Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | pop culture
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hawaii-five-0 We're fans of the CBS series "Hawaii Five-0" for lots of reasons, including the fact that it's a showcase for Asian and Pacific Islander actors such as Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, and the entertaining "bromance" relationship between Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) and Danny "Danno" Williams (Scott Caan). I always loved the original series that ran from 1968-1980, and think it's great that this reboot uses pretty much the same arrangement for the theme song, and even uses quick-cut images that evoke the look and feel of the intro sequence from the earlier Five-0. And finally, who can't love a show that celebrates the coolest and best-looking of all the United States, with loving b-roll shots of both its glistening city life and its incredibly beautiful natural scenery? This week, we get a whole new reason to appreciate "Hawaii Five-0" and tune in regularly. The producers are focusing on an aspect of American history that still remains under the radar of most mainstream American pop culture: The American imprisonment of people of Japanese ancestry in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

snowfallingoncedars-BenandArleneMany Japanese Americans who've grown up since World War II -- myself included -- dreaded December 7 every year. As kids (and sometimes as adults) we've been taunted with hateful calls to "Go home, Jap!," "Go back where you cam from!" and the classic, "Remember Pearl Harbor!" As if we could forget. The war happened decades ago, and as Japanese Americans we had nothing to do with the attack on the U.S. military on Hawaii that sparked America's entry into WWII. Hell, today, most people in Japan had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Yet, I still feel wary when I go out on Dec. 7. Although I haven't faced a dumb remark in years now, I know that feeling is always there, just beneath the surface of civility. The ugliness comes out, perversely, when a tragedy occurs in Japan, like the "It's God's revenge for Pearl Harbor!" comments that were tweeted out after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan. So we decided this year, we'd face our trepidation directly. We bought tickets for "Snow Falling on Cedars," the stage version of David Guterson's award-winning 1994 novel about the after-effects of post-war racial hatred against Japanese Americans in a small Pacific northwest community. The book was made into an atmospheric film in 1999 starring Ethan Hawke that was nominated for a cinematography Oscar. Seeing the play at the Vintage Theatre in Aurora would help exorcise the Pearl Harbor demons, we figured, even as it reminded us of the hysteria that the bombing caused. That hysteria led just a few months later to the imprisonment of almost 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry -- half American citizens, born in the U.S. -- in concentration camps away from the West Coast.

katyperry-kimono Katy Perry opened the American Music Awards with an over-the-top performance of her song "Unconditionally," dressed in a gaudy, faux-Japanese kimono (with Chinese-style mandarin collar and slits up the legs, as well as American-style exposed cleavage) and painted in hideous full-yellowface makeup to fake an "Oriental" look. The performance has sparked some outrage in both the blogosphere and mainstream media. Maybe that's what she wanted. She's probably pissed that Miley Cyrus has been getting all the media attention recently for her edgy, racy performances. The opening notes of the AMA segment (below), plucked out on shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, while a woman in kimono was silhouetted behind a Japanese shoji screen, had me hopeful that something that showed respect, appreciation and understanding for Japanese culture was about to be broadcast. But no. As the screen is pulled away and the woman behind it -- Perry in her fake kimono -- started singing, my heart sank and my gut clenched. Here we go again, a cultural mishmash of what white people think is "Japanese" all thrown into one ugly, cluttered, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink four-minute nightmare.

Brandon Lee was a handsome actor on the rise in Hollywood, continuing the legacy of his father, Bruce Lee, as an action star. But in 1993, during the filming of the movie "The Crow," he suffered a tragic accident -- a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks in a scene shot a live bullet that killed him....

[caption id="attachment_5353" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Denver's Medal of Honor recipient Joe Sakato is second from the bottom on the left; the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is second from the top on the right. (Courtesy USPS) Denver's Medal of Honor recipient Joe Sakato is second from the bottom on the left; the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is second from the top on the right. (Courtesy USPS)[/caption] At our local supermarket the weekend before Veterans Day, veterans were handing out little red poppies to pin on passersby’s lapels as tributes to generations of war dead (it’s a reference to John McCrae’s 1915 WWI poem, “In Flanders Fields”). I thanked the vet for giving me one and was heading in to shop when a scruffy-looking guy came up and growled that I was supposed to pay for the poppies. I stammered as he walked away that I was going to give some change on my way out, but the man who gave me the poppy shook his head and said there was no donation required. He apologized for the second man’s behavior. I realized that the scruffy guy was probably reacting to my ethnicity. Sigh. He probably thought I was a “Damned Jap” or a “Gook” and didn’t deserve to be wearing a poppy. I should have yelled back at the scruffy guy that my dad was an American soldier and I was wearing this poppy for him. On Veterans Day, I was happy to see a TV news report about George “Joe” Sakato, a 92-year-old Nisei from Denver who traveled to Washington DC to be honored as part of the release of a set of stamps paying tribute to World War II Medal of Honor recipients. In 2012 when the US Postal Service announced the new stamps, the plan was to have portraits of the 12 WWII veterans who still alive featured on the sheets surrounding the stamps, and the men would attend the unveiling this year. Three have died since the project was announced, including another Nisei soldier, the late Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye. An accompanying booklet lists all 464 WWI Medal of Honor recipients. Both Joe Sakato and Daniel Inouye fought in the celebrated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. The combined battalion, made up mostly of Japanese Americans, many conscripted from the American concentration camps where their families were still imprisoned, remains to this day the most highly decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military. So take that, scruffy guy! Inouye went on to an illustrious public career and passed away last December. Ironically, Sakato is a retired US Postal Service employee.

Judith_Hill-72dpi I was lucky enough to see Judith Hill perform during the 2010 convention in Los Angeles of the Asian American Journalists Association, when she played a set for opening night. Hill had a unique story as a performer: The daughter of an African American father and Japanese mother who are both professional musicians, she earned a degree in music composition. She woodshedded in France in 2007. Hill's professional breakthrough was supposed to be as Michael Jackson's duet partner for the "This Is It" tour. Yes, that's the tour that never happened because of Jackson's sudden death in June 2009. Although she was unknown at the time, Hill caught the attention of the world when she sang the lead on "Heal the World" during Jackson's televised memorial service. Her remarkable talent as a singer was also showcased in the October, 2009 release of the film "This Is It" documenting the rehearsals for the tour. Then she went largely off the grid.