Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Film Preservation Project Collection
Title: Dave Tatsuno Interview II
Narrator: Dave Tatsuno
Interviewer: Wendy Hanamura
Location: San Jose, California
Date: May 17, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-tdave-03-0003

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WH: So Dave, tell me how you started to take movies.

DT: Oh, very interesting story. I lost my best friend, Shig Koba, twenty-five years old, on May the 11th of (1936). He died of bacterial endocarditis of the heart. Twenty-five years old, just had finished Cal two years before. And about a month after he passed away, I was at the home of Alice's cousin, Dr. Henry M. Takahashi, optometrist. And he showed us, he had a movie camera, and he showed a movie of Shig, the fellow, and I, walking at a conference. I said, "Gee, Shig is gone two months, and look at both of us walking together." Gosh, movie's a wonderful thing. So I went on and bought the cheapest Eastman Kodak camera, thirty-two dollars at that time. It's in my diary. See, I've been keeping a diary since 1924, all the way through 'til now. And so, in Japan, little kids are keeping nikki, diary, and I got started at 1924, I got a box full of diaries, you see. But that's what happened. And so I went and bought this camera for thirty-two dollars. Now, thirty-two dollars doesn't seem like anything, but Cal at that time was twenty-six dollars for one semester. So you can imagine what that thirty-two dollar was. And so that's how I got the movie camera, and I started taking movies. And like during the war, you're not supposed to have cameras, right? And to turn into the police department. And I said, I had a very good Caucasian friend named Lee Mullas in Oakland. "Hey, Lee" -- Methodist -- "I'm going to lend you my movie and still camera. Why don't you use it? If I don't have it, I don't have to turn it in." So he had it.

WH: You still have that camera?

DT: Here's the camera.

WH: Can you show it to us?

DT: Yeah.

WH: Show us your camera and how it worked.

DT: Look at that. [Holds up camera.] 8-mm Bell and Howell. Look at that.

WH: How do you load that?

JO: See? And so this was the camera that I took all that, you see. He had the, so he had that camera, and so anyway, I'm out in the desert one day, later, and the project, the director of the co-operative, the government man, very nice fellow, Walter Honderick, I was standing next to him, and all of a sudden he has a camera, and he was taking shots. I said, "Gee, Walt, I'd give my right arm to have my camera here now," exactly what I said. And normally it's against the law. What could he say? "Too bad." You know what he said? "Dave, where is your camera?" I told him, "I didn't turn it in to the police department. It's in Oakland with a friend of mine." He says, "Why don't you write to him and have it sent to me?" To him. One day, he comes to my barrack with a camera, and he says, "Dave, be careful. Don't take it near the fence where the guards are." But what happened? No film. What good is a camera without film? Again, a strange thing happened. I was a buyer for the co-op dry goods store, I traveled twenty thousand miles around the United States on three trips. Eleven trips to Salt Lake City buying. I go to Chicago, and there's a big Bass Camera Company. I walk in there, they sell me three or four rolls of colored film; not black and white, color. And people say, "Wow, you got into color?" I said, "Yeah, color came out in '39." So they sell me three or four rolls of colored film, and they don't ask me any questions. It was in Chicago, and there aren't any, too many Japanese Americans. And then what happened? I come back and I take these shots, and I wasn't taking it to be a spy, I was just taking shots for a hobby. And so after I came back, now how to have it processed? It had to be processed in Los Angeles; how to get it there? Well, my younger brother was on a student relocation at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. And so I would get the camera, the film, somebody going out and giving it to him, he mails it to Los Angeles, it goes back to him at the university, he gives it to somebody coming in. So now I have my little film, see? But I can't see it. Then what happened? Strange. We had, government had stored all our things in a government warehouse, and one day, my wife says, "We don't know how long we'll be here. I'd like to get my little portable sewing machine out of that warehouse." So I write to a Caucasian friend, Joe Gibbs: "Hey, Joe, go to the government warehouse and arrange to have that sewing machine sent." He saw the projector, and he threw it in. So when we got the sewing machine, the projector came. Ah, so we were able to see that film in the barrack. I even showed it to some of my WRA friends. But, you know, I mean, crazy story. Should have never happened, but that happened, you see?

And then, how after that, how... well, let's see. Well, anyway, this direct -- oh, and then how it was made into a video. One Nisei woman in New York came and said, "Gee, Dave, I hear you have this shot of Topaz. Can I take it to Boston, to the top outfit, and have it made into video?" I said, "Oh," I was afraid because I lost some film before doing things like that, but I relented. She took it there and she had it made into video, but no sound. Just a video picture. Well, then after that, the San Francisco... let's see. What college was it now? You know, your mind... but anyway, one Nisei fellow, who works at the photo lab in the college, De Anza College, he said, "Dave, why don't you bring your film, we could put sound in?" So I narrated the sound without any rehearsal, I've been doing it all the time. So it sounds awkward at places, but the sound went into the thing and so we had a sound copy of Topaz.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.