Digital Histories Fellow NK Nakamura Profiled

Photo: Gary Gabisan

Photo: Gary Gabisan

CONNIE OH: Give us a brief introduction of yourself (Where are you from? Where are you now? Did you have any background in filmmaking prior to Digital Histories? Any hobbies or interests?)
NJ NAKAMURA: I grew up and still live in the San Fernando Valley. I am a sansei (third-generation Japanese American) and unfortunately, I do not speak or understand the Japanese language. After more than 40 years of oncology nursing, I finally retired on July 1, 2016. Though I don’t have a filmmaking background, I have always enjoyed taking photographs. I probably have over a dozen photo albums of family vacations and of social events. I also enjoy writing articles and did so for the Rafu Shimpo and for the newsletter at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center. My hobbies are always changing. Right now I am taking Japanese doll making (Kimekomi) - 4 years, a Japanese cooking class - 18 years, classical Japanese dance lessons - 2 years and I continue to volunteer for the Nisei Week Hospitality committee-16 yrs.

What is your favorite film? Who is your favorite filmmaker?
My favorite filmmaker is Nora Ephron, who passed away a few years ago. Some of her “feel good” films are SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, YOU”VE GOT MAIL, and the cooking movie JULIE AND JULIA. I especially like to relax with comedies and I enjoy watching the actresses Diane Keaton and Meg Ryan. I do not enjoy scary movies.

How did you first learn about Digital Histories? What drew you to the program?
I attended a screening to see Christy Ishimine’s documentary about the Obon Jivers. After viewing her film, I immediately knew that I wanted to try filmmaking. Unfortunately, I had to wait several years to do so because I was working fulltime and the filmmaking classes were on Tuesday mornings. When I was informed that the classes would be held on Saturday mornings, I couldn’t wait to apply for admission. I am still grateful to Francis Cullado, for allowing me to join the class at the start of the second quarter.

What was your film from the 2016 Digital Histories cycle about? Why were you drawn to this topic?
I chose to make a documentary about Japanese cooking because I already attended a cooking class. Since that was my very first attempt at filmmaking, I wanted to eliminate as many obstacles as possible. I had the eager cooperation of my cooking instructor, my classmates, and I already understood how the cooking lessons were conducted.

Photo: David Osako

Photo: David Osako

What is your favorite moment in your film?
Having dinner at the Musashi Japanese restaurant is shown in the intro of my film. I especially enjoyed ordering and eating from the huge bento box container while my classmate, David Osako, held the video camera.

What was it like to see your film premiere on the big screen at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival?
I never, ever expected a simply filmmaking class to evolve into such a big production. I was truly humbled that my first little short film would be in a FILM FESTIVAL, and then be screened at the prestigious ARATANI THEATER and that I would then be photographed on the RED CARPET at the “step and repeat” banner. It was VIP treatment that is usually reserved for career filmmakers, yet I received it too! What a thrilling way to begin my “Golden Years.”

Any funny behind-the-scene stories about the process of making your film?
While speaking into my computer to add narration, I was rudely interrupted by my cuckoo clock, which drowned out my voice. That bird chirped twelve times, since it was high noon.

What are your favorite parts of the filmmaking process? What are the biggest challenges?
The best part of filmmaking is the editing process. It may have been time consuming, but it was fascinating to clip here and there, juggle the time sequence, adjust the storyline and then add narration and music. However, all those editing adjustments had me reshooting some of the scenes. The biggest challenge was to keep the film within the required 5 minutes and that included the rolling credits. I was forced to cut out so many appetizing and mouthwatering scenes. Did that make for a better, finished product?

As a senior filmmaker, what do you personally think is the value of a program like Digital Histories?
The values of the DH class allows the senior to maintain an alert mind, pursue and fulfill the fantasy of filmmaking, feel pampered like a pseudo celebrity at the FILM FESTIVAL and to visually share one’s life experiences and observations. It is really an education for everyone: the filmmaker and the audience.

As fellow Digital Histories artists Steve Nagano, Michi Tanioka, David Osako, Glen Kanemoto, and George Takaki listen in, director NJ Nakamura talks about the making of her film COOK IT YOURSELF. (Photo: Brandon Okumura)

As fellow Digital Histories artists Steve Nagano, Michi Tanioka, David Osako, Glen Kanemoto, and George Takaki listen in, director NJ Nakamura talks about the making of her film COOK IT YOURSELF. (Photo: Brandon Okumura)

Any words of advice for both youth and seniors who are looking to pursue a new path they’ve never taken before?
It can be scary and uncomfortable to try something new. Whether it is learning to snow ski, sing karaoke, backpack camping, or learning to bowl and then joining a bowling team (and then win 1st place in the league), it is an open opportunity for fun. I’ve done all that I’ve mentioned and I have laughed, made new friends and have encouraged others to experience all that they can. As a nurse who has worked closely with cancer patients, I have listened to their regrets and missed opportunities. Instead of thinking, “I’ll skip it this time,” maybe you should think about being more willing to say, “okay, I’ll give it a try.”

If time and budget were not a constraint, what would your dream film be about?
My next film project will be about Japanese classical dancing. It would be wonderful to film parts of Japan, to attend and film a live Kabuki performance, to film the Geisha and Maiko performances in Kyoto, and to film the exquisite costumes in Japan. By filming part of the scenes in Japan, I would be able to compare and contrast the experiences in my current Japanese classical dance class. It would also be nice not to be limited to 5 minutes.

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