thumbnail of Focus 580; African-Americans in Japan
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Good morning and welcome to focus 5 A.D. This is our telephone talk program. My name is David inch. Glad to have you listening this morning. In the first hour of the program today we'll be talking with filmmaker Reggie life. He has been involved in a number of different kinds of projects. He's worked on ethnographic documentaries. He's worked on feature films. But this morning we'll be talking specifically about three movies that he made that among other things lead one to think about how it is we think about race and ethnicity. One of them just give the titles of one is titled struggle and success which looks at the experiences of African-Americans who have chosen to live in Japan. It was shown here on the campus just a couple of weeks ago he was here visiting perhaps people who were listening got the opportunity to see some of his movies. We were going to talk with him here on the program and I was struggling with a bad cold that week so we had that up having to reschedule. And he was good
enough to say that he would talk with us and we're doing it this morning by telephone. Little bit more information about our guest Reggie life was born in New York City. He studied film at New York University and cinema Studies at Harvard before starting his career in film. He did do a number of ethnographic documentaries that were shown and honored at a number of film festivals including those in Toronto and Montreal. He has done some work also in feature film he worked on the film ragtime and also trading places a film with Eddie Murphy he also produced and directed reunion film it starred Denzel Washington and also directed an acclaimed AIDS awareness film titled seriously fresh. He had the opportunity to go to Japan on an National Endowment for the Arts creative artist fellowship and he spent six months there and that led him to produce his first work in Japan which was this film struggle and success about the African-American experience in Japan. It was broadcast on NHK in Japan and also here on PBS. His second work related was doubles
Japan and America's intercultural children. That film examined the experiences of children of Japanese and American parents going back really to the turn of the century and up to today. That also aired on NHK and on PBS in this country and more recently he worked. He has done a third documentary titled after America after Japan. A film that chronicles the saga of re-entry for Americans and the Japanese. So we'll talk a little bit about the work this morning and of course questions are welcome. Again perhaps there will be some people listening who had the opportunity to see the films when they were shown the questions are welcome and the number if you're here in Champaign Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also do have a toll free line that's good anywhere that you can hear us and that is 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5 to match the numbers with letters on the phone you get w Isles 0 3 3 3 wy L.L. toll free 800 to 2 to W while I'm
Reggie life. Good morning. Hi good morning how are you. I'm fine thanks and thanks for talking with us. Yeah not a problem I really enjoyed. I had the opportunity to watch struggle and success and doubles and I think that they're really quite good and as I said I think that they're important because it does lead one to think about how it is we think about ethnicity and race a subject that I think is very important and something that in this country we really need to be thinking about and talking about. Yes yes and also although I think it's probably unfortunate too that. Documentaries are not it's not easy to see documentaries you can see him on public television. Occasionally you can you can rent them and watch them but I'm sure that this is also a frustration for people who make documentaries. I know first of all it's hard to get the money to make them. And secondly to get it so that people can see them. Yeah yeah it is it is a problem it's become increasingly more of a problem as are public television system is moving towards the network kind of thinking
and network formatting of sort of strip shows and sort of if your show doesn't fit one of their established formats being American experience American Masters or something like that then you're sort of in this weird world of what they call a one off a single program. And unless the entire system wants to support it then you're literally peddling your work from station to station and there are more than a hundred seventy five stations in the public health system of America so you can see a daunting task that can be for an independent filmmaker. Even for you know I have friends here who are documentary makers and have done some pretty good work and it's sort of the same sort of thing you puts a lot of work into something and maybe even we will show it and then maybe if you're really lucky you can get the network to pick it up. And the hope being that you know it's not not because it's going to make you rich because but because you really would like people to see your work. Exactly exactly but again it is as you point out it's very very tough I mean the first two films they're very very well on NHK and PBS here because they were picked up as national
broadcasts which meant that all 175 stations could show the film and in many cases I think doubles in particular were shown by more than half of the system nationwide. But again the programmers are now basically more or less being run by the central authority out of Washington and so what's happening more and more times now is that their their ability to kind of program their own stuff is being curtailed and it's I think it's something that your listeners should know about because again if you want to be begin to see more independently produced work by American filmmakers you're going to have to sort of demand that from your stations because they're they're just taking the feed that they're getting from the national system. And many times those feeds are not featuring the work of independents you. I'd like to hear about how it is you happen to go to Japan and obviously something about the experience grabbed you and led you into doing these doing these films. Yeah well Japan was something that was on my radar for many years going back in fact to high school I had a
classmate and we both had a fascination about the East and particularly Japan. She got there before I did she went there right after college years and spent three years in Kyoto teaching English. But when she returned she looked me up and hosted me for dinner one night and kind of told me all about her travels and showed me all the souvenirs and it really I guess ignited over a real fire under me at that point and I think it was then I really started to pay more attention to Japanese cinema and I used to go to a place in New York City and watch a lot of old court asylum movies and retrospective of who and I do say and you know. It's a good scene people like that. And finally as things will go it a little bit of a mo just in the professional work in New York and California and someone who lives in my building in New York City had just come back from a year in Japan on the same fellowship that I went on through the National Endowment and really kind of sold me on the idea of taking a little time off and sort of you know doing doing a
project that I'd want to do. So I pitched this idea of actually working with a Japanese filmmaker who was still working in sort of the old style of producing movies in Japan. I lucked up and found probably the best person I could have ever found in 1900 who was a renowned filmmaker in Japan name Yohji. And he agreed to allow me to you know kind of observe the making of his Taurus an epic and it was quite an honor because I was and have been the only foreigner non-Japanese ever allowed to witness the production from start to finish. And it was it was really that's how I got there I mean I went over essentially to to witness this film being made and in some respects also to kind of experience Japan of course and. As if to thank him for that because he did not allow me to kind of come to Japan sort of and remain a foreigner while I was there he arranged my housing which was with the Japanese family so I was basically forced to learn and
speak Japanese all the time with them. Same thing happened when I was on the set with him and his crew and there was one sort of English speaker there. So my Japanese abilities had to move pretty quickly. And then of course when you're travelling you know every day from a little home somewhere to the studio on public transportation you know you become immersed in another world in another culture and it was you know the worse. I mean it was it was the best thing that could have ever happened for me. You know most foreigners go to Japan and they live in these sort of what are called guides ghetto sort of foreign little enclaves in Tokyo and you can kind of avoid Japan and you could be in Japan 20 years living like that and never learn anything beyond good morning in Japanese. But you know I really had a different experience and it was really a real precious. Real real real blessing. Let me introduce just real quick Our guest is filmmaker Reggie life. He grew up in New York. He's done ethnographic documentaries he's worked on feature films. We're talking here this morning.
We'll talk in some detail about movies that that he made that came out of this experience he was just talking about one being a film titled struggle and success which looks at the experiences of some African-Americans who have decided to live in Japan and the other film titled doubles which is subtitled Japan and America's intercultural children which again looks at the experiences of children who had most of them I think had American or Caucasian fathers. Some African-American fathers TIR and Japanese mothers many of them born after World War Two but some going back before both of his shows showed on Japanese television on NHK that's kind of their PBS and also nationwide here on public television. And he was here visiting the campus just a couple weeks ago. Your questions are welcome three three three. W. Weil toll free 800 1:58 W. while in the struggle and success that you talked with a number of people men and women people who are in different occupations whose
experiences were different. So the picture is really subtle and complex. However right at the beginning I think one of the people that you talk to says that. In going to Japan I think this was a woman said that she felt maybe echoing the experiences of others that something I think she says something we wanted that we hadn't gotten yet. And we found it here in Japan. What what is that thing and it was this kind of sentiment that other people would have voiced too. Yeah I think you know going out of you know America number one is is a chance to sort of see yourself as a world citizen see yourself in the world at large and I think for many African-Americans sort of envisioning our experience only through the American prism is extremely limiting. So I think for many people that that initial experience in Japan was
for many of them it was kind of the only or first experience of living outside of America is a liberating one because suddenly you know you realize there are two things there's one going on yeah. The rest of the world kind of looks at you based on popular American imagery and stereotypes in media and some of these things are often negative and extremely. Burial tight but at the same time there is the opportunity to get to know people on a one on one basis a kind of a heart to heart relationship where you can then develop yourself as an individual. You are no longer you know just relegated to this mail box way of looking at people that we do in America. You know a black person a white person Asian person that kind of thing. That therefore then limits you to walk in lockstep with every other member of your group with no regard to gender class economics or anything it's just a simple race based identification. And I think that's what people are
talking about when they when they first get there and it's an undeniable experience that they all have been and again how you then move from that understanding while you're in Japan really is what defines your experience there. It's it is possible and people do talk about dealing with discrimination on a couple of levels on one level because they are not Japanese and it's the kind of thing that anybody who was not Japanese would deal with. The other is discrimination based on the fact that they are black and and though interestingly enough people say different sorts of things and again the picture gets complex. Right. That On the one hand you might say some hear someone say something like. Being in Japan being black in Japan offers a form of psychic freedom because you don't have to think about race every day. Once someone said that on the other hand people did tell stories for example stories like facing discrimination when they went to rent an apartment that would call ahead the
person would say oh yes the apartments available come on right over and then when they get there and the person sees that they're black then they say oh you know the right the same thing. Oh I'm so sorry I made a mistake somebody else harmonizer in the apartments are you running and then of course they find out later that no that's that's really not the case. Exactly exactly. Yeah and that is very much again an experience that you find there and I'm glad you joined this tension initially because I think this is the prime overriding factor is that is a distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese then in Japan renting apartments there. There are no laws against discrimination. So any person that wants to rent you a department if you would rent you an apartment can decide once they see you or even just talk to you on the phone whether they want to do that or not they have there's no law there in Japan as we have here against that kind of thing. You know on the other hand which is something I you know I think this should make clear a lot of times particularly in the people that were interviewed in the program they're living in areas
that are kind of what I would call foreigner friendly. These are these are Japanese that are used to renting to non Japanese people most who are business people and diplomats and so there's they have discretionary income these are not low rent places a fairly high rent places oftentimes what happens is the people that occupy the building which are primarily Asian either being Americans Australians or or Europeans offensively create an atmosphere of exclusivity with the building where is either directly or indirectly they kind of met the landlord know that if you rent the apartment that becomes a vacant to another person which sort of like someone like us to take it if you know what I mean. So what ends up happening is again a lot of these things become you know learned behavior from the tenants on the people who are occupying it whereas the Japanese landlord doesn't want to upset the harmony in the building and that becomes a very important thing in Japan not
upsetting things not not you know pushing anything over causing any chaos to dissension so it becomes really easy for him to then. Look for only that kind of tenet that the rest of the tenants want to see in that apartment. You know saying that I should also say too there is a racial hierarchy in Japan and there is it's undeniable that at the top of the pyramid are white Americans or white Europeans. And then the pyramid goes down to maybe Australians and other people of a Caucasian race and then as it goes down you know it fills out based on skin tone. Still African Americans because of the fact that we have Americans in our name are further up on the pyramid than many other people of color. But there is a racial pyramid in Japan when it comes to foreigners and as a racial pyramid Japan when it comes to the Japanese themselves I mean it's in Japanese history. It was always considered that those of lighter skin within Japan itself were considered much more higher class than people who
were darker in complection. Why is it do you think easier to be black in Japan than to be black in the United States. Now that that's a really tricky kind of question and I and I and it's not a question I think that anybody could really answer I think. I don't think being a person of color is easier anywhere in the world. I think what Japan offers you as a person of color is that it offers you some time out from the kind of a violent life threatening dangerous racism that is present in America and also in Europe in places I know very very few stories of foreigners of color in Japan who've ever been threatened because of their color in a physical way a violent sort of way. I mean people may look at you people may not like you because they they perceive you as being a certain way because of the color of your skin but they're not going to attack you. I think the situation is quite different in America where even for myself as an African-American
filmmaker traveling and doing speeches I get invited to a lot of places and it is often I have to you know sort of think twice about where I am going in America and making sure that my sponsors know that police took me up at the airport. Please take me back to the airport if I want to drive somewhere what is the best route to take so I can avoid any unpleasant experience you understand. And yet in addition to this the people that you talk to face a different kind of challenge and that's the same kind of challenge that anyone who is not Japanese would face and I think it's at least what I don't know this from experience but everything that I've always read says that the Japanese are famous for being wonderful hosts. If you're a tourist and if you're just going to go for a week or two the you're going to get the real treatment. However if you decide if you show signs that you're going to stay for a while and that you're really going to you're interested in trying to
penetrate their culture to learn Japanese to settle in there that they don't like. And but they really it's interesting that there's this you use the word there is this weird guy Gene which is generally translated as foreigner. And I have also read that perhaps it has a different kind of shading and that it doesn't just mean a person from another country what it means is outsider. Yeah. And there is this very strong notion in Japan that there is us and there is them. And the guy Gene are them. Right right not only are you quite right I mean if you examine the actual Kanzi or though of the actually Chinese writing The Japanese use for the word guy Genia it it really translates outside and you're quite right. It is not just a foreigner a foreigner is a kind of a softening of what it means that it does mean outsider ends and me in being an outsider in Japan is a very serious thing not only for people who are not Japanese but even for
Japanese themselves being perceived that way by their own countrymen. So yeah you're right the the experience for most people who stay there for a long time beyond that visitor states that yes sort of status is one of Eventually you. You really if you're honest with yourself you realize that no longer does your color and nationality really mean anything in Japan. You are an outsider and as an outsider you are going to you know be subject to a lot of perhaps discriminatory and not such nice treatment. And it's been. Stink to me again in traveling in Japan that usually only in confidence will you know Europeans or Americans or strangely and confessed to me that many of the things that happen that you see happening and struggle to exist African-Americans have happened to them as well. It seems that in some interesting ways to cause the people who have had this experience to think about who they are what their identity is
because I think someone says something to the effect of being in Japan really lets you be who you are because obviously you can't be Japanese right. So you end up having to really really be who you are. There's no way to not be who you are. Yeah. And also that though that may create an additional pressure because again I think some of the people that you talk to said that they feel pressured to be an example. Will it to be an example not just an exemplary American but an exemplary African American that is. That's a lot of pressure to face to sort of be feel that you are representing all all African-Americans. Right right no no no there is a pressure you're right I mean you become in fact an ambassador of your country. And for African-Americans again this becomes more complicated in that you are not an ambassador for just African-Americans you're you're
mostly an ambassador for Americans and a lot of times African-Americans don't think of themselves as first Americans and then something else that America wants to define you as being. And so that becomes the as you say a stress or a pressure or in some some respects can be also liberating when again suddenly you can think of yourself in a way that you haven't had a chance. But I think also begins to cause you as an African-American to redefine your position in this society and redefine what it is to be an American and from a cultural perspective no longer a race based way of thinking but looking at it in terms of what is American culture what what is it that all of us as Americans regardless of race. Do you think in practice we we often don't think about that in the American experience it's not a conversation that comes up. We talk about race a lot but we never talk about culture or rarely talk about culture.
Some of the people that that you talk to seem to be inclined to they would say that this was a good experience for them and they were glad to have it to be able to live in Japan for perhaps a number of years but then it seemed that they they knew that they would not live there forever. Other people actually did settle there. There were some some men who fell in love with very Japanese women and had children and looked like they are going to stay in Japan what sort of makes the difference do you think between the people who decide really to to settle in Japan and those who would say well this is a good experience interesting for some period of time but eventually I know I'm going to go back to the United States. You know it's a very interesting question I don't know if I could really answer that you've probably tried to talk to somebody who you know who specializes in kind of looking at those things. I mean I think the only answer I can give you is this I think that in Donald Ritchie was a very famous writer has been in Japan of a 52 53 years. Made an interesting statement he said that when you stand Japan for a long time you realize you have
to belong to something or someone. That Japanese society and culture really functions in that way as a belonging even for the outsider even for that for that foreign person that's there. So I think the people that choose this they open themselves up to be longing and be longing can sometimes mean a company kind of belonging within your company environment and that becomes your family or and again taking the personal step through marriage to be long to the society and be a kind of participating member. And I think the ones that basically don't open themselves up to that. You know for whatever reason whether it's just they haven't mastered the language and feel they never can or again they find it comfortable to be an outsider. You know in that society really you know and they enjoy that status. I think those people again they enjoy that status up to where the enjoyment starts to wane and then they leave. We're about midpoint here through this our focus 580 I probably should introduce
Again our guest. We're talking with filmmaker Reggie life. He grew up in New York. He studied film at New York University and cinema Studies at Harvard before going on to a career in film he's made ethnographic documentaries. He's worked in feature films he worked on the film ragtime and also trading places and he has made some interesting documentaries based on this material here we've been talking about after his opportunity to go on a fellowship to Japan and get interested in Japan and Japanese culture that led him to produce these films struggle and success the one we've been talking about here that looks at the experiences of African-Americans living in Japan then doubles Japan and America's intercultural children in the third after America after Japan which chronicles the saga of re-entry for Americans and Japanese. He was here visiting the campus a couple of weeks ago. And we didn't get a chance to talk with him when he was here but we are glad the hippie I'm here on the show by telephone and again questions welcome maybe that some people who saw the movies that we're
talking about and you have questions or comments you can give us a call 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also have a toll free line good anywhere that you can hear us and that is 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. One of the couples that you talked with in Struggle and Success. Interesting because here there there is an African-American woman who is a college professor in Japan was married to a Japanese man but this was a man who was not born in Japan. He was born in Brazil. And then when he was I think a boy went back to Japan or was it but he didn't. Yeah yeah yeah. Again there's a the largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil and he grew up in Brazil his father was a business person there and then that after the war was over he like many Japanese are repatriated. And so he he quite of he sort of had a. Sort of it's that these of my third film a return experience back to his home country that he had never
known because he had been born in Brazil but it also I think instilled in him an early understanding of what it is to be an outsider in Japan. Ultimately it led him to spend his university years in the states where he met his prospective wife who is African American while they were both in school in Chicago and they have a son and this perhaps leads us into the next subject matter of the next film. Who says that there were certainly times when he didn't feel accepted either by Japanese kids or by Western children that that he wasn't really quite sure where he fit in. Right right right. Yeah. Keelan Suzuki interesting guy and matter of fact. I he was Cuban When we made the program and subsequently we were making doubles. He had changed his name to use his Japanese. Name Akio she so without knowing which one he's using right now say Akio ceaseless Keven Suzuki is a very interesting and man I mean he he because he is visibly
dark complected because of his mother but his features are or noticeably Japanese you know. He appears to most Stephany's in that culture as someone who is a double or in some Japanese a turn hostile which means half and for him again it became a very much a double edged sword you know Yet in his community which is a fairly upscale community in Tokyo where there are other kids like himself because he is darker in complection. He is more noticeable than the other kids who might also have a mixed parentage. So yes so he would he would have discrimination leaving his home going to school sometimes. And then ironically within the school environment what you get is you get again a kind of a breakdown of when the kids play when they socialize. So it's those recess hours of the foreign kids all kind of grouped together in the Japanese kids all kind of group together. And then when the foreigners group then you get the same kind of stratification hierarchy that you get kind of here in America where the foreign
kids of European or American. Heritage consider themselves the leaders and sort of top members of the class and and the kids of color you know are sort of meant to be in some way subordinate. So that's really where I kind of Hielan experience kind of sprung from and it was a very you know tough time for him for quite a while and then the parents wrestled with where he should school and how he should school so he he did some education in a sort of a Japanese private school and that was OK and then he because of these these sort of hierarchical things he was experiencing He wanted to try Japanese school so for a while they actually put him in a Japanese school. But then that was a really hard not only just in terms of again really feeling like an outsider but also academically with it presented other difficulties. So when I last spoke to them. Keelan was studying actually in the States now at a private school here in America and I think he had found some adjustment you know
leaving Japan and finding himself in a little more of an international environment with other kids like himself that had grown up outside of America. And in fact that became his community the kind of a global way of seeing himself for the first time in the in the second film there's a lot of discussion about the idea of multiple identity and late in the film. And this is it seems that it's a term that's used by younger people there even some children who use this term double and that is when they are thinking about Well who am I and trying to fit themselves into some particular category. Then they come to the understanding or maybe someone tries to give us the give them the standing that well you don't have to do that. You can have multiple identities in is in fact double a term that is used. People do use to describe multiple people who are multiethnic. Well again I wouldn't the Silesian term multiday ethnic I mean I
think that double springs out of Japan and it was a term to really talk about intercultural talking about it to have an American culture and a Japanese culture that's what the word double spring from. I know that in America now with the new census we are kind of experiencing this sort of people designating themselves in a multiple way. And again generally those things when listed on the census form are kind of again race based on ethnic ethnicity based distinctions Double really is looking at culture it's really looking at the fact that these young people and some are older people have had the experience of two cultures and that's how they're seeing themselves as as an individual as an American culture and as an individual has a Japanese culture and respect for both of those cultures. It's not necessarily race based or ethnicity based at all. And I think and with respect to most of these people in interviews that we did most of them
don't even look at it through that prism of race or ethnicity they're they're really looking at it through a culture or cultural perspective. Well they do. Then there seems to be a lot of interesting blending going on and people trying to acknowledge and celebrate all of these various cultures. There was a striking there one man who was. Whose mom was Japanese and whose dad was African-American said that in his house a typical dinner would be chicken teriyaki Rice cornbread collard greens and black eyed peas. Food is the way we do that. It's probably the best elated that there's something to celebrate you know kind of a mix of things in an intercultural way of life yeah it's a great comic it's a great it's you know it's a great thing in the film when he says that but but so many people talk about those kind of things you know that the thought of that was the way in many respects that the parents first learned to communicate with each other was through food and through the American you
know partner experiencing you know the food of the of the wife and the wife experiencing the food of the husband and then bringing up their children sort of you know celebrating this sort of cool an airy aspect of both cultures. The one subject you did you deal with in this movie and also actually in the struggle and success because in that movie too you talk with some African-Americans who have married Japanese and. Natural question is you know how do your families feel about this whole thing here dealing with the same sorts of thing that the did seem that there wasn't a lot of adjustment required. Eventually it seems that most cases families seem to come around but initially it seems to be a pretty tough thing particularly for for the Japanese. The idea that one of their daughters would marry someone who was not Japanese. Right right right. Yes see I think you know it's again it's not limited to just
African-Americans again I think the whole notion and when when the when a Japanese decides to marry a non Japanese person there is a lot of tension and a lot of you know uneasiness about that. I think again when we're looking at it from the American perspective because we're looking at everything from a race based way we always assume that that darker person is going to have a harder time than the lighter person. And oftentimes what is up happening is that and I know this from you know Caucasians who have married Japanese is even if they have problems they can't talk about it because no one assumes there. Have any problem whereas the African American or the person of color who marries a Japanese everyone assumes that the parents were standing at the door with a sword in their hand when they came you know to pick up the their wife or their husband or something like that. And again it's exactly the opposite. You know any time a Japanese person wants to marry a person who is not Japanese there is trouble when the trouble escalates from just harsh words to who knows what. And it happens
regardless of race because again many times the Japanese may see race because again it's going to be visible that the American is a darker American or lighter American. Maybe that's going to register some kind of value judgement in terms of how they think their son or daughter will be treated. But bottom line is this man or woman is not Japanese. And that's really the source and root of all the problem. Yeah a lot of these people that you talk to their parents they're their fathers were American servicemen who were in in part of the occupation after World War Two married Japanese women and then they all came back to live in the United States and also in a lot of these families that seemed to be very important to the parents that the children can you knew knew their Japanese heritage spent time in Japan spent time living with and getting to know. The Japanese side of their family. But again it seems to be a very sort of a difficult thing to figure out who you are where you are one
woman and. And this was a woman whose father I think was was Caucasian was European American said who went back and forth a lot said whenever she was in when she was in Japan. There was all of a lot of questioning about who was she was she Japanese was she American. And she said that there was a lot of pressure on her sort of expectation because her mother was Japanese that she was expected to know how to be Japanese socially what was always the right thing to do because her mother was Japanese at the same time. Her her relatives some of her close female relatives sort of told her right out you you will never really be Japanese right. Right. So there was this this very strange sort of. This set of conflicting pressures and identities is that on one hand she was she was expected to know the right thing to do and yet on the other hand there was this thing that was said was well really though. You're not Japanese You're not ever going to be Japanese.
Right right right yeah yeah yeah I mean you hit it right on the head. I mean yeah yeah everyone who has a Japanese parent is expected to know about the ways of Japanese people and in all the etiquette in the things in this. This happens even to Japanese Americans who could be third and fourth generation who speak no Japanese at all and who are really Americans culturally. But when they go back to Japan they are expected to be as Japanese as a Japanese person who grew up there. And yet again you will as you say which is very painful to get from your own immediate family. This thought of well forget it you can never be like us because you didn't grow up here and you didn't go through the same things we went through so it is yet again it's a very much a double edged sword for individuals like that. Who you know are by you know intercultural and and have to face you know those sort of two extremes. In Japan we have about 10 minutes left in this part of focus 580
talking with filmmaker Reggie life. He's done a number of films he's worked on features he's done ethnographic documentaries and the movies here we're talking about our struggle and success look at the African-American experience in Japan and the other is doubles Japan and America's intercultural children. And if you have questions you can call in three three three W I L L toll free 800 1:58 W while I was really struck by one the story that one of the people that you talk to in the film told us a woman who now lives in the United States a woman whose whose mom was Japanese and whose father was Caucasian so she's half Japanese and she married an Asian man and they have a little boy and an impossibly beautiful little blond little boy who is one quarter Japanese. But again their their interest he's interested in his Japanese heritage so are his parents and it's funny because she says that he talks about being an undercover Japanese. Right right. And that leads into some interesting thinking about. And that's really the open
question that you pose at the end of this movie I think is just where where things are headed in the way that we think about race and and ethnicity and whether in fact we are headed towards a kind of a blending that we wouldn't have seen in the past. Right right. Yeah I mean I mean I think that's very much the you know as you say an open question and I really want to think we all need to think about and just do some self you know. You know research you know because we are undercover something I don't I don't think there's anyone living in America who is pure anything. I mean our our the history of this country from the Mayflower through slavery right up to here has created mixes and many of us again don't even know what the mix is already more you know you don't we don't keep track of our family tree you know with the with the way that the Japanese and some other cultures do what they know everybody that married everybody I mean some people in America do but most
don't. So who's to say that you you know the moderator of this show might have a poor person as your bud. That is not Caucasian or not whatever. You know what I mean. Maybe you've got some African American or Native American in you. I know I have Caucasian blood in me because of the legacy of slavery. And so the the idea that these people are trying to put forward with this is that let's let's begin to change the discussion a bit in change this whole concept of who we are as not only Americans but people in the world from a race based one which is fraught with just continuing the madness that we currently live in to one that looks more at culture and looks more at the idea of all of us as human beings you know regardless of of all these little nuances that either make you better or worse in someone's eyes. Yeah and that's really where that's coming from I mean that that that whole thing of being an undercover Japanese and and looking at this this young man with blond hair and blue eyes and saying come on now. But it's true. You
know he he knows his heritage and it's up to him now to carry that forward. And many of us need to take time to really know who we are fits all often times. Again what divides us in America is in fact we are we are the pot calling the kettle black you know enemy that we are we are hating someone who is in fact our brother and sister if we took the time to really know who we are as Americans. And so again that's why I tend to try to to get people when they view these programs and when they use these and educational. Institutions too as a catalyst to get people to begin to think outside the box and begin to to to look at ourselves in a much larger context because we are more than what you know often is talked about. And it's time that that conversation started to really generate some you know acceleration and heat. So I'm happy that you picked up on that because it's the many times people watch doubles
and I don't think they'd miss that point but they don't get it in the way that you got and I really appreciate the fact you picked up on that. There's one thing I think that that's guaranteed to lead a person to think differently about the place they live and that is having the opportunity to live for an extended period of time someplace else. Yeah. Particularly if it's someplace that culturally that's really different from what you grew up in. Yes. When you end this I want at least talk a minute or two about the third movie when you had the opportunity to talk to people who had done that I guess I'm particularly curious about whether you were able to follow up with some of some people who had lived in Japan. And then come back to the United States how they felt that they had been changed by that experience or whether they felt they had been changed by the experience. Everyone has changed I mean and I think that that that is the the the the most upsetting and exhilarating and
triumphant part of living away and then coming back is that yeah when you come back you are changed. The the America that you knew when you left you frozen your mind whatever year that was whatever was going on here you froze it and then you come back five years 10 years later and that America no longer exists and the American behavior and in the way Americans interact has also changed so no no one who comes back ever can ever just fit right in again and those that attempt to do that find very soon that that they begin to trip up and they begin to to sort of make mistakes because you've been gone and you're really not not you know in sync with the rest of the world right now. So we know everybody has been changed by it and I think the people that I interviewed what they tried to look at just one second sir. Sure. Sure. If you. Got somebody at my door here. That's OK you know what they try to look at it in a positive
kind of way as opposed to again looking at the negative things that can happen from being away like that but trying to say what they gain from that experience in Japan you know what that Japanese Japan experience gave them in the way of new ideas about themselves again as a citizen of the world not as the sort of you know American black American white American Asian American whatever that again that mailbox kind of concept is that we often assign to people here. But I think that that's what they take from the whole thing that the change though maybe uncomfortable at first becomes one where they you know they say my God look at look at who I realized that I really am in the context of of our of our globe you know not just this American. You know prism that we're always examining ourselves through. Are there other ways in continuing projects that you're exploring the same themes. Well you know some new projects that are currently in development that I'm looking at right
now nothing is really you know settled and concretely yet where I could say oh the next one is going to be about this that or the other. But I think that these three films have led me not only as a filmmaker but also as a as a person to a new way of examining our world and what I'm looking forward to doing in some new future films is looking at other cultures and other places where people are questioning you know identity questioning culture questioning things that need to be questioned. And I want to you know try to bring some attention some light to those you know those struggles and those guys those of those past that are being performed. Well I want to thank you very much for talking with us. I certainly appreciate it I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to get your when you were here. But I'm real pleased that you could take the time to talk and I think that there are fine films I would certainly recommend to people if you can if you can find them to to see them struggle and success after the African-American experience in Japan
Focus 580
African-Americans in Japan
Contributing Organization
WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-16-sn00z71h7x).
with filmmaker Reggie Life
Talk Show
African-Americans; Media and journalism; Japan; Cultural Studies; Racism; Race/Ethnicity
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producer: Brighton, Jack
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-79060cb459e (unknown)
Generation: Copy
Duration: 47:01
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-badd59198e3 (unknown)
Generation: Master
Duration: 47:01
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Focus 580; African-Americans in Japan,” 2001-05-10, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 20, 2020,
MLA: “Focus 580; African-Americans in Japan.” 2001-05-10. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 20, 2020. <>.
APA: Focus 580; African-Americans in Japan. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from