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Words, Weavings and Songs (film)

DVD cover. Courtesy of the Japanese American National Museum
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

2002 documentary film profiling three Nisei women who drew on their experiences as teenagers in American concentration camps to pursue different types of creative expression both in camp and afterwards. The three artists featured are writer, playwright, and painter Wakako Yamauchi , weaver Momo Nagano , and singer Mary Nomura . A project of the Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center at the Japanese American National Museum , Words, Weavings & Songs was produced and directed by John Esaki and was funded in part by a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program .

Each of the three roughly ten minute segments includes an interview with the subject and a granddaughter, recollections of the World War II period and their families' removal and incarceration, and examples of their art. Yamauchi's section, titled "Artist in a Homemade Dress" begins the film. (The title is a reference to her being in Chicago after leaving camp and wearing homemade dresses that, in her own words, made her look like "a little country bumpkin.") She recalls her removal from Oceanside, California to the Poston , Arizona concentration camp. While leafing through an old photo album, she talks about leaving camp for Chicago. In contemporary footage, we see her walking from her Gardena home to the local McDonalds where she meets with a large group of Nisei that call themselves the "McDonald's Seniors." She talks about the influence of the New Yorker on her writing, of submitting the short story "And the Soul Shall Dance" to the young editors of the pioneering Asian American anthology Aiiieeeee! in the 1970s, and we see clips of a 1977 television production of the play version of Soul .

The second segment focuses on Momo Nagano. It begins with her young grand-daughter Hana van der Steur describing her as "eccentric," leading each to laughter. The segment is titled "30th Street Gang Girl," after the southwest Los Angeles neighborhood she grew up in. We see contemporary footage of the "30th Street Gang"—a group of Nagano's Nisei friends—reminiscing about their childhoods, and Nagano walks the neighborhood, touring the old house her family had lived in. At the house, she recalls both fun times in the neighborhood and the memory of her father, a community leader and businessman, being arrested by FBI agents who came to the house on the night of December 7. Nagano talks about life at Manzanar , and recalls her work on the camouflage net project at Manzanar, which she believes may have piqued her interest in weaving. She talks about pursuing her art even as a single mother of four children. The segment ends with Nagano at a contemporary exhibition of her weavings.

The final segment focuses on Mary Nomura, whom her grand-daughter Erin Nomura calls "glamourous." Titled "Songbird of Manzanar," Nomura's nickname, the segment includes contemporary footage of her singing as well as her visiting the Manzanar site. She recalls her aspiration of singing on the radio as a child and of getting the opportunity to sing at Manzanar. She also talks about meeting her future husband, Shi Nomura, in camp. Later, she tours the Eastern California Museum , in which Shi had put together an exhibition on Manzanar that includes two records Mary recorded while in camp. She talks about her post-war social group, the So-Phis, her and Shi's grocery store business, and Shi's wish to have his ashes spread in the Sierras upon his death. The segment ends with Mary and her family singing karaoke.

Authored by Brian Niiya

Might also like California's Gold with Huell Howser: Songbird of Manzanar (2005); The Art of Gaman: The Story Behind the Objects (2010); Days of Waiting: The Life and Art of Estelle Ishigo (1990)

Media Details
Release Date 2002
Runtime 34 minutes
Director John Esaki
Producer John Esaki
Starring Wakako Yamauchi (interviewee), Alyctra Matsushita (interviewee), Momo Nagano (interviewee), Hana van der Steur (interviewee), Sho Nakashima (interviewee), Dan Kwong (interviewee), Mary Nomura (interviewee), Erin Nomura (interviewee)
Music David Iwataki
Cinematography Akira Boch
Editing Akira Boch
Studio Japanese American National Museum