Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | pop culture
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Erin and I attended the opening performance of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," a moving tribute to the tragic life of jazz singer Billie Holiday, who is remembered today for classic renditions of "God Bless the Child" and the stark song condemning the racist lynching of black men she first recorded in 1939, "Strange Fruit." Holiday was one of the most influential singers ever, whose influence crossed over jazz and blues to folk, R&B, rock and pop music. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" is set in a bar in Philadelphia just months before her death in July 1959 from heart failure caused by cirrhosis.

All the recent controversy over “whitewashing,” Hollywood’s habit of casting white people in Asian roles, got me thinking about how Japan has been portrayed in films over the years. Because I was born in Japan, my earliest movie memories are chambara, or samurai (and especially ninja), movies that I watched in black and white on television. We didn't get to see many movies in theaters, but my mom used to take my brother and me to Disney features when they opened, riding the trains with us to the cinema. After we moved to the States, I treasured American films that were set in Japan. There haven’t been a whole lot but it’s interesting to see how Hollywood depictions have showed Americans’ stereotypes of Japan, and how that’s changed over the years. Here are a few (Click the images to purchase the films):

The recent 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima went by quietly on American news (in part because there’s just so much news to cover exploding out of our own White House). So on Aug. 6 I turned to the one place I knew would give the commemoration of the bombing its due coverage: NHK World, Japan’s English-language public television...

Like many people, and especially many Japanese Americans, I’m a big fan of George Takei. I’ve followed his career since I first saw him in the role of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu in the original 1960s television “Star Trek” series and as he reprised the character in subsequent Star Trek movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of fading into pop culture...

I started my writing career as a music critic and became a journalist with jobs at various mainstream media newspapers and later, websites, and wasn’t much concerned with covering the Japanese, Japanese American or Asian American Pacific Islander communities or issues. I became curious about my roots when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early ‘90s, but...

I wasn’t surprised that anti-Japanese sentiments were expressed when Takuma Sato, a Japanese driver, won the Indianapolis 500 race -- he is the first driver from Japan to take the flag. But I was shocked, and disappointed that the hateful sentiment was blurted by a journalist. In Denver, where I live. And that it was someone I had worked with. Terri...

NOTE: A full version of this post with more from Takei as well as cast members and producer, as well as videos from the musical, was originally published on Dec. 7, 2015. After a November performance at the Longacre Theatre in New York’s fabled Broadway district, George Takei and other cast members answered questions about their powerful musical, “Allegiance.” “I remember we...