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A Song for Ourselves (film)

2009 documentary film by writer/director Tadashi Nakamura on the life and work of activist, singer/songwriter, and legal scholar Chris Iijima . The 35 minute film profiles Iijima, starting with footage from his memorial services in Los Angeles, New York and Honolulu, then traces his life from his birth and upbringing in New York, the son of Nisei parents who had resettled there from the concentration camps; his politicization and activism there; the evolution of his singing, songwriting, and musical partnership with Nobuko Miyamoto and "Charlie" Chin; his work as a schoolteacher in New York and meeting his future wife Jean; his decision to go to law school and become a legal scholar, which necessitated moving his family to Hawai'i and teaching at the Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai'i; and his premature death of a rare disease at age 57 in 2005. The documentary is built around interviews with Iijima and his family and friends, archival photographs and footage of the Iijima family, the Asian American Movement, and of Iijima's musical performances. Its soundtrack features the music of Iijima, Miyamoto, and Chin, who performed and recorded as "Yellow Pearl" in the early 1970s. It is the third film of director Nakamura's Asian American Movement trilogy, along with Yellow Brotherhood (2004) and Pilgrimage (2006).

The film had its origins in Nakamura's familial connections to Iiijima through his parents, acclaimed filmmakers Robert A. Nakamura and Karen L. Ishizuka. Nakamura became personally acquainted with Iijima while attending a UCLA/University of Hawai'i summer program. Upon Iijima's untimely passing in 2005, Nakamura was asked to do a video for his memorial service, which led to the fuller documentary, which took two years to complete. [1]

The film received positive reviews. Charles Burkhart of Educational Media Reviews Online praised the film's animation and technical aspects and called it "an interesting and moving biography"; the Angry Asian Man blog called it "a wonderful, moving portrait of an artist and champion of social justice"; Momo Chang of Hyphen Magazine called it "a moving tribute"; and Jack David Eller of Anthropology Review Database called it "a loving tribute." The film has played numerous film festivals where it has won multiple awards. [2]

The film was released on DVD, which includes footage from Iijima's Los Angeles memorial service, extended interviews with Iijima and with his mother, noted activist Kazu Iijima, and additional photographs and music.

The primary funders for the film were Center for Asian American Media with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program .

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice (1993); When You're Smiling: The Deadly Legacy of Internment (1999); Good Luck Soup (2016)


  1. Warren Kenji Berkey, "Political Voices: Documenting Chris Iijima," Asia Pacific Arts, Feb. 20, 2009, accessed on February 2, 2013 at .
  2. Charles Burkart, "Educational Media Reviews Online," June 17, 2010, ; Angry Asian Man blog, Feb. 16, 2009, ; Momo Chang, Hyphen Magazine, Issue 17 (2009), ; Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database, Nov. 23, 2010, , all accessed on February 2, 2013. For a list of awards, see Nakamura's film website, .
Media Details
Release Date 2009
Runtime 35 minutes
Director Tadashi Nakamura
Producer Karen L. Ishizuka
Writer Tadashi Nakamura
Starring "Charlie" Chin, <a href="/wiki/Warren_Furutani" title="Warren Furutani">Warren T. Furutani</a>, Alan Iijima, Chris Iijima, Christopher Iijima, Jane Dickson Iijima, Kazu Iijima, Tak Iijima, Mari Matsuda, Nobuko Miyamoto
Music Chris Iijima
Cinematography Tadashi Nakamura
Editing Tadashi Nakamura
For More Information

For More Information

Official website (including streaming version of full film): .

A Song for Ourselves Blog.

A Song for Ourselves at the Center for Asian American Media website.

A Song for Ourselves at the Third World Newsreel website.

Berkey, Warren Kenji. " Political Voices: Documenting Chris Iijima. " Asia Pacific Arts, Feb. 20, 2009.

Ito, Robert. " Tadashi Nakamura Completes His Documentary Trilogy about Asian Americans. " Los Angeles Times , February 28, 2009.