8Books Review: “The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii”

The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii, Artists and Wartime Witness brings Fujii’s art to a broader audience with the stunning pages from a diary he kept while incarcerated during World War II. Written by Barbara Johns and with an introduction by the artist’s grandson Sandy Kita, this book offers a historical, art historical, and also deeply personal insight on to Takuichi Fujii. The first half delves into Fujii’s biography, providing an overview of his life in Seattle and the position of Japanese issei artists within the West Coast art scene, before delving into his family’s forced relocation first to the detention camp in Puyallup, Washington, and then to Minidoka, Idaho. The author also provides a as thorough an accounting of Fujii’s career and life work as possible.

But the gem of this book is the reproduction of Fujii’s diary that takes up the second half. His sketches and their accompanying notes (diary entires of a sort) provide a detailed look at life inside a Japanese internment camp and the emotional turmoil of that experience. The text ranged from a simple description to more of a thought out musing. It’s very poetic in styling and voice. All told, the works provide an intimate portrait of this life behind barbed wire fences. The Hope of Another Spring offers an issei artist’s perspective to our understanding of Japanese American’s wartime incarceration, while also bringing a valuable study of Fujii and his artistic journey and long career.

8Books Review: “Heroine Worship” by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn is the riveting sequel to Heroine Complex, starring not just one, but two badass Asian American superheroines. You may or may not recall that I loved Heroine Complex when it came out last summer. The first book in this series followed Evie Tanaka as she morphed from sidekick to full blown superhero with fire throwing powers. Throw in a budding romance thrown in and an at times testy relationship with her best friend, boss, and San Francisco’s beloved superhero Aveda Jupiter, and it’s a thrill of a read. Now in Heroine Worship we switch gears to focus on Aveda, formerly Annie Chang, who is now sharing the spotlight with Evie. We follow Aveda/Annie as she struggles with a demon-less SF, deals with the fact that she’s been a less than great friend to Evie, and where she falls in the Aveda-Annie spectrum. The plot revolves around Evie’s engagement and impending wedding. That backdrop provides all the necessary quirky props, settings, and bridal beasts, but in the end, like the first book, this one is really about Evie and Aveda/Annie’s friendship.

Heroine Worship starts a bit more slowly than its predecessor. And I think it’s only natural that fans of Complex love Evie a little more and Aveda a little less. Aveda spends the first half or so behaving in expected Aveda ways (mostly a belief that she knows best), but in the second half, the novel really takes flight. We get more of Aveda/Annie’s back story, including a wonderful and deep set of scenes with her Chinese parents about expectations, pride, and family. We get a fun and sweet romantic line. We get more feelings (FEELINGS!). And we watch Aveda become comfortable with herself as Annie and what that means. It’s really in that journey that she ultimately enamors herself to us readers.

Heroine Complex is the book I immediately sent to my friends. I have already followed up with them for Heroine Worship, accompanied with the advice, “Keep reading, it’s worth it.” And when you’re done, schedule a viewing of The Heroic Trio.

 

Giveaway: The Little Exile by Jeanette Arakawa

8Asians and Stone Bridge Press are teaming up to give away two copies of Jeanette Arakawa’s The Little Exile.

It’s the story of a Japanese American middle school girl sent to an internment camp during World War II.

As Koji put it a few weeks ago in his review:

The novel is a must read for anyone interested in what it was like in the time after Pearl Harbor for Japanese Americans to what life was like in “camp” and then in the time after they were released. It gives us a peak into the racism and the hate Japanese Americans had to endure during those years—but also the small acts of kindness that they also experienced too. These kinds of stories are important. Not only because they remember the past and tell us the facts, but also because they are able to put a face and a name to what happened—a historical tragedy.

Ok, ok… you want a chance to win? Read on!

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East West Players Announces 52nd Anniversary Season

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theatre of color in the country and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work, is pleased to announce its 52nd Anniversary Season, The Company We Keep, which takes place from Fall 2017 through Summer 2018 and features co-productions with Rogue Artists EnsembleThe Robey Theatre CompanyJapanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, including two world premieres, an acclaimed revival, and the Los Angeles premiere of an award-winning Broadway musical.

“For our 52nd Anniversary Season, I thought a lot about the company we keep—the vital artistic and community partnerships that have supported and nurtured East West Players over the past 52 years. To that end, we are offering something no other theater company is doing: an entire season of co-productions. These extraordinary works reflect on and refract a wide range of Asian Pacific Islander experiences as seen through the lens of gender, race, and sexuality. We don’t shrink or hide. Instead, we stand taller, unafraid, and, most importantly, together. Welcome to The Company We Keep,” says EWP Artistic Director Snehal Desai.

EWP’s 52nd season commences with the world premiere of Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, a special event presented in association with Rogue Artists Ensemble—a collective of multi-disciplinary artists that creates Hyper-theater, an innovative hybrid of theater traditions, puppetry, mask work, dance, music, and modern technology—with support from Venturous Theatre Fund of The Tides Foundation, the Jim Henson Foundation, the Japan Foundation, and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Written by Lisa Dring, Rosie Narasaki, and Chelsea Sutton with Rogue Artists Ensemble, and directed by Rogue’s Artistic Director Sean T. Cawelti, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin is a multi-sensory, site-specific experience refracting ancient Japanese ghost stories through a modern, multi-cultural lens, revealing the noise of our histories and the silences that haunt us. Performances run from October 5 – November 5, 2017 and will be staged at a secret Mid-City, six-story warehouse built in 1927, to be revealed after tickets have been purchased. More information at www.rogueartists.org.

EWP and The Robey Theatre Company—which explores, develops, and produces provocative plays written about the Global Black Experience—present the revival of Yohen, written by Philip Kan Gotanda, directed by The Robey’s Producing Artistic Director Ben Guillory, and starring Danny Glover, with support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation. In Japanese pottery, the term “yohen” refers to unpredictable changes that take place in the kiln. James and Sumi Washington are an interracial couple struggling to maintain their 37-year marriage after James retires from the US Army. The dramatic change in routine prompts questions about life, love, and aging, as the couple attempts to repair what’s broken and decide what is worth saving. Performances run from October 26 – November 19, 2017 at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts at 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. More information at www.eastwestplayers.org and www.robeytheatrecompany.com.

EWP and Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC)—one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the United States and a hub for Japanese and Japanese American arts and culture in Southern California—and by special arrangement with Sing Out, Louise! Productions and ATA, present the Los Angeles premiere of the Broadway musical Allegiance. With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione, Allegiance is inspired by the true childhood experiences of TV/film actor and social media icon George Takei (Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek”). Allegiance tells the story of the Kimura family, whose lives are upended when they and 120,000 other Japanese-Americans are forced to leave their homes following the events of Pearl Harbor. An uplifting testament to the power of the human spirit, Allegiance follows the Kimuras as they fight between duty and defiance, custom and change, family bonds and forbidden loves. Performances run from February 21 – April 1, 2018 at JACCC’s Aratani Theatre at 244 South San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. More information at www.eastwestplayers.org and JACCC.org.

EWP’s 52nd season closes with the world premiere of As We Babble On, presented in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and with support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation. Written by Nathan Ramos, winner of EWP’s “2042: See Change” playwriting contest, As We Babble On explores the pursuit of success, its costs, and conquering the Swedish BIGBOX. Benji, a first-generation Asian American, struggles in New York City to find his voice as his writing career stalls. As the professional paths of his best friend Sheila and his half-sister Laura begin to blossom, he begins to unravel. As We Babble On explores what lengths we are willing to go to realize our dreams, whether morality is tied to upward mobility, and whether boxed wine and soda is an appropriate sangria recipe after the age of 24. Performances run from May 31 – June 24, 2018 at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts at 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. More information at www.eastwestplayers.org and www.lalgbtcenter.org.

Single ticket sales will be announced at a later date. Season subscription options will be forthcoming in June 2017. For additional information about the 52nd season, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org or call (213) 625-7000. Dates, details, and ticket prices are subject to change.

As the nation’s premier Asian American theatre organization, East West Players produces artistic work and educational programs that foster dialogue exploring Asian Pacific Islander (API) experiences. Founded in 1965, at a time when APIs faced limited or no opportunities to see their experiences reflected outside of stereotypical and demeaning caricatures in the American landscape, EWP not only ensures that API stories are told, but works to increase access, inclusion, and representation in the economy.

For more information about East West Players, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org.

8Books Review: “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do is a beautifully drawn and beautifully narrated memoir by Thi Bui. It is the story of her family and how she reckoned with their past, flight from Vietnam, family members lost and found again…and all the whirling emotions that always come with anything that has to do with family.

None other than Viet Thanh Nguyen graces the cover with the recommendation, “a book to break your heart and heal it.” And indeed, his statement captures the complexity that the author tackles head on. She begins with herself, with a preface that talks about the journey of the book, one that began more than 14 years ago. Bui opens the first chapter with her own labor, birthing, and a new appreciation for parenting. From there, she delves backwards into her family’s story, jumping around from their flight from Saigon in the 1970s to memories of her childhood, continually returning to her own experience of raising a child for the first time. Like many memoirs and graphic novels of this style, we are brought fully into the author’s own growing understanding. We too get the past in fragments, slivers of deeper meaning, hidden secrets, and untold stories about parents and children, immigrants and refugees. What do we carry with us, from generation to generation, that we see or don’t see?

 

With a simple color palate of blacks, whites, and reddish orange, Bui’s drawings bring her story to vivid life. I was riveted from the author’s preface to the thank yous at the end; the title bearing a profound resonance by the last page. An excellent addition to the field of illustrated memoirs, refugee stories, and reflections on parenting and family, The Best We Could Do is well worth the read.

8Books: “Absolutely on Music” by Haruki Murakami

murakamiHaruki Murakami’s latest book, Absolutely on Music: Conversations is a deep dive into the world of classical music with his friend, famed classical music conductor Seiji Ozawa. As the title implies, rather than a traditional prose book, this one is a quite literally a compilation and transcript of their conversations.

The two men dive deep into Ozawa’s discography and storied career as a conductor of numerous prominent orchestras. Murakami, a long-time fan of both classical music and Ozawa’s, exposes his own breadth of knowledge (surprising even the conductor with his record collection). Ozawa readily divulges his own insights into music and sound. Throughout, the two expose some of the similarities between the practices of a novelist and a conductor.

Absolutely on Music is crafted more for those who are already interested in classical music. While those without any knowledge of Messiaen or Symphonie fantastique, no doubt will find certain bits in their conversation enlightening and enjoyable, there are countless other moments that dive into how to read scores and musical expressiveness varying between the sounds of orchestras.

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8Books Review: “The Art of Confidence” by Wendy Lee

taocWendy Lee’s latest novel, The Art of Confidence, takes readers through the tale of a single forgery, its making and unmaking. Liu Qingwu is a poor artist hawking goods outside the Met in New York City, when he’s approached by a Chelsea dealer to recreate a work. Little does he know her motivations (to save her aunt’s gallery) or her intended price ($2 million). All he knows is that it is a job, and he long ago failed to become as successful as some of his friends.

As the tale unwinds, Lee takes us through the stories of all the different players, shifting narrative voices between chapters. In one, we hear from Liu. In another, from Caroline Lowry, the gallery owner. Later, from Molly, Caroline’s college best friend’s daughter and now gallery assistant, and from Harold, a Taiwanese businessman intent on buying an expensive piece of art.

Continue reading “8Books Review: “The Art of Confidence” by Wendy Lee”

8Books Review: “The Story of a Brief Marriage” by Anuk Arudpragasam

StoryOfABriefMarriage_Anuk_change_colors_more_yellowThe Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam is a moving and intimate portrait of a man caught up in Sri Lanka’s civil war. Set in and around a refugee camp, this debut novel offers a peek into just a few short days of Dinesh’s life. Arudpragasm delves deep into this one man’s thought process, drawing it out in eloquent and elegant prose. Moments that take but a few seconds traverse multiple pages, yet the book does not feel like it drags on.

The prose captures the disrupted mindsets of one whose life has been completely overturned by war–one of moving from camp to camp and avoiding being drafting. And then the confusions and small joys and larger anxieties of entering into marriage with a stranger. As Dinesh and Ganga’s relationship slowly, sometimes excruciatingly unfolds, the search for human connection is deftly explored and exposed. Continue reading “8Books Review: “The Story of a Brief Marriage” by Anuk Arudpragasam”

8Books Review: “The Cambodian Dancer,” by Daryn Reicherter

cambodian_dancerThe Cambodian Dancer: Sophany’s Gift of Hope is a beautiful children’s picture book about a young Cambodian girl forced to leave her country who finds strength in traditional dance steps. The illustrations are well-done and in a style that matches the spirit of the book’s title character Sophany. Though not written by a Cambodian, it is based on the true story of a friend of the author.

As to be expected, the book only lightly touches on the cause of Sophany’s flight from her country — “The Khmer Rouge are bad” — while focusing more on the struggle to find one self and the reclaiming of culture and identity in her new home in America.

Beginning with Sophany learning dance in Cambodia before leaving the country as a child, the book ends on a lovely note of Sophany teaching other girls traditional Cambodian dance. It quickly covers her growth from child to adult, to then highlight the kind of inter-generational care she shows in establishing a Cambodian community in the United States.

The Cambodian Dancer was recently awarded the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Silver Medal for Non-Fiction Picture Book.

NYC Theater Review: “Aubergine” by Julia Cho

Aubergine August 20, 2016 – October 02, 2016 Mainstage Theater Written by Julia Cho Directed by Kate Whoriskey New York Premiere A man shares a bowl of berries, and a young woman falls in love. A world away, a mother prepares a bowl of soup to keep her son from leaving home. And a son cooks a meal for his dying father to say everything that words can’t. In Julia Cho’s poignant and lyrical new play, the making of a perfect meal is an expression more precise than language, and the medium through which life gradually reveals itself. FEATURING Tim Kang Sue Jean Kim Jessica Love Stephen Park Michael Potts Joseph Steven Yang Scenic Design: Derek McLane Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski Sound Design: M.L. Dogg Production Stage Manager: Cole P. Bonenberger
Stephen Park & Tim Kang, Photo by Joan Marcus

Aubergine, a new play written by Julia Cho, opens today at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. Running through October 2, it’s an emotional story about family, death, and food. Ray’s father is home on hospice with his son Ray, a first-generation Korean American chef, who is struggling with how to manage and how to cope. To notify his father’s brother, he calls on his ex-girlfriend Cornelia to tell him in Korean. When his uncle unexpectedly shows up with a soup recipe, Ray is thrown into new challenges–including a live and very expensive turtle, his own relationship with his father and career as a chef, and an uncle who speaks a different language. Rounding out those who care for Ray’s father is Lucien, the hospice worker, who offers his own perspective on death and the dying, and whose lines provide the play’s title.

Full of depth, Aubergine is a quiet play in many ways, yet it is incredibly moving. Cho deftly deals with that most human of events–dying and death–without being heavy handed. And through it all, food, its meaning flooding memories and interactions. I should say too that this is not a depressing play, despite dealing so intimately with death. “Catharsis” is the word Playwrights’ artistic director uses to describe the feeling. I would call it a kind of fullness, the feeling the audience carries out the door with them. Continue reading “NYC Theater Review: “Aubergine” by Julia Cho”

8Questions: Interview with an Old 8A Friend, Author of ‘Holistic Tarot’ and ‘The Tao of Craft’

2016.08.30 8Asians Joz and Akrypti

Our very own Akrypti has been quite busy since she went on a hiatus from covering APA social politics for 8Asians. She’s taken the tarot world by storm with her first book Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth back in 2015. Since its publication, Holistic Tarot became a bestseller in its category and has gone on to win four prominent book awards.

Now Akrypti—I mean Benebell—is coming out with her second book, one that circles back to her heritage and roots. The Tao of Craft: Fu Talismans and Casting Sigils in the Eastern Esoteric Tradition covers the history and cultural practice of Fu talismans, a form of sigil spell-casting, from its shamanic roots during the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties (roughly 2100 BC to 256 BC) and through its peaks in practice to the suppression and castigation of it during the Qing. More importantly, The Tao of Craft is arguably one of the first books published in the English language to cover the practical and instructional aspects of crafting Fu talismans and East Asian metaphysics, sorcery, and witchcraft.

2016.08.30 8Asians Holistic Tarot and Tao of Craft

At 600 pages, The Tao of Craft is a tome of a book. I sat down with my old friend Akrypti—again, I mean Benebell Wen—to talk about her second publication. The book will be out in stores September 27, but you can pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Penguin Random House, or through your favorite bookstore.

The Tao of Craft

JOZ: So we’ve been good friends and have known each other through 8Asians for over a decade. Yet it was only a few years ago that I learned you were into metaphysical practices. Can you tell me more about that?

BELL: I’ve been into that kind of thing as early as I can remember and read books on these topics as soon as I gained literacy. Prior to the publication of Holistic Tarot, you’re right, I didn’t talk about these interests with others, and post-publication of the tarot book, I was thrust out of the shadows and put in a situation where I had to talk about it to promote my new book. That happened before I was actually ready for it, so it was interesting.

The Tao of Craft, I feel, is relevant to the Asian American community, which is why I think I’m okay with the Akrypti and Benebell link now. It’s relevant not just because I cover esoteric Taoism from a Chinese historic and cultural perspective, but for another funny little reason. You don’t see many Asian Americans writing prominently about esoteric Taoism. By and large publications on this topic are by white men (or native Chinese people who co-author with, you guessed it, white men). Ceremonial magic generally, whether you’re referring to Western mystery traditions or Eastern, is dominated by white men. That in part motivated me to speak up and attempt to have my voice heard in such an arena. I’m also hoping The Tao of Craft will appeal to Asian Americans.

JOZ: Why do you think The Tao of Craft is important for the Asian American community?

BELL: I can only tell you why this book was important for me. It brought me closer to my ethnic and cultural roots. I gained an appreciation for the depth and breadth of Chinese spiritual history. In so many ways, understanding all that I’ve come to understand through the research and writing of The Tao of Craft, I’m even prouder now of my heritage than I was before. For me, there’s something activist about reclaiming long-neglected spiritual traditions. The book is a resource for Asian Americans who want to reconnect with those roots.

To get a taste of the book, check out this appendix, which is a summary of the history of Taoism that I touch upon in The Tao of Craft. You can read more excerpts from the book here.

JOZ: Why do you think Asian Americans, most of whom I presume are not practitioners of Taoist magic, would be interested in this book?

BELL: The bulk of the book is research. It’s about history. We start with Neolithic shamans and archeological findings of oracle bones in northern China and how that became integrated into the talismanic practices of Taoist priests. We touch upon the political activism of Taoist ceremonial magicians during the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Many of the Eight Immortals were historically documented figures that later became mythologized. The legends we grow up with about how the Chinese civilization was founded by the Yellow Emperor involve magical battles and spell-crafting. Magic and esotericism are intertwined with military strategy.

We look at several well-known Taoist magical lineages or mystery traditions and how they influenced Chinese history. Why are Buddhist and Taoist practices often intertwined? What are the origins of the Chinese lunar calendar? To me, the Chinese metaphysical principles of Qi, yin and yang, the Wu Xing, Ba Gua, He Tu and Lo Shu are provocative. As a Chinese/Taiwanese American, The Tao of Craft pays homage to where I come from. To realize that in the nucleus of who I am is this incredible history feels empowering. If for nothing else, this book should be interesting to Asian Americans for the research aspect.

JOZ: Are you afraid that linking your past work under Akrypti with what you’re trying to do now under Benebell Wen will somehow discredit one another? Do you think Asian Americans who resonate with your race politics militancy will be put off by your dabblings in the metaphysical world and fans of your metaphysical work will be put off by your race politics?

BELL: Yes, of course. And it’s bound to happen. The only thing that comforts me, even though it doesn’t really comfort me, is everything I’ve written, whether it was under Akrypti here at 8Asians or now through my books, is authentic and sincere to who I am. Also, those who decide one discredits the other aren’t being rational; they’re being emotional.

JOZ: So are you a full-time writer now?

BELL: No, I am still working as a lawyer full-time, though I’m at work on a third book already and will continue to research and write books on the side. I’m living out that tiger mom’s dream and also my own.

The Tao of Craft

 The Tao of Craft will be released September 27, 2016. You can pre-order now via Amazon.

The publisher is currently running a contest and you can win a free copy of the book before its release date. To enter, check out the details here. Deadline for the contest is September 16.

8Questions with Actor Scott Watanabe

Scott Watanabe in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company, Photo by Scott Barrow
Scott Watanabe in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company, Photo by Scott Barrow

Currently starring in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, Scott Watanabe has had a long career as an actor, including roles in Allegiance and The Phantom of the Opera. In the tradition of 8Asians, we asked him eight questions and he offers some sage advice for those who aspire to the stage.

Tell us a little about yourself, e.g. What’s your background? How did you get into acting?

I was born in 1959 in Los Angeles, California to Japanese American parents from Hawaii. I got involved in acting in junior high school, but spent my high school education in instrumental music. I started university in Hospitality Management while working at Disneyland. Then got involved with the “Drama Club” and “Employee Madrigal Singers” at the park and community theatre in Orange County and found that I enjoyed being back in that world and discovered my singing voice. I gave up business school and went back to school earning a BA in Musical Theatre from California State University, Long Beach.

Following graduation I spent six years with the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, and split my time between the opera season and doing musical theatre and summer stock theatre. I’ve been professionally singing/acting for 30 years, ten of those years in various companies of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

Continue reading “8Questions with Actor Scott Watanabe”