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Designing the Path: Japanese American Architect, Gyo Obata (film)


Japanese-produced documentary film profiling Nisei architect Gyo Obata.

Designing the Path is structured around an interview of Obata by Japanese journalist Seijun Ninomiya, who goes to Obata's home outside St. Louis. The ninety-one year old Obata gives a tour of the home and then covers his life story: his childhood in San Francisco as the son of two artists; his family's wartime incarceration; leaving the coast to attend Washington University in St. Louis and Cranbrook Academy of Art; beginning his architectural career with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago; coming back to St. Louis to work for fellow Nisei Minoru Yamasaki , taking over his St. Louis office when Yamasaki fell ill; starting Hellmuth, Obata & Kassbaum (HOK); and HOK's rise to international prominence including visits to the St. Louis Abbey (1955) their first major commission, the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution (1976), Camden Yards (1992), and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) (2000). The film ends with a profile of Obata's family, including his four children, all of whom enter artistic fields. Obata's recollections are augmented by narration, historic photographs, and comic book-like illustrations and animations.

Though Obata himself did not go to a concentration camp during World War II—through his father's connections as a University of California professor, he was able get clearance to leave for St. Louis just prior to the roundup—his family was incarcerated, first at Tanforan Assembly Center , then at Topaz . The film discusses his father Chiura Obata setting up art schools at both camps and Chiura being assaulted by fellow inmates at Topaz. It also includes many samples of Chiura's artistic renderings of his incarceration. We also learn more about the conditions in the camps through a visit to JANM.

Designing the Path was one of several films on aspects of the Japanese American experience produced and funded by Nitto Tires in the 2010s.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Journey to Washington: On the Trail of Senator Daniel Inouye Japanese American Pioneer (2013); You Don't Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story (2009); Ruth Asawa: Of Forms and Growth (1978)

Media Details
Release Date 2014
Runtime 49 minutes
Director Takeshi Katsumura
Producer Masaaki Arai
Narrator Charles Glover
Starring Seijun Ninomiya (interviewer), Chiura Obata (interviewee), Clement Hanami (interviewee), Kerry Yo Nakagawa (interviewee), Kiku Obata (interviewee), Nori Obata (interviewee), Max Obata (interviewee)