Friday, October 7, 2016

Film: East Coast premiere of Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps


Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps

Directed by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong
2014 | 56 mins | Documentary

“Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps” is the full title of this documentary, using historical footage and interviews from artists who were interned to tell the story of how traditional Japanese cultural arts were maintained at a time when the War Relocation Authority (WRA) emphasized the importance of assimilation and Americanization.  Various essays and studies concerning the camps have been published, but have focused on the political and legal aspects of the internment, while hardly mentioning cultural and recreational activities in the camps.  When cultural and recreational activities have been documented, they have focused on American culture, such as baseball and swing music.  This film will be the first major presentation of the existence of traditional music, dance and drama in the camps.  It is possible only because Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong has been searching, researching and collecting for over 20 years information on who these artists were.  She has collected interviews, oral and visual histories, as well as artifacts from the internees and relatives of internees, including teachers, students, the performers, and the incredible artists who made instruments, costumes, and the props needed for a full performance from scraps of wood, toothbrush handles, gunny sacks, paint, and whatever they could scrape up.  Her own family’s history with the camps led her to become a kotoist and teacher of the Japanese koto (13-stringed zither).
Very little is known of the existence of traditional Japanese performance arts in the camps.  The artists Muramoto-Wong has interviewed are all Americans, all born here, but practiced Japanese arts before the war, during, and after the war, because they loved the art.  This made them “social activists” in their own quiet way, continuing the music and dance they loved, helping others to learn and enjoy these arts, and to help draw their attention away from their surroundings, giving them pride and self-esteem.  Their efforts kept Japanese cultural arts alive in our communities today.
We have interviewed 30 artists in the fields of music (koto, nagauta shamisen, shakuhachi, shigin, biwa), dance (buyo, obon) and drama (kabuki) who were interned at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Amache/Granada, Rohwer, Gila River, and Topaz.  We have interviewed Prof. Minako Waseda of Geijutsu Daigaku University of Music and Arts, and Kunitachi College of Music, both universities in Tokyo, whose research thesis, Extraordinary Circumstances, Exceptional Practices: Music in Japanese American Concentration Camps, had written the only scholarly work that had been published on this subject.  We are also interviewing students of these arts in America, some who learned from these artists, and some who are carrying on the tradition in our communities today, and some who have taken this knowledge, and expanded creatively and artistically in various imaginative ways.
Film locations include camps at Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain; locations in Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, 3 Tokyo music universities (Tokyo Ongaku Daigaku, Geijutsu Daigaku, Kunitachi College of Music); Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and Cupertino; San Jose Obon Festival; Chidori Band 59th Anniversary Concert; Japanese American Museum of San Jose; dance studio of Bando Misayasu (aka Mary Arii Mah), and koto studio of Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong.
Film sponsored, in part, by the National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant.

Event Information
Film screening followed by Q&A with creative director Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong and actress Takayo Fischer with koto performance by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong.

Date & Time
Monday, October 24, 2016
3:00 - 6:00pm

UMass Boston
McCormack Hall, Ryan Lounge, Room M-3-721 (3rd floor)
Dorchester, MA 02125

Campus Map
Parking Map 
Detailed parking information
Recommended lots:

  • UMass Boston Bayside Lot (200 Mt. Vernon Street)
  • Morrissey Satellite Lot (75 Morrissey Boulevard) Herb Chambers property next to the Boston Globe building
  • St. Christopher’s Church across from the Bayside Lot


Date & Time
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
7:00 - 9:00pm

Wellesley College
Acorns House (building not on map - head toward the lake, pass Clapp Library and Acorns House is to the right of Harambee House)
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481

Visitors may park at the Davis Parking Facility.


Date & Time
Thursday, October 27, 2016
6:30 - 8:30pm

Brandeis University
Mandel Center for the Humanities, Room G12
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02453

After 5pm visitors may park anywhere. Tower Lot is closest to the Mandel Center.


Special thanks to Kimi Maeda for making the introductions that allowed us to get Hidden Legacy screened at Brandeis!

About the Creative Director

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong was raised in a musical family whose roots lie in the Chikushi Kai School of kotoists in Japan.   Her mother is a respected head of the Chikushi Kai in the Bay Area, with close ties to her teachers in Japan. Shirley was taught within that tradition, learning and constantly performing the core of traditional pieces shared by all koto groups and also the repertoire particular to the Chikushi Kai.  Importantly, it is a group which is also open to contemporary music for the koto, so that her repertoire encompasses such works as the compositions of Tadao Sawai, Katsutoshi Nagasawa and Shinichi Yuize.  From that spirit of open-mindedness (within tradition), Shirley also pursued her interest in jazz and as it extends to the koto, and improvisation. 

In 1976, Shirley received her “Shihan” degree (instructor’s license) with “Yushusho” (highest) honors from the Chikushi School in Fukuoka, Japan, and her "Dai Shihan" Master’s degree from the same school in 2000 for her mastery of the koto.

A dedicated musician for over 50 years, Shirley strives to involve diverse genres of art and music in her performances.  She teaches private students, and has offered classes in koto music at public schools and at universities, most notably classes at UC Berkeley. Shirley has incorporated storytelling, poetry, hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, European classical, and has arranged world songs from countries such as China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Philippines and so on, for koto, as well as performing and arranging traditional and contemporary Japanese songs, and composing her own koto pieces.   She also is the leader of the world jazz fusion group, the Murasaki Ensemble.

“The koto is an extremely versatile instrument,” says Shirley.  “Though it seems limited and simple in its nature, it’s possible to extract a myriad of textures and sounds through various techniques and even percussive rhythms by incorporating the body of the instrument itself.  The koto is initially easy to play, but it really takes years of practice to be able to produce a good sound.”

Shirley’s koto influences include koto masters Katsuko Chikushi, Kimio Eto, Kazue Sawai, and June Kuramoto. Her jazz influences come from the members of the her jazz group, the Murasaki Ensemble, who are Vince Delgado on percussion, Jeff Massanari on guitar, Matt Eakle on flute, and Alex Baum on bass. 

Because of Shirley’s versatility on the koto, she has performed for many notable people and celebrities, such as: Senator Diane Feinstein, George Lucas/Lucas Films, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Walter Shorenstein, Larry Ellison and Mikael Gorbachev.  She has also performed at many eclectic events from the Fillmore and Union Street Jazz Festivals to the AT&T Golf Tournament hosted by Clint Eastwood, Christina Aguilera, and the Sacramento, Marin, and Fremont symphony orchestras. Shirley has performed at numerous community events, and given of her time to many of them, including annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and Cupertino, many Obon festivals in Oakland, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose, just to name a few.  In 2012, Shirley was honored by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Bunka Japanese American Cultural Association of America by being inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Shirley has been most interested in researching Japanese traditional performance arts in the World War II concentration camps, after finding out that her mother learned to play the koto from koto teachers at Topaz and Tule Lake camps during WWII.  In 2012, she was awarded a National Parks Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant to turn her decades-long research into a documentary film.  The film, “Japanese Traditional Performance Arts in the World War II Internment Camps” completed in 2014, includes interviews and stories from 21 people who experienced Japanese performing arts in the camps, or were taught by teachers from the camps, archival photos as well as actual film footage of performances in the camps.  Hidden Legacy has been screened publicly at numerous community showings, at universities including UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Tokyo Arts, Waseda, Musashino and Doshisha Universities, and aired on public TV across the United States since its premiere.

Takayo Fischer
Actress Takayo Fischer learned kabuki, buyō, and shamisen while she was interned at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas during WWII. She is best known for her roles as Mistress Chang in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and as Suzanne, the secretary to Brad Pitt's character, Billy, in the film Moneyball. Takayo is active with the renowned Asian American theater organization East West Players in Los Angeles and has acted on Broadway.

Kinko Hatakeda Tsubouchi (Takayo's mother)
making crepe paper tsumami as Takayo looks on.
Rohwer War Relocation Center, Arkansas
Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the
Japanese in our War Relocation Camps

by Allen H. Eaton
Photo credit: Paul Faris
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