bruce kaji on screen“Freeway City,” a documentary that was 10 years in the making, played to a full house at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on March 26. Filmmaker Max Votolato describes it as “the untold L.A. story of a small Southern California suburb with a big American Dream … a provocative case study of how the collision of race, politics and casino economics shaped the destiny of Gardena, Calif.” Interviewees include Bruce Kaji (on screen), former city treasurer; Ron Ikejiri, former city councilmember; and Gary Kohatsu of The Gardena Valley News. “Freeway City” was completed in 2015, coinciding with the 85th anniversary of Gardena’s incorporation.

votolato:o'neal:yamashiroWith GVJCI’s Michelle Yamashiro serving as moderator, Votolato and executive producer Brian O’Neal, a Gardena High School grad and musician (founder of The BusBoys) who also composed the soundtrack, discussed the film, which can be viewed online at

muratsuchi-nakaoka-bannai-dearParticipants in the discussion included (from left) Grant Nakaoka, former city councilmember and son of the late former mayor Ken Nakaoka; Al Muratsuchi, former assemblymember; Paul Bannai, former city councilmember and former assemblymember; and Jim Dear, former mayor of Carson, whose brother Don served as mayor of Gardena. Nakaoka and Bannai appear in the film. Many attendees said the documentary — which covers the city’s history from its agricultural roots to its status as “Poker Capital of the World” to the role of the Japanese American community — brought back fond memories of people and places from Gardena’s past.

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

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