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Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts, Anyway? (film)

Experimental documentary film by Janice Tanaka that centers on her finding and reuniting with a father and an uncle—one diagnosed as mentally ill and the other conventionally successful—neither of whom she had seen since childhood.

An artist and experimental filmmaker, Tanaka had gained acclaim for earlier experimental films, including one about her mother titled Memories from the Department of Amnesia . Her father had left the family during World War II, and after their incarceration at Manzanar , she and her brother grew up in Chicago with their mother, who refused to speak of the wartime events and lived a life outside of the Japanese American community. After her mother's death in 1988, Tanaka redoubled efforts to find the father whom she hadn't seen since age three. Institutionalized in the Los Angeles area in a halfway house for the mentally ill, Jack Koto Tanaka's caseworker had coincidentally sought to help him find his family as well and tracked down Jack's brother, Togo Tanaka . Togo found Janice and the trio reunited. Janice Tanaka told journalist Susan King that "after seeing him for the first time it was too much" and that "I started to cry and didn't stop for three days." Once they had started to develop a relationship, she started videotaping him and gave his a video camera as well. Working with adult children, David and Rebecca Gallardo, she began working on Donuts . The video ultimately cost $143,000, with funding coming from a National Endowment for the Arts Western Regional Media Arts Fellowship and grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association, and the Rockefeller Foundation. [1]

Narrated in the first person voice of Tanaka, Donuts proceeds more or less chronologically starting with her hopes of finding her father after her mother's death and the little she had known about him to that point. In her first encounter with him, she shows him pictures of himself with his wife and Janice as a toddler, and he doesn't recognize himself or her, though he does remember his children's names. These interviews contrast with those with Togo, whose recollections of his early life are precise and detailed. (Though some of Togo's personal history is noted, his significance as a historical figure is mostly not.) As time goes on, more of Jack's memory seems to return. David and Rebecca enter the scene, and the camera follows the evolving relationships among the reunited family members. By the end, Togo and Jack chat about old acquaintances. The video ends with Becky's wedding and with Jack reading from the presidential apology accompanying his redress check. The title refers to an episode in which Jack escapes from an institution and gets a job as a deliveryman for a bakery. Left with extra donuts at the end of his route, he would deliver them to the police station, then later bill them at the end of the month. As Janice drolly observes, "I would like to believe he was collecting redress long before it was a political issue."

Though much of the film uses relatively conventional documentary film techniques, film scholar Peter X. Feng notes that "[e]xperimental video techniques highlight the segments that depict the disorientation of Jack's illness as well as the cultural dimensions of his behavior." Jun Okada argues that "[t]hough its subject matter is an individual's recollection of the trauma of the Japanese American internment, and therefore makes a nod to the genre of documentary, Tanaka's film problematizes the very assumption of documentary and nonfiction film to represent so-called reality."

Donuts is one of the most acclaimed films that addresses the concentration camp experience and is a favorite of film scholars, who often write about it in concert with Rea Tajiri's History and Memory , another personal diary type film that uses experimental techniques to try to fill the gaps in a parents' memory of the wartime incarceration. Writing about both films, Marita Sturken cites "countermemories to official historical narratives" where "memory is not about retrieval as much as it is about retelling and reconstruction. It is about acknowledging the impossibility of knowing what really happened, and a search for a means of telling."

Donuts received a national PBS airing as part of the POV series, debuting on June 22, 1993.(Tanaka had to cut four minutes from the 58-minute running time for the PBS screening.) It has also appeared in many film festivals and exhibitions in subsequent years. [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Family Gathering (1988); The Cats of Mirikitani (2006); From a Silk Cocoon (2005)


  1. Peter X. Feng, Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), 72; Susan King, "Focus: Closing Her Circle: Daughter Finds a Father Lost During the '40s Internment," Los Angeles Times , June 20, 1993, ; and Janice Tanaka website, , both accessed on August 10, 2016.
  2. PBS POV page, , accessed on August 10, 2016. For a list of awards and exhibitions, see Tanaka's website.
Media Details
Release Date 1992
Runtime 58 minutes
Director Janice Tanaka
Producer Janice Tanaka
Narrator Janice Tanaka
Starring Togo Tanaka, Jack Koto Tanaka, Janice Tanaka, David Gallardo, Rebecca Gallardo
Music Douglas Lofstrom
Editing Suzanne Mitus-Uribe
Studio Fo Fum Productions
For More Information

For More Information

Filmmaker's website: .

Feng, Peter X. Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

King, Susan. " Focus: Closing Her Circle: Daughter Finds a Father Lost During the '40s Internment. " Los Angeles Times , June 20, 1993.

Mimura, Glen M. Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Ono, Kent A. "Re/Membering Spectators: Meditations on Japanese American Cinema." In Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism. Edited by Darrell Y. Hamamoto and Sandra Liu. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000. 129–49.

Payne, Robert M. " Visions of Silence ." Jump Cut 41 (May 1997): 67–76.

Sturken, Marita. "The Politics of Video Memory: Electronic Erasures and Inscriptions." In Screening Asian Americans . Edited and with an introduction by Peter X Feng. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. 173–84.

Xing, Jun. Asian American Through the Lens: History, Representation, and Identities . Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1998.