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Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience (film)

Masters of Modern Design profiles five Japanese American artists who made their mark on the postwar art world: Ruth Asawa , S. Neil Fujita , George Nakashima , Isamu Noguchi , and Gyo Obata. Using archival footage and stills along with interviews with the artists and their children, the film looks at their lives, the impact of their wartime incarceration, and their impact as artists in various media, focusing on the 1950s and 1960s. David Iwataki composed the period jazz soundtrack.

The origins of documentary stem from an article by design critic Alexandra Lange about Japanese American designers and artists who had been incarcerated during World War II that appeared in Curbed in January 2017. Lange subsequently pitched doing a documentary film version of the article to the producers of Artbound , an arts and culture television series developed by PBS SoCal. The producers liked the idea and contracted a team from the Watase Media Arts Center of Japanese American National Museum (JANM) to collaborate on the documentary in September 2018. Most of the interviews for the film were shot in October and November of 2018. Director Akira Boch cited the shoot in New Hope, Pennsylvania, at the headquarters of George Nakashima Woodworkers, as a highlight. [1]

Masters of Modern Design became the first episode of Artbound' s tenth season, airing on May 15, 2019. The film subsequently won a 2020 Los Angeles Area Emmy Award in the Arts category. [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Ruth Asawa: Of Forms and Growth (1978); Designing the Path: Japanese American Architect, Gyo Obata (2014); The Art of Gaman: The Story Behind the Objects (2010)


  1. Alexandra Lange website, ; Richard Hicks, "Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience," First & Central: The JANM Blog, , both accessed on Mar. 4, 2021.
  2. "Winner of the 2020 Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards Announced," July 18, 2020, .
Media Details
Release Date 2019
Runtime 56 minutes
Director Akira Bosch
Producer Matthew Crotty
Starring Addie Lanier (interviewee), Aiko Cuneo (interviewee), Ruth Asawa (interviewee), Gyo Obata (interviewee), Kiku Obata (interviewee), Mira Nakashima (interviewee), George Nakashima (interviewee), Dakin Hart (interviewee), Amy Lyford (interviewee), Kenji Fujita (interviewee), Tom Wolf (interviewee), Brian Niiya (interviewee), Karen L. Ishizuka (interviewee), Marilyn Chase (interviewee), Kay Sekimachi (interviewee), Kimi Kodani Hill (interviewee), Kris Kuramitsu (interviewee), Shoji Sadao (interviewee), Mitchell T. Maki (interviewee), Jonathan Laib (interviewee), Staci Steinberger (interviewee), Alexandra Lange (interviewee), Steve Heller (interviewee), Bubba Jackson (interviewee), Paul Lanier (interviewee)
Music Dave Iwataki
Cinematography Akira Boch
Editing Evan Kodani
Studio KCETLink and The Watase Media Arts Center, JANM