As was promised in my March 19 column, I finally am able to relate what I learned about an upcoming documentary on a great American named Minoru Yasui, which is forthcoming from one of his three daughters, Holly Yasui.
(In that column, I only half-jokingly noted that Minoru Yasui was responsible for my writing this column for The Rafu Shimpo and getting me a job many moons ago at Pacific Citizen.)
Although it turns out we’d never met, chatting with Holly Yasui was like talking with an old friend — she’s is open, forthcoming, funny, engaging, interesting, earthy and blunt. We chatted for just less than 24 minutes, but I felt we could have gone on for a couple of hours. It was also quite a treat talking about her father, someone I admire greatly.
As mentioned in the March 19 column, Holly had written a short article that appeared in the Holiday Issue of Pacific Citizen, in which she announced that she was working on a short docu about her late father; in it she also made a request to that newspaper’s readers for film or video footage of Min Yasui for inclusion in the movie.
As related previously (http://tinyurl.com/l4umkkp), I had recorded an audio-only interview I had conducted with Min circa 1986, quite possibly one of the last interviews, if not the last audio-only interview, he conducted before he died in 1986. (I lived in Boulder, Colo., at the time and attended Min’s memorial service. I remember one of the speakers was U.S. Rep. Robert Matsui. He’s gone now, too, of course. Sigh.)
In speaking with Holly, I learned that it also turned out that I was the only person who responded to her request.
She said that they already had “tons and tons of photos” but not much in terms of film or video, which was why she made her appeal. “I just don’t think it exists any more,” she said. “It breaks my heart but the format back then was 16 mm film, old, old formats of video. … I did get a piece from (Denver’s) KUSA TV Channel 9, it was actually a piece that was done after his death. They had some clips that I’m going to use. They interviewed my mom and sister, who were still in Denver at that time.
“Also, Mike Goldfein, who was working with a station in Salt Lake City [KUTV, circa 1983], did a wonderful news story that was about 15 minutes long … that’s my gold mine.”
Although what I have sent to Will Doolittle, her partner on the documentary, is strictly audio, I thought that since the recording quality was pretty good, it was possible that some excerpts of Min speaking could be used as a voice-over for still photos, maybe using the so-called Ken Burns effect. I have to admit, I’ll be curious whether anything from what I recorded might make it into the final version.
Regardless, for anyone who has never heard Min Yasui speak, it will be revelatory to hear his oratory — not only did he have an unusual quality to his voice, there was a conviction and persuasive intelligence contained within it.
So, Holly and I communicated via email but it turned out that setting a time with our respective schedules to talk over the telephone wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Part of the reason is because Holly lives in the city of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato state, in Mexico, where’s she been the last 22 years.
We finally, however, found time to chat, via Skype. When I asked what had compelled her to pack up and move to Mexico, she said, “Because I couldn’t smoke in the United States. I couldn’t keep a job. Can you believe it? Not only that, I’ve actually quit smoking since then, but I just couldn’t take the social pressure.”
Turns out smoking was something she needed in order to work. “I was a writer. I still am a writer. To me, I had to do it in order to write and man, it just got really intense about 22, 23 years ago. I was working at the university and the whole university went smoke-free and I went, ‘Oh wow. Oh God. What do I do? How do I work? Can’t think, can’t work!’ ” she laughed.
Holly is not only working on this documentary, she is also working in concert with others to get her father’s achievements recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “They are both projects that are part of the Min Yasui Tribute,” she said. “There’s the Medal of Freedom nomination, I’m working on a documentary tribute film, I’m working on a play which is about the period of time that Min Yasui spent in jail and the events that led up to it, we’re working on an exhibit, which will include a lot of the materials that we collected for the Medal of Freedom but it will be the original materials.”
She added that there would also probably be a book, but admitted that part may not happen in time for 2016.
“The idea is for all this to culminate in 2016, which is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Minoru Yasui, Daddy’s centennial celebration, and that’s what the tribute is about,” Holly said. “It’s a centennial celebration that will happen in Denver.”
The working title for the documentary, she told me, is “Minoru Yasui: An American Hero,” with a running time of about 30 minutes. She added that she had promised to at least have a rough cut ready to be viewed by family members at a family reunion on July 31 in Hood River, Ore., the Yasui clan’s “furusato.” She said also plans to include some newly shot footage of her Aunt Yuka.
The play, meantime, is (working) titled “Citizen Min.” She said this summer she plans to have a reading of the play here in Los Angeles, with details to come later.
So, as the centennial birthday of Min Yasui approaches, there are many moving parts that are coming together. Personally, I think it’s great that so many more people, especially younger people who’ve not heard of Min Yasui, yet are his beneficiaries, will get the chance to learn about what he accomplished.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at George@NikkeiNation.com. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2015 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.