at Art Center. I did it as one of my assignments.

SY: Right, and that was, you remember the impetus for that particular...

RN: It was from the photojournalists that I talked about that I really liked.

SY: And your dad didn't have any trouble?

RN: My dad's really good. He knows exactly, he knew exactly what I wanted. I think he could have been an actor in another life, 'cause I'd just sit him down, "Can you do this?" And he'd just get right in there and I'd just... so my dad was very good. He knew what I wanted.

SY: And what was he, what was his reaction when he saw it?

RN: You know, it's like my mom, anything I do is great.

SY: And what was your brother doing at the time?

RN: My brother was going to school, yeah, six years younger...

SY: Not real close. You weren't close.

RN: Yeah, right.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RN: And I left home, I started living on my own right after high school. I lived in a hotel, in a hotel for a while right across the street from the old Examiner. See, there used to be the Herald, and then the L.A. Examiner, and they merged and became the Herald Examiner, and then, of course, the Herald Examiner closed. So I worked for the old L.A. Examiner.

SY: Were they both Hearst papers?

RN: Yeah, yeah. And it was right on Eleventh and Broadway. The building is still there, they use it as a movie set.

SY: And that's where you lived?

RN: Yeah, I lived in that hotel, the Case Hotel across the street for about six months until a copy boy friend and I moved into an apartment. But I lived downtown for six months.

SY: How did you support yourself?

RN: Working, I didn't get paid well, but I got paid as a copy boy. I used to do things like going to J-town on the streetcar, and go to the Far East Cafe, and you could get a... the Far East Cafe, when you got rice, they gave you that double, big bowl, and an order of hamyu. So for seventy-five cents, I could have this hamyu and this big bowl of rice. And then a lot of us would go to Rand's Roundup which is an all you can eat place. And so we'd go at three o'clock in the morning where they change from dinner to breakfast, so we'd eat dinner and stay in there and eat breakfast. [Laughs] So I made, I forgot how much I was getting paid, but the hotel was, you know, not that expensive 'cause it's... I know there was a brothel on the eighth floor, so it was kind of a scuzzy place. I mean, when you're young, it's kind of exciting, actually.

SY: What prompted you to leave home?

RN: I got in an argument with my mom, 'cause I told her I was quitting Pepperdine after I got the scholarship and they made a big deal about it to their families and all of that, all their friends. And I said, "I can't take it." So I got in a big argument with my, well, both my mom and my dad, but mostly my mom. So I moved out.

SY: And you stayed estranged or were you...

RN: Yeah, not for long, maybe six months or so, then they got over it.

SY: Sounds like your mom was kind of a strong woman in some ways.

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: She kind of pulled her weight?

RN: Yeah, right. Well, yeah, she gave up after I quit Pepperdine. Not gave up, but she just said, "Do whatever." She was supportive. So I wasn't really legitimate even with my Art Center and my photojournalism and all that. I wasn't legitimate until I started teaching at UCLA, then all of a sudden "my son the college professor," they loved that. But all that other time, they didn't know what I was doing.

SY: Valued education.

RN: Yeah, right. [Laughs] Photographer when you couldn't get a job. So I made them happy when I started teaching at UCLA. They could understand that, they could brag to their friends.

SY: So that must have been hard for you in a certain sense, because being a photographer or wanting to be a photographer was, it was probably that little tug and pull from her, maybe?

RN: Oh, well, yeah, they wanted, like in any family, they want you to be a pharmacist or a doctor or a dentist.

SY: Was that a conflict? Was that an inner conflict of yours?

RN: Yeah, you always kind of feel that, but I'm totally -- as witnessed by my math abilities -- that was totally out of the question.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SY: So when you graduated, or when you finished Art Center, I guess you get a degree in fine arts?

RN: It's a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

SY: Bachelor of Fine Arts. So what do you do with that?

RN: Well, I freelanced as a magazine photographer, I did actually fairly well. I got stuff in Life magazine, McCall's, a lot of small magazines, yeah. So I did okay, but grew kind of dissatisfied because all of the picture stories I wanted to do like stuff on my dad or wouldn't sell, I mean the magazines weren't interested. And so the things that sold I really didn't like, profiles on this guy who made Eiffel Towers out of toothpicks, so it wasn't very satisfying as the photography part. But so I decided, a friend of mine was a photographer, we partnered up and opened up an advertising studio, and we did a lot of commercial advertising photo studio, so we did quite well. He did mostly business part of it and I did mostly the photography part.

SY: And who did, did you have someone doing design for you?

RN: Oh, no, we were, we would do the photography for agencies, and we did a lot of food, we did some local car ads, and one of our mainstay clients was Blue Chip Stamps, so we'd do their whole catalog and all of that.

SY: That was quite a successful business.

RN: Yeah, yeah, so I had a, my Porsche. See, I owned a Porsche.

SY: This was how far into your career from graduation?

RN: That would be, we'd be getting into the... and I spent, I'm sorry, between the magazine work and the opening of the studio, I spent two years in the U.S. Army. I forgot that.

SY: Well, that's pretty important.

RN: That's in there. And so I...

SY: You were drafted.

RN: I was drafted, yeah. I thought I could just, I was twenty-five or so, or I was twenty-four and I think they don't draft you after twenty-five anyway, but they drafted me. But I was fortunate because I was kind of, the Vietnam War wasn't even on the horizon, and it was the tail end of the Korean War. So it was the big Cold War, the Berlin Wall would go up soon. I think it went up just as I got to Germany, I was stationed in Germany. And so I ended up teaching photography, so I traveled from base to base in Europe teaching. It's essentially part of an aerial photography, and so actually I had very good time. [Laughs]

SY: And you still had to go through basic?

RN: Oh, yeah, yeah, all of that.

SY: Once you got out, then...

RN: Yes, it was pretty... I would have never gone to Europe at that time anyway, so I got to travel.

SY: So it was an experience. So then after you got out, then that's when you started this...

RN: The advertising.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RN: Okay, so... I'm sorry, I got everything mixed up. So I was a photojournalist and then I got drafted, that's 1961, and I'm sorry, I forgot two big things. I was photographer for Charles Eames right after I got out of the army, from '61 to '63, and then I opened my studio.

SY: I was going to ask you about that. That was like... so that was a stepping stone to your own...

RN: Well, yeah, to my own work and more serious approach to the arts. And I learned so much working at... in fact, I had to unlearn so much from my Art Center training, which they build a lot of biases and kind of restrict you with certain ideals, what's aesthetic and what's not, what is good lighting and bad lighting, all of that. Art Center gave me a very, very good discipline, training and discipline and working, but a lot of their ideas of what photography is and definition of art and all of that, I had to kind of unlearn, which I unlearned at Eames, experience.

SY: So Art Center was sort of more aesthetic effect?

RN: No, they were much more formal. They had a lot of rules that later, working at this very creative studio...

SY: You had to break.

RN: Yeah, that I realized that these guys were so good that they broke rules. Like Charles, like if you worked at Eames, I was hired as a photographer and darkroom, I did all the, we did a lot of, mostly black and white, but the second day I came there, I was shooting 16-milimeter film and I had no background, and then a week later I was doing the animation. So his whole idea of the staff there was we would do anything. This is the staff that we didn't stay within our job descriptions, because one thing is he didn't like experts. He said, "When you hire an expert, he or she comes in with certain baggage and a way to do things." So when you're trying something new... you might hire a consultant, but he doesn't hire a so-called "expert" to come in and do it, and we'd just start researching and experimenting. So it was that kind of thing, he broke all the rules that I had learned at Art Center. In fact, he kind of joked with me, he says, "I'll bet you learned that at Art Center," I said, "Yeah." So I learned, I think, what was, really what was creativity. And also the intensity and focus we really needed to produce really good work. And so there was no mumbo jumbo about aesthetics for Charles. It was, "We have a problem, we have to solve it, and we don't care about form until it fulfills function." And so I just learned a lot of counter Art Center things there. So it was a very, very... it was kind of a life changing time in my life, artistically, creatively.

SY: And you learned other media, too?

RN: Yeah.

SY: So that was your first foray into film.

RN: Yeah. He was doing a big multi-screen film for the U.S. Information Agency. They had a big fair in Moscow, in fact, it was... the Russians had a fair over here to show Russian culture, and we had a big fair and he was doing a six screen film. Yeah, it was terrific, 'cause he had, just by... there's no voiceover or anything, but you had six screens that had supermarket parking lots, and that's all you can see. So without saying anything, the idea of wealth, that everyone has a car, and shots of the freeway all done on the multi screen. So anyway, it was a great experience.

SY: And how was it that you came to be hired there? Was it just on your...

RN: Well, it's kind of a funny story, shows you how stupid I was. I came out of the service and I didn't want to start up magazine work again. So one of my former professors at Art Center said, "Well, Charles Eames is looking for a photographer. Why don't you check that out?" I thought he made furniture and that's it. I didn't realize he was a world famous, I mean, he revolutionized the chair and building his house, anyway, being the architect and filmmaker. I didn't know any of that, which is probably good because I think then I would have been very intimidated. But not knowing this, I went to the studio in Venice and Washington Boulevard. And I saw this guy, there's a little vacant lot right next to the studio and this guy had a tray and he was eating lunch. And I stopped and I said, "Is this the Charles Eames studio?" he said, "Yeah, just go in there." So I went in there and I talked to the receptionist, "I have an appointment with Charles to show him my portfolio." She said, "Oh, he's out on the side having lunch." [Laughs] So this old guy, and I think he had his, no tie or anything. So he looked at my portfolio and didn't say much. He says, "Well, you could start today, but why don't you come back dressed for work?" 'Cause I had put on a suit, I hate wearing a suit and tie. I had put on a suit and everything, so, "Why don't you come back when you're dressed for it?" So I started the next day.

SY: And you really had... so you had a lot of interaction with him?

RN: Oh, yeah. Everyone, yeah, there's no hierarchy, you're always working under Charles.

SY: And the organization was how many like you who were doing the creative...

RN: Oh, permanent staff was maybe ten or twelve. That included some of the, even the people who worked on the furniture design would help in the films. So there was about twelve people including the design staff. But the design staff would work either on the exhibits or they'd work on furniture.

SY: It sounds like a wonderful place. You were there only the three years?

RN: Yeah, well, see, and that's the downside of it, is you either stay there and become a monk, I mean, you literally, with no exaggeration, you worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day, I mean, literally. It was very exciting, very focused, very creative, 'cause you were building toward this great project, but after a while, it got to be where I'd just go home to sleep. In fact, I'd get a paycheck and I'd throw it in a drawer at home, I was living in this apartment, and when the drawer filled up, then I know I'd go to the bank. So I didn't spend any money either other than literally it was that kind of... I guess if I stayed there, it would have been a whole different career for me, but I said, "I can't do this." Get a life, Bob, right? And I feel very fortunate, 'cause there were always people willing to work free, find students, architect students from Sweden and Finland camped out at his doorstep and all of those things. 'Cause a lot of people asked me the same question, "Well, how come you left?" I'd say it's because I had to make a choice. 'Cause that was it, you'd be total Eames person.

SY: And so you thought that by going out on your own...

RN: Well, I just had to leave, and I didn't even know what I was going to do, I just had to leave. Then I quit.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RN: Well, this is kind of how I ended up getting involved in the Asian American movement. So you have to remember I'm, with my experiences right after the war, and not really, like a lot of people of color especially who aren't part of a community, like if I grew up in Gardena, maybe it would be a totally different story. But I felt very disenchanted... I felt very good at Eames because that was another world. But I knew once I left... I didn't know, but once I left and we started the studio, and my partner dealt with art directors a lot, did the business part, but there was still a lot of schmoozing he had to do and interact with a lot of people that didn't have the same values that I did. So I was beginning to dislike that, and I began to dislike living here.

SY: "Living here," you mean...

RN: In the U.S.

SY: Oh, the United States.

RN: And a lot of us say that, you don't feel, you're not quote, "white American" or are you totally Asian? And that sounds old now, but to me, it was new, you know. I didn't articulate it, but I'm just not comfortable here. I'm not relaxed, especially in the business I was in. So I decided, to hell with it, I'm going to move to Japan and become an expatriate, I'm going to live there. Had these great ideas of blending into the crowd and feeling more at home. So I made an arrangement with a fashion photographer in Tokyo and then went to visit. We had done this all on the phone and he had come here. And so I visited, went to Tokyo and visited his studio and all this. And then it's like a lot of other, I'm sure, JAs, you go over there and find out you're really gaijin, more so than here. So I came back. I'd say, well, that's it. And then I got hold of, I think, the second issue of Gidra somewhere and I don't remember where. And I read it, paged all the way through and I said, "Wow, this is exactly what I feel," that I'm not really part of this society and all that.

SY: Can you back up and tell me, like, roughly how long were you in Japan?

RN: Oh, just a few weeks.

SY: You were planning to stay but you...

RN: Oh, yeah. This was a preliminary visit. And then I realized the first week, this is not going to work. I feel better in Spain, I think.

SY: And your Japanese was enough to get by?

RN: No. Well, I can understand it. I used to understand it pretty well, but my vocabulary and my pronunciation is probably, my vocabulary is about third grade, right? So that probably contributed, if I was fluent, maybe that would have been different.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: And you had, you kept, you were living still, you had an apartment still in Los Angeles?

RN: Oh, yeah. So...

SY: And so when you came across Gidra and maybe you should sort of explain what Gidra is.

RN: Oh, okay. Gidra, I think it was the first or second issue. So I read Gidra which turned out to be the, at least, in southern California would be the Asian American movement newspaper. So I read a couple articles and saw the graphics, and it was like... yeah, it was like I had to go talk to these people.

SY: Who was it that was involved in that original initial Gidra?

RN: Who?

SY: Who was it?

RN: Oh, well, I went down there and said, "I have all this experience, I really like what you guys are doing. If I can help out, volunteer, I have a darkroom," I said all this. And, yeah, so some of the early people there were Warren Furutani, there was a Owen Watanabe, Mike Murase, Steve Tatsukawa, Alan Ota, I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot of people.

SY: So it was a pretty well-organized group.

RN: Yeah. Or the principal activists during that time were pretty much focused at Gidra, at the early part of the movement.

SY: And they have an actual headquarters or office?

RN: Yeah, they had an office on Jefferson Boulevard, there's a small mall, and there was a Cobys right next door, Cobys, C-O-B-Y-S drug store. And they had an office there, so that's where I went.

SY: And they were all... okay, so this was, they were all post college age?

RN: Oh, they were all in UCLA. They were mostly all UCLA.

SY: That's where it originated then.

RN: Yeah.

SY: Then you were a total stranger.

RN: Yeah, I was a little older, and yeah, I didn't know anyone. So anyway, I started, I was so enthralled with everything, I actually moved to the Crenshaw area, 'cause that's where all, everything was happening, that was in that Crenshaw area, so I moved there. I started, and I was still working, I was still working at, I was a color printer, because I decided to give up my studio. I was freelancing, I was printing for a former professor of mine, and then I was working as a photographer for Lackma, I had these two part-time jobs, and so I just moved to Crenshaw.

SY: So you were making a good living and saving money by now?

RN: Yeah, I had sold part of my... I sold my business to my partner, so yeah, I could afford to become part of the movement. Oh, and I should -- I don't want to dwell on this too much, but I was married and had a... it was not to Karen, this was my first marriage. And so I had a wife and a child at that time, too, so anyway...

SY: Luckily you had enough money to support them.

RN: Yeah. So I kind of... yeah, I kind of joined the movement as it were. Let's see now, so I did some stuff at Gidra, then I... so I was accepted fairly well at Gidra, being older. But I know I went to one of the first Asian American conferences at SC... I'm just telling you things that I remember. And I attended a workshop on communications, thought I could add to that. And then I remember I was met with hostility at this workshop, couldn't figure that out. So later, after a long time, Eddie Wong explained that I was wearing these white corduroy pants and a blazer, and I had short hair. Anyway, but I got that...

SY: Saw you as establishment.

RN: Yeah. So later I dressed in my... got out my old fatigue jackets. You've got to see some pictures, I have really long hair. And then I think one of the things I did at Gidra that I was really happy with, I did that whole first pilgrimage to Manzanar shot and with all the faces around it. And so I did things like that.

SY: So what was the primary goal of the organization?

RN: Of Gidra?

SY: Of Gidra when you first...

RN: Oh, I don't know if they had articulated clearly, 'cause it kind of grew, the paper kind of grew organically. But I think they felt they needed some form of print communication to announce events and have people do creative work like poetry and artwork.

SY: Very pan-Asian.

RN: Yeah, although the initial Gidra people were pretty JA. In fact, the early movement was either JA or CA. And like Gidra, except for I think Eddie Wong and his sister, everyone, I think it was predominately Japanese American early on, I mean, like the 1970s.

SY: Right, it was founded in '70?

RN: '70, I think.

SY: 1970.

RN: Oh, no, I'm sorry. It must have been earlier because Manzanar pilgrimage was in '69, and I shot the pilgrimage. So it must have been early '69.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

SY: Is that the first Manzanar pilgrimage in '69?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: And that was something that Gidra was just involved with.

RN: I just, I shot it and they printed it.

SY: 'Cause that was organized really by, was it the Manzanar Committee then?

RN: No, it was pretty much Warren Furutani and Victor Shibata, they kind of organized it.

SY: So they organized it and you shot it, so that meant... and I know this is the subject of another film that your son did, right? The first Manzanar pilgrimage?

RN: Yeah, right.

SY: So that was something, I'm curious if you could sort of give a recap of what that was like.

RN: Well, we had talked about... I talked about the first, told him about the first Manzanar pilgrimage, and when he was a little kid we went to all the, we used to go quite often to the annual pilgrimages. And so Tad's kind of grown up with, knowing the kind of early movement people and hear all these stories. And then later, when he made his first film, Yellow Brotherhood, and that was kind of about the continuation of the Yellow Brotherhood from the movement to the basketball leagues. And then he wanted to do a film on the pilgrimage, but different as he wanted to show a Sansei's view, third generation's view of the movement and the pilgrimage.

SY: But I guess I'm asking what was it like for you going on that original Manzanar pilgrimage.

RN: Oh. No, it was great. Tad was not interested in film at all, up until when he got into UCLA, undergraduate at UCLA. I mean, he didn't hate it, but he never showed any interest in it. Then he took my class, and I'm quoting him, he said, "to get an easy A." And so he made, he started Yellow Brotherhood, the film, in my communications class.

SY: But I guess I'm thinking also, when you made that first trip back to Manzanar, had you already started thinking about or re-thinking this whole camp experience or was it a slow process?

RN: See, I'd gone on the pilgrimage -- I have to backtrack a little bit. Because I went on the pilgrimage, and that was very emotional 'cause I hadn't gone back there at all.

SY: So that was a conscious decision that was made when you heard about it?

RN: Oh, yeah, I heard about it and I knew I had to go. Because I kind of, like everyone else, kind of blocked it out. Although the movement was beginning to kind of redefine the camp experience from a Nisei's point of view. So, yeah, and remember, there was no other pilgrimages or anything, it was like really out there with sagebrush and all of that. So it was kind of, quote, "untouched." And so wandering around, I was able to recall, "I used to play here, we used to do that there." So very, very emotional. I kind of repressed, like a lot of the Nisei, the whole experience was repressed, and just came out all at once at the pilgrimage. That's why I... it was kind of like going to the Eames, working at Eames, that was kind of a life-changing experience there, going back to Manzanar.

And then after that, this was '69. So the Asian American Studies Center was formed, I think, early '69 or '68. And they, along with the other Ethnic Studies Centers, put together a program to kind of integrate the UCLA film school. And so it was a program called EthnoCommunications, and so the four Ethnic Studies Centers recruited people who wanted to come in and do kind of community-based filmmaking. So there was about sixty of us that came in, black, Chicano, African American, Asian American. So I was recruited by Alan Nishio, who was acting director of the center, of the newly formed center, and so he kind of recruited a lot of us to join the program. So we came in, some of us came in as undergraduates, I came in as a graduate student to the film department under this program, EthnoCommunications, it was a great program. We took some of the regular classes but we had our own special classes and they're all in there with the purpose of doing films about our communities or making change through film. So that's where Eddie Wong and myself and Duane Kubo, and actually Steve Tatsukawa, there's a lot of us that went through that program. Mike Murase was I think there for a while. And, but Eddie and myself and Duane decided we want to continue on after film school, so we decided to form VC, Visual Communications. Well, actually while we were still in film school.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

SY: -- that pilgrimage experience because it was probably a reawakening for you.

RN: Yeah. And I wasn't, I wasn't really prepared. I thought I'd go 'cause everyone wanted to go, and I think we all knew we wanted to kind of make that as an issue, or a pilgrimage, to one of the more blatant acts of racism against Asian Americans. But I wasn't expecting once I got there... and it happened we picked the wrong month to go, and that was December, and it was really cold, and that all added, overcast, and that really added to the atmosphere, I think. And that probably added to this sense of -- I hate to say of returning. And so it was this really dichotomy of remembering kind of pleasant, having pleasant childhood memories, and now as an adult, realizing that these experiences took place in American concentration camp. And it's an example of the kind of racism that's always with us and probably still is with this country.

SY: The group that went, how many of them were Nisei? How many of them were actually...

RN: Nisei or...

SY: Nisei. In other words, like you who were in camp.

RN: There was actually quite a few. I know Bob Suzuki's wife came. There was Jim...

SY: Matsuoka?

RN: Jim...

SY: Matsuoka?

RN: Yeah, Jim Matsuoka. That's where he gave his famous...

SY: Hayakawa's... no.

RN: No. He said, when you ask how many people, it's the cemetery, how many people were buried here, and then he says, "I say it's a whole generation." [Laughs] So I thought it was pretty cool.

SY: He has these wonderful phrases, yes.

RN: So, but there was actually quite a few. Edison Uno was there, and so there...

SY: And were these people you were meeting for the first time?

RN: I had known some of the people already.

SY: But it was largely Sansei organized, would you say?

RN: You know, I think they were... probably, but I think there were a lot of Nisei... I think some of the Niseis don't get as much credit as they deserve in terms of their movement. But yeah, so there was a mixture. It wasn't all Sansei.

SY: And what was the program exactly? You go to...

RN: There was a Buddhist religious service, and then they had a minister from the Bay Area. We just interviewed him. Anyway, so there was a Buddhist and Christian memorial service, then Jim Matsuoka said his speech, and I think Warren spoke, so there was a lot of speakers. But most of it was clearing out the area, the cemetery, pulling all the tumbleweeds, and actually planting new trees around. They never grew, but... and painting the, scraping the paint off and repainting the monument. So it was more of a work pilgrimage, that was the whole idea.

SY: And you were there for how long?

RN: Well, it was several hours. I mean... actually, I had gotten there a lot earlier so I could catch the morning light. That's why my Manzanar monument shot was like early morning. And so...

SY: And you were the only one who photographed it, or were there others?

RN: I'm sure other people shot it. But I had shot that whole essay. So I took all the head shots, 'cause I wanted the idea of, to show the variety of people, old and...

SY: And you used that for...

RN: The Gidra spread.

SY: The Gidra spread.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: And then you also made a film, but that came later?

RN: Yeah. Well, so that was, that took place, and then the beginning of the EthnoCommunications program that the Ethnic Studies Centers put together. So a lot of us were recruited, went to film school. And our first project is to do a Super 8 film, so it's Super 8, very teeny film, and no synch sound to it. We had to make an eight-minute film, that was the exercise. But once again, we were together as a group, so we had an Asian American group unit together. So anyway, I made Manzanar for that assignment. So I went back to Manzanar and shot all the places I used to play and things that I remember, and put that together with the minimal voice over, but a lot of music. But the whole point of the film was that kind of play on being beautiful and pleasant, but using the voice over saying that it wasn't. So that was supposed to be the first film on camp, made by... well, it was one of the first films, period, that was made on camp.

SY: And was that your first film as well?

RN: Yeah, that was my first.

SY: So you had never shot with...

RN: I've shot stuff for Charles, but I've never, I've never put together a film or edited.

SY: So you were largely self-taught, then, when did it?

RN: Well, yeah. We were all... so there was a lot of good films that came out of there. Eddie Wong did his film Wong Sing Song about his father who runs a laundry in Hollywood. And Manzanar... I'm forgetting. About four or five films that were still kind of used now as artifacts if nothing else, not art.

SY: But in terms of training...

RN: Well, we were being trained then.

SY: In the EthnoCommunications school? And so you remember who you were being taught by?

RN: Yeah, there was, the person, Professor John Young had put the program together with the study center. And there was a forerunner to Ethno was called something else. So there was an African American professor, Lucille Taylor, who ran a pilot, they called it the Pilot Project, and it was a small group of black, Chicano, and Asian Americans. And then the big program when we all came in. And so Professor Young was kind of in charge of all that. Our main instructor coordinator was a graduate student called, his name was Dave Garcia, and he went on later to be a producer somewhere. And then we took the regular tech courses taught by different instructors. But our filmmaking and film background, all of that, was pretty much done through EthnoCommunications.

SY: So it was just filmmaking or was it other arts that were being taught?

RN: No, just strictly film.

SY: Completely filmmaking.

RN: Yeah, we were part of the, I was part of the MFA film program and then the undergraduates who were getting their BA.

SY: And as far as you know, were there other programs similar to it?

RN: I don't think so. I think it was very innovative. That was the first time that the school was literally invaded by all these students of color. So UCLA was pretty, there's a whole exhibit and series of retrospectives, panels called the L.A. Rebellion: Black Cinema in L.A. or something like that. So that's funded by the same Pacific Standard Times, so there's a lot of people who are part of the Ethno, the African American component of EthnoCommunications that are in that.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

SY: And was the UCLA Asian American Studies program, was it in being at that time, too?

RN: Yeah. They had...

SY: That was an offshoot?

RN: Yeah, they had just, they had just started all the Ethnic Studies centers, and the Ethno program grew from the Ethnic Studies centers and the film school with the idea of integrating the film program.

SY: So this was a period where you were only studying for a year?

RN: No, I was going to, going for my MFA, so I stayed there four years.

SY: Four years?

RN: Yeah, yeah. But we had been, we did VC while we were all students.

SY: I see.

RN: Yeah, so it wasn't like we graduated. In fact, we stayed on purpose, 'cause that was the only, we had access to equipment and everything. I think we could have all graduated earlier, but we stayed on so we could use the facilities.

SY: And by forming VC, was it sort of an incorporation process? What was the exact step by step to the formation?

RN: No, in fact, it was kind of the direct opposite. The idea when we were in film school, and we only came to film school because we realized the importance of media in terms of changing perceptions of Asians, people of color, political statements we could make. So everyone knew that media was important, and logically that we could, the best people to do it is ourselves so that we have, we can present an insider's view instead of a view from outside. So we all came in with that idea. None of us came in with the idea of making a three-picture deal and going to Hollywood, at least within the Asian component, and I'm pretty sure no one had that quite in mind.

SY: But did you sign a partnership agreement or anything...

RN: No, no. I mean, this was the whole Ethno program, and so I'm just giving you a context of when we went in there, no one went in there with the idea of making a career out of it. It was all the idea of social change, building community, all of that. And essentially it was anti-Hollywood if nothing else. So that was part of Ethno, and then we thought we would continue it, form our own organization called, we called it Visual Communications because the initials were VC. So that was, that's why we chose that name.

SY: Who came up with that, do you remember?

RN: I think I did.

SY: VC meaning...

RN: Viet Cong.

SY: Viet Cong. It really was, because it was during the Vietnamese War.

RN: Yeah, right. So that was our...

SY: That's the origin.

RN: So we started, early on, a lot of us realized the need to develop our own media. 'Cause we knew we needed to be able to see ourselves through our own eyes. I think that's one of the reasons. But a lot of other people felt that we needed to control that by changing, that through media we could change our stereotypes to a broad white audience, which I didn't agree with. A lot of us didn't agree with that, 'cause that's just too monumental. It'll never do anything. I know generally VC, we had the idea of developing media for our communities. I think a lot of, when I was interviewed about VC, a lot of people -- or Ethno -- that we all came in to change Hollywood, but we've got to become Asian Francis Ford Coppolas and we're going to change. But we didn't really come in with that idea, we came in with the idea that we needed to change our own stereotypes. Because I think we -- I know I have, growing up in the '40s and '50s, I had assimilated a lot of the negative stereotypes. And so we felt we needed to just make films about that so we could see ourselves as kind of everyday human beings. The other is that we had no roots. This is before any Asian American studies programs, very few books were written, we had a paragraph or two in the history books. So we felt film was a good way to recapture, or we like to say to define and redefine who we are. So those were some of the ideas. And I tell my students when they ask me for VC and also the Ethno program that I'm running now, is the idea of documenting and preserving and presenting who we are and our community. So I think that was...

SY: And you all sort of came to this mutually acceptable... I mean, was it a group, would you meet during the day or at night?

RN: Oh, no, it became... in fact, since I had the most experience and I was the oldest, I kind of, we kind of designed it from the Eames experience. And collectivity was big during the movement. And so we call ourselves a community-based production company. But the idea, we worked as a collective. That's why in the early films, you don't see -- unless we put it in later -- you don't see any staff mentioned in the credits. 'Cause we didn't want to say, so and so directed this, and so and so was the producer and all of that. So we tried -- and so when we had a film, there had to be someone in charge of coordinating it, but we'd all get together and talk about the idea and look at the dailies as a group and whatnot. And so we tried to put the film together, do our films that way.

SY: And can you go over the people who were involved again?

RN: Yeah. The principal people would be Eddie Wong, Duane Kubo, Alan Ohashi, Alan Kondo, myself, Pat Law Miller, Candice Murata, and...

SY: Steve?

RN: Oh, yeah, Steve. See, I know I'm gonna...

SY: Forget people... that's okay.

RN: Yeah, yeah, Steve Tatsukawa.

SY: So it was not a small group, it was a fairly...

RN: Well, yeah. At our peak, this was in the late '70s, there was a huge staff. We used to...

SY: But the formation of...

RN: Of it would be, anyway, the defined founding members are Alan Ohashi, Eddie Wong, Duane Kubo and myself. But in my definition of it, Alan Kondo, he wasn't technically a founder, but he came in before, only kind of real professional editing skills. So it became a very, very important part of...

SY: So, but there would be, say, defining principles that formed your organization, were devised by this smaller group?

RN: Yeah, but we kind of drew from everyone the whole movement. Like Gidra was working kind of on the same idea, that we're community based, that we need to find our own roots, define who we are, and then, of course, use media for social change, what's happening now. So in a sense we wanted to be the media arm of the movement, at least Southern California. And it's not known that well, but before we did our films, we did a lot of print education materials. We did posters, silkscreen posters, we did these, I think really, they still hold up today, these educational kits. We did an ethnic understanding series, and there were these little profiles of community people, in the Filipino community, Korean community. Then we did East-West activity kits that have all these games for young kids.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

SY: So this work was time consuming, and...

RN: Yeah, we all kind of...

SY: It was a full-time profession for all of you.

RN: Yeah. Well, I don't know about profession, I mean, we all had other jobs. I was still living off of my money from selling my studio.

SY: And you opened up an office?

RN: Yeah, and that was, that was on Jefferson Boulevard near Crenshaw, it's in Crenshaw area. Everything was happening, a lot of things were happening in that area.

SY: So what kind of financial, initial financial investment was it?

RN: Not a whole lot, 'cause we used... I had all the darkroom equipment myself, and so we had built a darkroom, so we did a lot of photography. And all the film was bootlegged, all the filmmaking equipment was bootlegged through UCLA film school. We made sure someone was always going to school there, so a lot of the equipment in the early days, a lot of the equipment was UCLA's.

SY: And everybody pretty much gave their time, then?

RN: Yeah, we all did.

SY: It was all donation.

RN: I think everyone was a student. Yeah, I don't know how some of the people survived, I just know I was living off of my, sale of my part of the business. And then when I was going to school, I had the GI Bill, and I taught part-time.

SY: So you eventually incorporated, or was that...

RN: Well, there another organization -- not an organization, but there was a... yeah, organization called Asian American Studies Central, and that was incorporated, and that was an umbrella corporation started by Alan Nishio and... and then I missed the staffperson, Ron Hirano. That was the big staffperson that I should mention at VC. That's our...

SY: One of the core, huh?

RN: Yeah, he was one of our core, and that was Irene's ex-husband. So Ron Hirano was one of the core people. I should have not forgotten... see, I know I'm going to forget...

SY: Don't worry. We won't hold you to the list.

RN: But anyway, Asian American Studies Central was started by Ron Hirano and Kenyon Chan, who is now the president of... there's a second campus at University of Washington. Anyway... and so later we merged and became Visual Communications under the name Asian American Studies Central, Incorporated. So we became incorporated as a nonprofit later.

SY: Years later?

RN: Yeah, a couple years later.

SY: So you started in the early '70s?

RN: See, you have to picture, this is all experimental. It's not that organized. Everything was organic, Gidra was, people would come in and they'd write in the different styles, or, "Let's put this in this time," or someone said, "Oh, someone wants to write this article." That's what makes it so interesting when you go through all the issues. It's not like the staff were the set policies... NVC was very similar. Depending on who came in at the time and changing idea, and wherever the money came from, then we would change, have to change directions a little bit.

SY: There's nothing today that you can compare it to.

RN: No, I don't think so. I can't... the closest one would be, of the early days, would be like LTSC still has that flavor.

SY: Little Tokyo Service Center?

RN: Yeah, Little Tokyo Service Center has that kind of feel.

SY: But there's always someone who's sort of in charge, and would that person have been you?

RN: Yeah, mainly 'cause I was the oldest.

SY: Someone had to take...

RN: That's unfortunate that I had to administer things and develop proposals and meet with Office of Education people and everything. I think I've said it on other interviews, so I'll say it on this, sometimes I felt bad because everyone else was out making films and I was stuck with a desk job. So felt like I didn't get my share of filmmaking. [Laughs]

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

SY: Well, okay, so... well, so your next film after Manzanar, Manzanar was...

RN: Yeah, that was my...

SY: First film, 1971 I have as the date.

RN: Yeah. Then I did Wataridori: Birds of Passage, and that was my thesis film for my MFA.

SY: So VC was operating then.

RN: Yeah, we were operating.

SY: But you weren't doing as much administrative work then?

RN: No, I did it as VC -- I mean, I did it as my thesis. We did a lot of things like that. So it was my thesis film but it was a VC film. So I had written a proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities and got funded. And at that time, we thought it was important to do films about history and in this case Japanese American history. So Wataridori was about three Issei immigrants and their experience. So one was a Mr. Miura who kind of pioneered the whole fishing industry here, and Mrs... anyway, an Issei woman, her name will come to me, kind of giving a woman's view. She's a widow now, but her husband had kind of pioneered the whole cotton growing, the development of the Central Valley and the south. And then my father, who was a gardener and had the whole classic immigrant story. So they were the three lives kind of intertwined. So that was my...

SY: And was that one of the first films that sort of received...

RN: Well, see, technically... well, we called Manzanar, Wong Sing Song and some of the early ones, those were, we considered them VC films although VC wasn't quite together then. But you'll see on Manzanar it says "Visual Communications."

SY: And how much, do you remember how much it cost to make Wataridori?

RN: Probably seven thousand... everyone worked free. But filmmaking was expensive, so we had, it's raw stock dailies, and eventually negative made and cut and all of that.

SY: And the people who worked on it were all...

RN: They were all fellow students or mostly VC people who worked on it.

SY: So they were, it was sort of a training ground for other filmmakers as well, the making of...

RN: Yeah, for the VC people, yeah. So Duane and we all... and then Alan Kondo came and we learned a lot from him.

SY: And what kind of exposure did you get initially to your films?

RN: Well, see, once again, we weren't really interested in exposure to the audience per se except to a community audience. So we would take our films to screen in church basements and campuses. So that's a whole different, you have to... it's a whole different mindset. We were not interested in distribution per se, other than maybe sustaining the organization. So we weren't interested, and there was no PBS at the time, so we were not interested in network television, and there would be no use for our stuff in Hollywood. And so our whole idea was presented ourselves, to ourselves. At least, there might be other people who thought a little differently, but from my point of view, that was the whole reason for me putting all that time in.

SY: Would you have rejected the notion if someone came to you and said they wanted to show it to a larger audience?

RN: Oh, no. I had no problem with that, but that's not our initial motivation. Because, see, if you think about it, once you're looking at a market, then you begin to compromise and you begin to aim everything. Because even PBS, it's supposed to be alternative television, and it's really not... then you get Ken Burns and all these people and you have a particular PBS look and style and subject matter. So you begin to think PBS or you begin to think cable TV. So I think we, maybe it wasn't articulated then, but all we wanted to do is document ourselves. And part of the understanding of our approach was that no matter what you showed, you had rave reviews from the audiences because they've not... it's hard. I can't get across to my students, I said, "Imagine not even the term 'Asian Americans,' we were 'Orientals.' Imagine not even knowing the term 'Asian Americans,' not having Asian American Studies. They were non-existent until the late '60s, early '70s." And so when audiences would see themselves on film, because film kind of validates, you kind of exist, right? It's like being published in a book or being put into a film, and, "Oh, yeah, I really exist." So for a lot of Asian Americans, especially immigrant or first generation, seeing themselves on the screen, it was a big... so they felt like they're valid people and they should exist. So it was very basic. So there's no thought, per se, other than survival or sustaining the organization, there was no idea of art, self expression, or making it big in Hollywood or becoming... well, there's no Ken Burns at that time, or anthropological studies or anything like that.

SY: But it brings to mind, I'm curious what the reaction to Manzanar was.

RN: Oh, well, this was early on, so, yeah, it was, that was interesting. Later, this was early on to where Niseis never talked about it, and Sanseis. I'm generalizing within Sansei, because there was a lot of progressive Niseis who wanted to talk about it. But generalizing, the Nisei generation didn't want it. They wanted to ignore it, not bring it up, and then Sansei, some of the young people, activists begin to say, "What is this about?" and so they begin to... so since it was one of the first films, it got mixed reviews. The more conservative Nisei people said, "What are you doing bringing up things and photographs of camp and all of that?" And then, of course, the younger generation, it's the first time they'd seen those photos. You have to remember those photographs were not... some of the photographs I used in it were not really seen. Bob Suzuki got 'em through Raymond Uno who got it through the National Archives, but we had never seen any of that.

SY: It was before Years of Infamy was published.

RN: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SY: It was very early on.

RN: Very early on.

SY: And you used... that is interesting that you had WRA photos. That was the historical...

RN: Yeah. And a lot of Miyatake films, photographs, which we didn't even know, Toyo gave a lot of prints away, so people had some shots of camp squirreled away in their collections. I'm kind of wandering, but that was another part of VC. We realized there was no archival material to call on, so we started developing our archive. So we took care of all the photographs, duplicated all the photographs that are now in the JARP collection at UCLA, which is the largest collection on early Japanese Americans. So all the, mostly the photos that are duplicated, we did that. We were paid by the center to do that, so we had made copies for ourselves and decided to put an archive together. And so now we have one of the, VC has one of the largest, or probably the largest collection of Asian American images.

SY: That's the Japanese American... is it JAARTA or JARP?

RN: JARP, Japanese American Research Project.

SY: Research Project.

RN: Because it's the preeminent collection in the country, it's housed in UCLA. There's oral histories and all of that.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

SY: What's amazing to me is you founded this, or this group came together to form this organization without any kind of funding to speak of, right?

RN: Yeah, well, it was mostly grants. We did early on, like Gidra and other organizations, we received a lot of support through the Asian American Studies Center. And they were formed in 1968 or something like that.

SY: So a minimal amount of funding?

RN: Yeah, or they'd hire us as work study students or they would find money or help us do proposals.

SY: So aside from that, you were just looking for grant money?

RN: Yeah, yeah. But grant money was a lot easier then, I have to say. Because this was the early '70s, and everyone wanted to... were either behind the revolution or wanted to keep the revolution down. So they were handing money out 'cause there were student strikes and all this going on. It was kind of a political and cultural... revolution's a good word during that time. So there was a lot of money available, 'cause people were scared. I mean, the ruling class was kind of, yeah, scared. So there was a lot more...

SY: So you had a basic office staff that was being subsidized?

RN: No. We'd live off of grants.

SY: So it was project by project.

RN: Project, yeah. And that was the downside of everything, 'cause you'd have to work day and night and then just be able to keep a little bit of the grant to sustain ourselves. So it was very, very rugged because we had to keep producing in order to sustain ourselves.

SY: Because I'm looking at your list of films, and they were generally every three years, five years. Was that --

RN: Yeah. We cranked out a lot of films, and they were on grants.

SY: I imagine besides -- so your filmography, is that the same as VC's? In other words, were there others between the ones that you did?

RN: No... yeah, there was a lot that...

SY: Were not attributed to you.

RN: And I just called myself executive producer on those because that's what I did. I'd rather be making the films, but I needed that for my academic resume, so I put executive producer because that's kind of what I did. But there are other films that aren't on there.

SY: That VC... so you were probably doing, VC was probably producing a film a year?

RN: Uh-uh.

SY: More?

RN: More. We were going, we did like five. These were short films a year, so that was quite a, we did quite a bit. I'd have to look at our filmography. And we were doing, documenting things and creating our archives, doing educational materials, slideshows, in between, too. And those we did a lot for free using our other grant money.

SY: So how would you characterize those early years as far as how you... I mean, was it a good time in your life? Was it a hard time?

RN: Well, it was a hard time in the fact that I was running out of money, I mean, only goes so long. And I had a family, so keeping, making ends meet and being a father and a husband, going to grad school, and being part of VC, that really spread me thin. In fact, that's probably why I got gray so fast. But I'm glad, looking back, I don't know how I did that. Of course, eventually, that kind of caused my, the breakup of my family. And eventually I had to quit, I mean, I had to take a legitimate job later in the mid-'70s. So making ends meet was probably the real downside. I mean, we had to scrounge. A lot of us remember eating nothing but Cup-O-Noodles, right? But the upside, of course, was, that was probably -- and a lot people will say I'm probably romanticizing it, but that's probably the best time that I can recall. It was better than Eames, because I was able to use the creative process that I learned there in developing the right work atmosphere and creative atmosphere and apply it to content that I really wanted to work with, something that was relevant. I think all through my photojournalism things I could get published, my advertising work, all of that, the thing that I lacked was relevant content. So even at Eames, I was learning so much in terms of craft and aesthetic approach, but what he was doing wasn't that relevant in terms of content to what I wanted. So that the movement and VC offered me that outlet. You know, you want to, I think anyone who works at something likes to feel that there's meaning to what they're doing. So that's the first time all the training and other that I've gone through, and all the work I've done, this is the first time I could apply it to something that was totally relevant and something I was very passionate about. So that's why I really look at that as kind of a high point, probably the high point in my life.

SY: And it seems to me that's it's a philosophy that sort of has guided the rest of your life.

RN: Yeah, and once again, at the time that all of this... and lot of things I'm probably articulating in retrospect, but somewhere along the line, the idea of using media, a big buzz phrase in the movement was "serve the people." And so the idea of using to serve people, serve the people, or use it as service as opposed to self expression or art, whatever, and I think that was where I felt I had really learned something when I came to that decision. And a lot of it was unlearning Art Center and a lot of other things.

SY: And it seems as if you made a shift really from commercial art to really, I mean, the ultimate in non-commercial, when you say you wanted to serve your own community. Is that something that you know that you made a conscious choice then and it sort of stayed with you?

RN: Yeah, I think it was... well, it was from the time that I wanted to get out of here and go to Japan, and it was a restlessness, a dissatisfaction. And looking back, one thing is that I could not relate to the work, or the content of the work that I was working with, the photojournalism, the material that I got published was not really relevant to me. Obviously shooting pieces of furniture and things like that in my commercial studio was relevant to me. So it wasn't until the movement, working at Gidra, grad school and part of EthnoCommunications and grad school and VC, all of that. I think there's one thing that we need to define sometimes. The movement, most people look at it as political, you know, as a political movement, and to an extent it is. But there's a lot of us, whether we want to define ourselves that way. It was building, it was culture-making. That's... part of defining and building a community is it's not political, it is also developing in this case an Asian American culture. So I think there was... I think Gidra, although it served it's political, our political ends, it also worked on our culture, defining who... even the artwork, if you looked inside that, the poetry, I think VC did that with the films because they're about ourselves. And they have their own aesthetic and everything, but a lot of the people who joined the movement were looking for... well, it's cliche now, but it's true, looking for identity, who are they? Wanting a sense of community. And so I think in music was Hiroshima, you know, trying jazz fusion with Asian instruments, and Gidra and VC, and there was other... and the posters of Chris Yamashita, so there was all these things that we can say, "Well, these are part, this is an Asian culture, Japanese culture, this is Western American culture, it's this thing we call Asian American." Then I think what was probably the other important cog in this wheel for me was it gave me a place to work with relevant material. But the other is it gave me a sense of community, see, which I never had. I think there's a lot of us who may be really active in the movement because we didn't grow up in a Japanese American community. I grew up in kind of a hostile white community. So there was always that feeling of the alienation. But joining the movement, kind of creating our own culture and aesthetics and all of that. And then so ever since that I've always had a sense of belonging to a community, be it working at Asian American Studies Center teaching, going to Senshin Temple or hanging out at VC, doing this. So I think that was one of the... for me it was nothing but benefit for me because the movement really gave me the opportunity to do the work I want to do, and also gave me kind of a sense of community.

SY: Very, very well said.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

SY: I was just looking at the next film, though, you did after Wataridori which was Hito Hata. And that, wasn't that more of a... I mean, did you consider that more of a mainstream film even though you were thinking of doing sort of these...

RN: Yeah. 'Cause we had done a lot of films before Hito Hata, and then there's a period, it was... I just want to make sure...

SY: I have 1980 for Hito Hata.

RN: Yeah, so I had left VC in 1975 and I went to teach photography at San Diego City College. And so then I came...

SY: And that move was purely...

RN: Financial, and my marriage was falling apart.

SY: So you actually made a geographical move.

RN: Yeah, and it was a nice opportunity for me to teach kind of basic photography and just get away. Because everyone gets burned out eventually, Eddie got burned out and Duane, we all had to leave. But I tried to pull my marriage together, which I eventually didn't. So I went to teach in San Diego. And then I met Karen there and I got divorced, then got married, etcetera.

SY: How was it that you met Karen?

RN: I had known Karen from different... I met her at different conferences. I first met her at a big JACL convention in Washington, D.C., where we were going to take over JACL. [Laughs] This whole group wanting to take over JACL. Anyway... so I first met her there, and then later I'd see her now and then, and then she lived in San Diego.

SY: We should say Karen's full name.

RN: Oh, Karen Ishizuka.

SY: And you subsequently became work partners?

RN: Yeah, she did work with me, we partnered on a lot of the films. She does all the proposal writing.

SY: So you don't have to do it anymore?

RN: So we get money, yeah. So I came -- so then both of us wanted to leave San Diego 'cause at that time it was very conservative, very few Asians there, if you can believe that. And so we -- actually, I was planning to just quit and move back to L.A. and see if I can find work or teach or something. Then just by the stroke of good fortune, we were in L.A. and we were eating at a ramen place in Sawtelle, and Lucy Chang, who was the director at that time of Asian American Studies Center, happened to be there. And she said, "Oh, would you be interested in teaching?" I had a joint appointment with Asian American Studies and film. I said, "Oh, yeah." So I got that position. I started out as an assistant professor there, and that was... I guess '79... yeah, 1979 I started teaching at UCLA. And at that time, Steve Tatsukawa was the director of VC and Duane was one of the senior members. It was pretty much run by Duane, Steve and... anyway. So they had a major grant called Nation Builders and they were, told us to do a series of half hour programs on Asian Americans, stories of different communities. I guess as a group, VC, they wanted to do, try their hand at a narrative film. And so we kind of consolidated all the money for the series into one film instead of five or six films. So that's how we began to put Hito Hata together.

SY: And was there talk of a possible audience for that? Who were you aiming...

RN: Well, that, we were... we deviated from our initial goals, and also that time, public broadcasting was, I guess it was just beginning. PBS was... I think, anyway, it wasn't like PBS now. And so we were looking toward PBS and maybe, although I didn't think we'd make it into the theaters myself, but some of us thought we might do that. But the idea was to kind of make a bigger statement, and I think some of us just wanted to work in a narrative form.

SY: And feature length, too.

RN: Yeah, feature length.

SY: So it was a fairly big undertaking?

RN: Yeah, it was a monumental task. We tried to work in a more collective manner, so the whole script was meeting after meeting after meeting. So we turned out, we wanted to do something historical, but we wanted to also link it to something in the present. So at that time there was the whole redevelopment of Little Tokyo, and they were moving a lot of the Issei bachelors out of the old hotels here and moving them off to wherever. And so there was a, quite a bit of community action against the redevelopment and moving the senior citizens out of the area. And so we all decided that that would be the contemporary story, and we'd all put it in this one character, Oda. So that's, so we had a rough idea, and meeting after meeting we got that far, and then meeting after meeting the script started, not coming together to be quite truthful. And that's when we realized something like that, a large narrative film cannot be done by committee. So we had the rough idea and some of the scenes, so essentially Duane, myself, and John Esaki that took what we had all worked on, put it into a script, final. I can't even say it's a final script.

SY: Working script.

RN: Working script. Because we had to get it into production because of our funding. So the film, so this is the first time we really -- not the first time, but we formally had like a director and all, Duane and I became co-directors and Steve became producer and we hired... anyway, our director of photography...

SY: So sort of changed directions, really, with this one big project.

RN: In terms of the process, but in terms of what we wanted to do and all of that. Well, actually process, and yeah, we were aiming for a larger audience.

SY: And looking back, how do you feel about that, that particular experience?

RN: It was probably one of the most rugged experiences I've had. Because remember, I had just started, I had a new spouse, and in 1980, Tad was born, and Karen already from her first marriage had Thai Binh, our daughter, she was four. I had just started teaching at UCLA film school, and then we started Hito Hata. Because Tad was born 1980 when we started, so we have him in the, leaving for Manzanar, the camp, moving out of Little Tokyo. Nancy Araki's holding this baby as she gets onto the bus, that's Tad. So he's like five days old.

SY: His first foray into...

RN: But it was really harrowing for me because I was doing all these things. So that I don't know how I survived that. And then that, having the responsibility of the film. So yeah, that's, I think that was, we had just moved into our house in L.A., Karen was pregnant, I just was starting at UCLA, and then we started working on Hito Hata.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

RN: Yeah, that was a major undertaking and I think it really tested the whole organization of VC. And VC had a little larger staff and different people, younger people, and some of the old guard like Steve and Duane were around. I can't remember who they are 'cause I didn't get to know them as well. Oh, I'm sorry, John Esaki and Amy came in during Hito Hata. And Nancy Araki came in during Hito Hata.

SY: And so in the end, after you finished the film and started screening it, did you feel that it was worth the effort that went into it?

RN: Well, I guess generally... let's see, how do I say this? That was a lot of effort, I mean, physically and psychologically a lot of effort. And sometimes, early on, I thought, you may be using that energy and that money into making some shorter... they could be narrative or documentary films, might have served our purposes better than this huge epic. But then looking back, and a lot of people tell me who were not part of VC, I think one of the upside of doing Hito Hata, first, it did reach a larger audience. Not necessarily a mainstream audience, but it reached a wider Asian American, especially Japanese American audience. So that was good because they were very, more receptive to a narrative film and had Mako and all this in there. And Linda Mobalid, who was a director of VC before she passed away, always said that young filmmakers, after seeing Hito Hata, realize that it could be done and that they wanted to go on filmmaking. So she felt that it influenced a lot of the young filmmakers that started up around that time. And maybe that's true. But it was a big undertaking. And we did reach a different audience. They had, NHK screened it in Japan, they had a special national broadcast, and they had a panel of educators talking about Japanese Americans all on a special. Actually, went, everywhere else except here went well. In Europe and Germany it was screened quite often. And I think of the reasons, and maybe we should have compromised, I think PBS or local PBS stations were interested in broadcasting it but they said it had to fit a certain length, I forgot what the argument was. Maybe we should have edited it. [Laughs] So we didn't have that broadcast. And also, to me, the film needed to be edited a lot more. It was too long, and it always bothered me, but we just hadn't, we didn't have the time and we had to finish. So that would be the only...

SY: In a lot of ways, Hito Hata was really... I mean, there aren't that many films like it even today.

RN: Yeah.

SY: So it is pretty, it's kind of an amazing accomplishment.

RN: Yeah, and then when you look at it, "These guys are really stupid. Not only had a low budget, but they do a period piece." [Laughs] Have to recreate Nisei Week 1933 and go back to the old railroad working days. I mean, if you really look at it, "What were these guys thinking about?"

SY: So personally, did it affect you in terms of what you wanted to do after that?

RN: No. I just needed to recuperate, and so I went on to... so by that time I'm teaching, and so I wanted to make my, do some of my films on my own. Yeah, I had just burned out from VC. Thinking about that time, well, Eddie left a little earlier, and Duane, so a lot of the old guard -- and Steve Tatsukawa passed away. So there was a whole new generation, and that's like Linda, John, Amy... it's kind of the new guard. And that's where VC began to change. Instead of a community based production company where the focus was on making, doing our own productions, they became more what they call it now, a media arts center, where there's a lot more advocacy, fundraising for their films and the film festivals. So it's a little different organization. Because I think Hito Hata was the, that was the demarcation point where the old guys left. Yeah, and we left VC in debt, unfortunately. We were really in debt from Hito Hata. Well, and Linda was very good about saying that, because I think we kind of stuck her as director paying off the debt. But because of Hito Hata and the debt, the Friends of Visual Communications started. So they were able to raise money as a member, not quite a membership, but like a membership. They said it was a whole different way of being part of a community, at least a more national JA community.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

SY: And when you turned to teaching, then this was specifically teaching film now?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: And what was that like? What was that transition like?

RN: Initially I liked it. I'd get a paycheck every month, that was wonderful. And it was teaching something that I felt good about teaching. But as time went on, I would get students of color occasionally, and some Asian Americans like Kyle Hata was one of my students. Anyway...

SY: So it wasn't really... I thought it was in the Asian American Studies program.

RN: No, no. It was a joint appointment, but I did more administrative things at Asian American Studies. And I taught one Asian Americans and the Media class that was for Asian American studies. But the rest of my teaching load was film, film television.

SY: Just film.

RN: Yeah. So it was fine, and Asian American Studies Center and some of the Asian American students I had kind of kept me sane, but it was the same thing once again. Teaching is only fun when you can relate to the students, and a lot of the students that I had, they were interested in making their three picture deal and going into Hollywood, etcetera, etcetera. So I had no complaints, but that was getting old. And so I was thinking of retiring early, that was a long time ago. And then I took a leave of absence and started working developing the Media Arts Center at the museum.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

SY: I have -- before we go to that, though, I have Fools Dance?

RN: Oh, yeah, I did a few films in between, yeah.

SY: And that was while you were teaching?

RN: Yeah.

SY: And these were independently, you independently --

RN: Yeah. The Fools Dance was done for a PBS series called Matters of Life and Death, and there was this story idea and script that Karen wrote and we submitted it and we got funded. This was after Hito Hata, right?

SY: '83.

RN: Yeah, yeah. And so it had Esther Rolle and Mako, and a really wonderful Latino actor, I can't remember his name. It had, I had quite an experienced cast, which was kind of intimidating for me to direct.

SY: And it was narrative?

RN: It's narrative, yeah. It's a story of... in Buddhist history, there are people called Myokonin, and they're naturally enlightened. They didn't have to study or meditate, they were just people who are enlightened. And there was a famous woodworker named Saichi who would write these Buddhist poems on wood shavings. So Karen thought, what would it be if we transported him to U.S. culture and put him in a retirement home? Because the Buddhist idea of life and death is very different from the Western view. So what impact would his life and teaching have on people, senior citizens in a retirement home? So that's the premise, and he's this kind of magical guy that comes in, very flamboyant. So it's Matters of Life and Death, so it's how this one character, not teaches, but presents a different point of view on death and dying to people who are kind of near...

SY: And this was kind of your first film that was really non-Asian specific.

RN: Yeah, yeah, except Mako was Saichi, so he's the main character. But we made it very multiethnic, like Esther Rolle's African American, and I forgot the... it's a very good actor who's Latino. So we made it kind of a multiethnic...

SY: And Karen actually wrote the script?

RN: Yeah, she wrote the script.

SY: And it aired on PBS?

RN: Yeah, as part of the Matters of Life and Death series.

SY: So you're still, you were still very interested in making films even though...

RN: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SY: All the time you were still teaching. And then I have another film that you did called Conversations: Before/After the War.

RN: Oh, yeah. That was more experimental. I wanted, it's so frustrating to do all these interviews on camp experience, and one persons says this, that's great, another person says, oh, this is terrific, and you wish you could just have it all said by... well, in this case, three people. So it's actually -- not scripted, it's... what do you call it? What is the word? It's not scripted, it's improv. Like the one woman is, I use my mother. Well, we used her real name. And so her experience is, we do her, it's all camp experience, and she does her, from her own viewpoint. So I gave her guidelines, but we had her...

SY: Your mother actually...

RN: ...kind of acting. 'Cause I put in, "Well, this part is not part of your life, but can you talk about this?" And so it's improvisational. So she was really good. And then Grace... anyway, she's the -- yeah, so my mom was the Nisei generation and the other, she was the Nisei, and then Warren Furutani was an Issei. He took on his father, all the things that he heard his father talk about camp and after camp. So Warren kind of improved using his father's life. So this way we're able to make statements we've always wanted to gather, but we did it not quite scripted, remembering lines or anything like that. So we kind of saturated them with, "This is what we want, just talk about it." It would have been much easier on videotape, 'cause we were shooting film there, so it began to cost after a while.

SY: I'm surprised that your mother agreed to do something like this. She had no hesitation?

RN: Yeah, she's fine.

SY: And by this time, was your father still alive?

RN: Yeah, yeah. But I had already used him in my thesis film.

SY: Lucky you have parents who liked to act. And it was, this film really sounds fascinating in the sense that it's really true stories told through people who actually --

RN: Yeah, kind of true stories but with... kind of guided. And then certain parts, totally someone else's experience that we wanted to weave in.

SY: And I'm just curious of what your mother said. What were the kinds of things that she...

RN: Well, they were real recollections of taking care of me and having a brother, my brother being born in camp. And she remembered things that I didn't remember at all, walking along the barbed wire, and early on, I loved strawberry shortcake, and I'd asked her, "Can we have some?" and she had to explain. So she recalled all that stuff.

SY: So you had an opportunity really to talk to her about her experiences.

RN: So, yeah, the outtakes, I mean, I have a lot of stuff.

SY: And was that something that you did for the first time or had you heard... I mean, had you talked to her about her camp experience?

RN: No, not that much, you know. And I realize I should have done that early on, I could have got her to talk about camp a lot --

SY: She was how old at this time? In her eighties? It was 1985.

RN: She's ninety-six now.

SY: And 1985, so it was twenty-five years ago. So still seventy-five.

RN: Seventy-five, yeah.

SY: That's fairly young, so she probably had a fairly good memory.

RN: Yeah, yeah, she did. Anyway, it was kind of experimental, out of frustration in not having a whole lot of money either to do that. And I left the talking heads, and then only did b-roll only during the breaks, 'cause that's why it's Conversations: Before/After the War.

SY: You...

RN: It's like a conversation as opposed to seeing a film with other visuals and everything.

SY: And where was that? Where did you show that? Was that something that you...

RN: It kind of did... PBS, not a national broadcast, but different PBS things picked it up, and film festivals and all of that.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

SY: This was actually right, so this was right about the time that the redress movement was starting.

RN: Yeah, actually, we did, Karen wrote a play called... anyway, she wrote a play specifically addressing redress. 'Cause everyone was concerned that the commission hearings was coming to Los Angeles, but a lot of us were afraid that Niseis wouldn't show up to testify. So we did a lot of things to kind of, hopefully kind of break the ice. And so she did a play, and I'm trying to think of... Truth of the Matter. So she wrote this play and I directed it, and it had... let's see. Akemi Kikumura was in it... I'm sorry, I'm missing all the people.

SY: Did you do it for East West Players?

RN: We used a lot of East West Players and I can't remember -- Mako was in it, I can't remember the names, I feel awful.

SY: And that's where it was produced?

RN: No, we didn't produce it there, we produced it in... well, we rehearsed in Senshin Temple, and then we did the performance as a fundraiser at, I think it was Long Beach, Camp Long Beach, you've seen Long Beach. But we did it with the idea of loosening everyone up and getting them interested in coming to the hearing. So there was a lot events centered on that, so we did Truth of the Matter.

SY: So you were involved in the whole redress movement?

RN: Only like with VC documenting it when it came here. Although I wasn't really an active member of VC, but I know I shot everything, all the stills for the hearings here. And we did the play, and as it turned out, we probably didn't have to do any because people just showed up and we couldn't, in many cases they had to stop them testifying. It was just all coming out.

SY: And do you remember what you were feeling leading up to all of that? Besides the fact that you thought people wouldn't testify?

RN: Well, it was part of the redress movement, and I was kind of surprised we even got that, we're getting Niseis interested that far. And I thought that was a milestone of having that congressional hearing.

SY: So you were in favor of this committee hearing.

RN: Yeah, oh, yeah, 'cause that allowed people to vent out there if we could get them to come.

SY: So it was, you chose to do it through, to help through art by doing the play.

RN: Yeah.

SY: Not so much being a member of NCRR?

RN: No, no, I'm terrible at that kind of stuff.

SY: That's very nice that you were able to do that. And then your parents were still around when redress happened?

RN: Yeah.

SY: And what was that like, their reaction and their feelings about it?

RN: My folks aren't that political per se. My mom really didn't understand the camp, bringing up the camp experience and whatnot.

SY: She wasn't negative about it?

RN: Oh, she wasn't negative, but I don't think she kind of really understood what was happening. Except for the $20,000, which she thought was great. But yeah...

SY: So they were pleased when they finally, when it finally came?

RN: I think my dad was more pleased about bringing up the camp and bad experience that people went through. I don't think my mom quite understood.

SY: And how did you feel when it finally happened?

RN: Well, for me it was the redress hearings that were so interesting, to hear the different stories, kind of repressed stories. That was amazing. And we had documented, VC had documented the whole thing, shot VHS on it. Someone borrowed the whole set and it didn't come back. We have a dupe set on, I don't know what it's on, but we have a dupe set. But the originals were, I don't know who loaned it out to who, but those were kind of gone. But anyway, they have duplicates.

SY: Yeah, that was pretty amazing that you were able to document it. And you actually shot it? So you were the person...

RN: Yeah, I shot the stills.

SY: Oh, you shot stills.

RN: Yeah. No, we had three cameras going. I forgot who was shooting, but we had three cameras.

SY: And the stills are all archived now with the...

RN: Actually, I have 'em. 'Cause I wasn't a member of VC then, so I shot 'em.

SY: Any plans to do anything with them?

RN: I was gonna blow up some for this last exhibit, but I didn't get a chance to look at 'em all. But I have them all archived and put away.

SY: So photography's still a big interest of yours?

RN: Yeah. It's more interesting now that I can use darkroom at the museum. Before it was hard to do any black and white, unless you did it digitally, and I don't care for it.

SY: You prefer black and white?

RN: Yeah, yeah.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

SY: So, speaking of museums, so from the time after redress, then I guess the next project I have you on this list that I have is a museum project. So in the interim, between Conversations: Before/After the War, you were saying that at some point you were planning to retire?

RN: Yeah, 'cause I was, I wasn't being, I wasn't very satisfied -- I don't know if I had the idea of retiring then, I just was getting tired of teaching there. So I took a, what turned out to be a three-year leave of absence and worked at the museum. 'Cause I was there early on when Nancy was the director.

SY: Volunteering, kind of.

RN: Yeah, we weren't even in the temple yet, we were on Fourth Street somewhere.

SY: So you were one of the earliest?

RN: I was involved with the museum, in and out of... but then later as the museum really, were going to move into the temple, not the pavilion, I began to want to put an archive together there. I thought this was a good chance, and it would be focused, easier with JAs instead of Asian Americans. And so Karen and I kind of wanted to come on board and essentially establish a media arm of the museum, and something that hopefully the museum would be maybe more media-oriented than a lot of the other museums where in many cases they focus on artifacts. So I kind of pitched that to Irene, that might build it if the media could be, come in at the beginning of the concept of whatever they're doing as opposed to later, having curators say, "We need something here and there." So came up with the idea of having Media Arts Center who could work directly with curators and be part of that idea, system.

SY: So then when you say you came up with it when the museum was in its formative period, was it right when...

RN: At first it was just the archive, and then as, then Karen and I did a... off of the archival work we did a couple pieces, the three screen using home movies, I forgot what we called it.

SY: Through Our Own Eyes?

RN: Through Our Own Eyes was a three screen, and we saw the kind of impact that it had on people who came in because they'd go to our piece first and then they'd wander through the artifacts. At first, 'cause it was curator driven, they said, "We'll have it running all the time and people can stand and watch," which kind of pissed me off. So we said, "Fine." And then later people would just stand there and watch the whole thing, 'cause according to curator lore, people will only watch a moving image for three minutes and they'll move on, which is totally... anyway, so they were able to, we had to put in benches after a while. So I think everyone began to realize that this is, we need this, especially for the museum where we want to see ourselves as we were in the past and not just look at artifacts.

SY: So at the museum over the years, you were there three years, did you say?

RN: I think so, yeah. Can I look? 1997...

SY: I have 1992 was Through Our Own Eyes. Living Memories was 1992. Might have been longer.

RN: Yeah, yeah.

SY: It was probably a little longer than three years.

RN: I warned you about dates. But anyway, the evolution of, thinking back behind the Media Arts Center was first the archives, then we began to present the materials we developed with the archives, and could really see the audience reacting, I think more emotionally, 'cause film media, video, that's more an emotional response. If you're looking at an artifact, that's more intellectual, oh, yeah, this is what...

SY: But the way it seems that it developed was you initiated your own films at the museum that were not necessarily related.

RN: Oh, I'm sorry, yeah. That was the other part of it is that not only would we be working with exhibits, but we could do our own productions. I'm sorry, that was... that we could do our own productions, especially... and that was good in three different ways. One is we can document all the outtakes, all the interviews -- you know, we only use like a little bit of, in making the film, and the rest, what we call outtakes are really archive material. So I thought it was a win-win situation. We could do the production and all the other research, the tons of interviewing we do that go into a film, that becomes our archive also. So that was what Media Arts Center was... that's when we had a lot of money, huh, Akira? [Laughs]

SY: You got to raise some of it yourself, though, I would think.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

SY: So the highlights, can you give me maybe some of your favorite projects while you were working at the museum?

RN: Well, I really liked the Hawaii, the Bento to Mixed Plate project, because that gave me a whole different -- besides going to Hawaii, in addition to going to Hawaii, gave me a whole different... I didn't realize Japanese Americans lived in Hawaii. I mean, I knew, but I didn't know the history. And then their own history, but the whole multiethnic experience and the food and the customs and the pidgin language, how that all evolved, so that was very educational for me.

SY: And you did... can you explain what that project was? Was it a film within the exhibition?

RN: It was part of an exhibit, we used a lot of media in that exhibit called Bento to...

SY: Mixed Plate.

RN: Mixed Plate, yeah. And so that was... the exhibit opened at the Bishop and then traveled everywhere including Okinawa. But there were like four, three major media pieces. One was on the plantation experience, I forget the title, Plantation Roots. And then there was another one on the war experience, 'cause that's when the, basically all Hawaiian Niseis were in the 442. And it was not only that experience, but when they came back, they were able to get college educations on the GI Bill and eventually kind of took over the main politics of Hawaii including Senator Dan and all that. But that kind of started with the war, so that was called Bullets to Ballots. And then we did the Politics of Plate Lunch, which was a Sansei view of the JA, Hawaiian JA Sansei's view of JAs in Hawaii now. It was interesting 'cause in many cases, now the older JAs became the establishment. So some Sansei activists who had a different view on "who's the enemy now?" So it was the Politics of Plate Lunch. It wasn't that heavy because we couldn't do that.

SY: Uh-huh, but it was a learning experience.

RN: Yeah. Or there's that idea is in there, in the film, but we couldn't really present it as hard edged as we would like. The other was a three screen, and I don't know what it was called. It was kind of a montage of the Japanese American experience in Hawaii. Justin Lin did that for us and he was on the staff.

SY: That concept, that three screen concept was something that you really developed.

RN: We liked it a lot 'cause it was able to, like archival material where we could just see as many images as we can. 'Cause then we have that eight screen in Common Ground.

SY: It's still running?

RN: It's not supposed to -- all those things aren't supposed to be running this long. [Laugh] They're so old, it's laserdisc, it's now in the digital age, and it's amazing those things are still running.

SY: Well, it's classic, classic. [Laughs]

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

SY: I guess we definitely want to mention the Toyo Miyatake film because of the fact that it's received accolades that are pages long. But I'm curious, was that an idea that you'd had for a long time because being a photographer at Manzanar, what was your connection or original impetus for that film?

RN: Let's see. I've always wanted to, 'cause he was one of the few role models I had when I was in high school, interested in photography, and later, 'cause I'd walk, go down First Street when the Miyatake place was right off of San Pedro and First Street, on First Street. And he'd have his regular portraits and whatnot, but he'd always have a couple shots of camp in his window. And I used to pass by and I said, "Oh, yeah, that's the tower," and all of that, and I'd think about that. And then later I saw more work of his, not only camp, but other things that weren't just family portraits, and I thought, "Wow, that's really good." And then I met him a couple times and told him I was interested in photography. So, yeah, I've always thought he'd be an -- I wasn't thinking of a film, but I just had an idea he'd be a pretty interesting person. So we got the chance to do it, and I forgot why we were doing it at the museum. But anyway, when we had the opportunity to do a film on him, of course I jumped at it.

But the film really took off in a different direction because I was always hearing the story of him smuggling a lens and a film holder into camp and being the first person to shoot Manzanar, and that was going to be the core of the film. But as we began -- and Toyo was no longer with us when we were doing the film. But as we were interviewing people, we realized that there was a lot more to Toyo than the camp experience and that he and a lot of other Issei photographers were actually involved in a kind of international salon photography movement and that these guys were published in international photography books. So only the back half of the film is Miyatake in camp and all of that. The front half is really his photography as art, which we never put him in the art category. He was a community portrait family photographer or camp. And then, and what came to light was it wasn't only Miyatake, there were like five other photographers that did beautiful work which we were able to use in the film, and that was a revelation, and that broke a stereotype for me of the Isseis being hardworking merchants, farmers, and whatnot, but not artists. Or if we think of them as artists, we think of them as traditional artists.

And then later as the research went on, there was actually an organization of Issei called the Shakudosha, and it was art, modern art, cultural modern art group that got together and talked about what was happening. And Miyatake and a lot of the art photographers were part of the Shakudosha. And then another part was Miyatake's connection to Edward Weston, and that Edward Weston's first exhibit, first show was done here in Little Tokyo put on by the Issei photographers here. This was something I'd never thought about. So it turned out rather than a film on Miyatake per se, it became a film on kind of breaking our own stereotype of our immigrant forefathers there. 'Cause I never thought they were doing art as modern art, contemporary art. I never looked at them as artists. So that's why I liked the film for that.

SY: And were you rewarded by the reaction to the film and was that something that, in a different sense because now you're...

RN: Yeah. And I think, I didn't intend it that way. There's a word we use, "crossover film," that relates to first our Asian American audience, but it has enough in there to hit a broader audience. So I think with the Miyatake film, it had that idea of the arts in there, and so I think it crossed over into... that they were part of the art movement and salon photography and all of that.

SY: And that was, was that a goal, or was that just something that...

RN: No, it wasn't a goal to be a crossover, but as I said, it was going to be a camp film about his experience, but it turned out more about Issei and the arts, immigrant Issei and contemporary art, not traditional art. So I think that's why it crossed over and it got into Sundance and other places, primarily because the art part was interesting. I mean, I get a lot of comments from non-JAs about that was what they were really interested in, that to them was interesting.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

SY: So in terms of your film career as a whole, now that we've sort of gone over some of your films, not all... which ones do you find the most rewarding, the most fulfilling?

RN: Oh, boy. Well, I have to say, with Wataridori is one film, 'cause I had my father in there, and I think I got a really good sense of, at least through three kind of experiences, of the early Issei. And the Miyatake film, and there was another film that in terms of filmically it wasn't that good, but in terms of kind of power and content was Looking Like the Enemy which I did, and it was interviews of Asian American soldiers that served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and World War II where they all had the face of the enemy. I think I got some really powerful interviews. I should have probably... I didn't have the time, but I should have probably filled it with b-roll, illustrated a lot more. I made it pretty talking heads 'cause I thought the veterans were so compelling. For some people it works, but if you look at all the interviews and the content in there, I'd like to maybe do that film again. But that's something that I thought worked for me.

SY: I'm just doing this for people who don't know what b-roll is.

RN: Oh, okay. I kept it pretty much just interview only, and did not put other visual elements like war footage or camps or anything in there. I have some in there as transitions, but they're pretty much straight edited interviews.

SY: So if you were to redo it again, you might...

RN: Yeah, yeah, I might...

SY: Just to make it visually more interesting.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

SY: So then after, so after you left the museum, you decided to go back to teaching?

RN: Yeah. I went back, and I had at that time -- I went back 'cause they said, "Either you come back or you have to retire," because they only allow you --

SY: It was a leave of absence.

RN: Yeah. So I went back still thinking about retiring, and then Don Nakanishi, who was the director of the Asian American Studies Center at the time, said, I was telling him, "Well, I think I'm going to call it quits." And he said, "Well, why don't you come full time just teaching in Asian American Studies, and then maybe you could develop documentary courses that you can just teach in Asian American studies and you could leave the film department?" And then he also said he thought I had a real good chance at getting, being appointed to the endowed chair in Japanese American Studies, and that way it would support what I wanted to do in terms of my courses and also continue my filmmaking. So that's what I did. So I became full time, full appointment in Asian American Studies. And eventually I taught a lot of media, lecture courses, Asian Americans in the Media course, but then I got some money and I had actually John Esaki come on fellowship for a year to develop and begin to teach the first -- which became EthnoCommunications course -- or specifically they're called the Creating Community Media I, II and III. So John taught it the first year and then we co-taught it for a while and then we... anyway. So I'm very happy with that, and that's the only thing I'd be sorry to leave. But it's a course developed to first sensitize students to the idea of community media, what that is, and the idea of documenting ourselves and the need for that. And then we would go a step further, we'd give them video and sound techniques. And they develop their idea in the first quarter, we really talk about community media. In fact, we say, "If you just want to make a music video or something, you're in the wrong class. This is specifically for community media."

SY: So you're going back to your roots in some ways.

RN: Yeah, yeah. Except this time we had students from every other department. So it's not only Asian American or ethnic community films, we have gay and lesbian films, just different, who can define things that are relevant to a community. So in the first quarter they get some technical training, develop a film idea, and then the second quarter they shoot and edit, and done with almost finished piece at the end of the second quarter. And then the third quarter, which is optional, students would come in and finish or expand their film. And in between there we also have students that specifically want to do a visual life history, not a full documentary. So we do that. So one is we're not using it to train, it's not like film school, although a lot of people have gone out and continued on. And then we have a lot of students who have not gone into filmmaking but use their skills to do oral histories and all of that in different community contexts.

SY: So that's the course, so that's one of the courses, one of the many things that you do?

RN: It's three -- no, that's all I do is I teach those three.

SY: Oh, so that is...

RN: 'Cause UCLA is a research campus, so professors usually have a four course a year load. So I teach these three and then I'm Associate Director of the Asian American Studies Center, so I have release time. So effectively I teach three courses.

SY: And how long have you been doing this?

RN: I'll be retiring, it'll be thirty-two years.

SY: And you're retiring soon?

RN: Yeah, in July.

SY: In July. The year of the retirement. So many people retiring.

RN: That's right. [Laughs] JANM and JACCC, Don Nakanishi gets to retire from the center.

SY: Little Tokyo Service Center.

RN: Oh, that's right. Bill's gonna retire, yeah. The old guys got to leave.

SY: So it's a good time to ask you, though, looking back -- so did you prefer, I mean, given your druthers, do you enjoy teaching, especially this EthnoCommunications series? Or filmmaking? Which...

RN: Probably at this stage of the game I think I'm just getting too old for the stress of filmmaking. I just can't, I just don't feel like taking the abuse and the responsibility and the ulcers. So I'd probably rather... I'd like to develop the whole EthnoCommunications program.

SY: So you get great, you get pleasure from that, helping your students?

RN: Yeah, to see their minds, that little light bulb go on when you start talking about, we don't have to think about Hollywood or music videos. That media is so accessible now, because when we shot film, it's hundreds of dollars for fifteen minutes of interview. Right now we can do it for five dollars.

SY: Edit on your computer.

RN: Yeah, there's more access. You don't have to go film school really anymore. Well, if you're really going to go into hardcore filmmaking...

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

SY: I asked you this once and I remember your answer very clearly. Because there's never been a, sort of a overall documentary film on the camp experience that has, sort of a chronicle of the camp experience, I asked you if that was something you would like to do, and I remember your answer. It's probably the same, but I'm curious if that was ever a dream of yours.

RN: Well, I guess at a different time, now that I'm... the present time, I don't know if I... I mean, if I had to take it on, I don't know if I'd want to do it now. I would definitely help Tad or somebody else do it, but I just realize, I'm doing a kind of simple DVD project on the Asian American movement right now, and I just... it's too responsible, and it's very simple, kind of more like oral history project. But I realize that...

SY: But do you feel that that's something that should be done?

RN: Oh, that I'm going to continue on.

SY: I meant in terms of chronicling the camp experience. Or is that something that...

RN: I thought you meant for myself. I think for myself, yeah, I don't think I could handle it. There are more stories about camp, I think, that could be done, but I wouldn't want to do that one.

SY: How about to consult or to be a part of?

RN: Yeah, I wouldn't mind doing that. I think there's some aspects of camp...

SY: In other words, do you think that the whole camp experience is something that should be shared with a larger audience at this point in a very... overall look at it?

RN: Yeah. I don't know if I should put that on tape or not, but if I were to do that, I think one of the things that's happened, my films also may contribute. I think we are painting maybe a little rosier picture of camp than we should, we shouldn't be doing that. I think like the museum at Manzanar -- I mean, which is nice, Niseis have been just wanting... but for me, guy dressed in a ranger outfit touring me through the camp, and their programs are about fishing, fly fishing during the camp times, I just think everything's a little too rosy. And if I were to take that on now, it'd have a little harder edge to it and we would do something really on Tule Lake and really get that whole issue of Kibeis and Niseis and all of that. So if I were to do that or help somebody, I'd lean toward painting a little harder edge. That's not what's gone on in the past and what's being done is bad, I just think in that whole sites money that's going around now...

SY: The Park Service, National Park Service money?

RN: Yeah. And actually, you're getting funded by that, right? [Laughs] Is this Densho project through the sites money? It is, okay. But if you look at the projects -- and they're all very valid -- but if you look at them all, they're all very safe. Even like there was a pamphlet that the Manzanar... I forgot what they call their educational site.

SY: Interpretive center?

RN: Interpretive site. They had a pamphlet out, and it's a famous Miyatake film with kids with the tower behind them. And in the original shot there's barbed wire in front of them. And in the pamphlet, there's three kids with the tower, there's no barbed wire. Anyway, I think if we were to do more work, we might switch from kind of safer areas. But I think a lot of it has become part of government funding, and the parks people are very nice and very bushy tailed and really enthusiastic, but they have a very rote, they tend to paint a very, or a little rosier picture that we need to kind of do something else. That's what I would do.

SY: So yeah, now that you're retiring quickly, do you plan to make more films?

RN: I just want to document, as I said, making an actual film is too exhausting. But I want to document the early Asian American movement and do a lot of life history, video life history things and just document. I don't know if Tad will make a film out of it or not, but I just want catch everyone before they get too old and forget dates like I do. [Laughs]

SY: Thank you. Wonderful interview.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.