Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Chris Tashima Stars in Lil Tokyo Reporter, Set to Screen at Film Festivals in Eugene, Or., Sacramento, and LA

Lil Tokyo Reporter, starring Academy award winner Chris Tashima (Visas and Virtue, Day of Independence, Model Minority), Keiko Agena (“Gilmore Girls”) and Eijiro Ozaki (Letters From Iwo Jima), is screening at the 8th Annual DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon Bijou Arts Cinemas, 492 E 13th Ave., Eugene, OR, on Saturday, April 27th at 5pm; the 9th Annual Sacramento International Film Festival at the Delta King Hotel, 1000 Front St., Sacramento, CA, on Sunday, April 28th at 2:30pm; and the 29th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival CGV Cinemas, Theatre 2, 621 S. Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, on Sunday, May 12th at 3pm.

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo courtesy of Lil Tokyo Reporter

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo courtesy of Lil Tokyo Reporter

Tashima portrays the title character in Lil Tokyo Reporter, a narrative short film based on the true life struggles of Sei Fujii, immigrant pioneer, leader, and publisher.

Jeffrey Gee Chin directed Lil Tokyo Reporter, with a screenplay written by Guinevere Turner (American Psycho), based on the research of executive producer Fumiko Carole Fujita and the Little Tokyo Historical Society.

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo courtesy of Lil Tokyo Reporter

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo courtesy of Lil Tokyo Reporter


Filmed in downtown Los Angeles, Lil Tokyo Reporter is a narrative short film inspired by the life and major community contributions of historic newspaper publisher, Sei Fujii. The story takes place in 1935 Little Tokyo, where Fujii confronts the corruption that threatens the livelihood of his community.

“The purpose of this film is to help open minds to the early historical contributions of Asian American pioneers,” said the film’s director, Jeffrey Gee Chin.

Although Sei Fujii was one of the most pinnacle civil rights leaders in the early 20th century, Lil Tokyo Reporter highlights his journey away from his political contributions, and delves into his interpersonal journey to defend and promote his deteriorating community during the Great Depression.

Chin and Executive Producer Fumiko Carole Fujita have created this moving tribute to the remarkable life achievements of Sei Fujii who came from Japan in 1903 and graduated from USC Law School in 1911, but could not become a lawyer because he was not allowed to become a citizen. He teamed with classmate and civil rights attorney J. Marion Wright to assist the Japanese community on racially discriminatory legal problems and issues for over 40 years. In 1931, Fujii began publishing The Kashu Mainichi (California Daily News), a Japanese/English bilingual newspaper, founded to inform, unite and celebrate the Japanese American community.

8th Annual DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon
The 8th Annual DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, held at Bijou Arts Cinemas, 492 E 13th Ave., Eugene, OR 97401. Lil Tokyo Reporter’s film festival premiere will be on Sat, April 27, 5pm. www.disorientfilm.org

9th Annual The Sacramento International Film Festival
The 9th Annual Sacramento International Film Festival at the Delta King Hotel in Old Sacramento, 1000 Front St., Sacramento, CA 95814, will have a double feature of Chris Tashima, who will be on hand to represent Lil Tokyo Reporter, which screens on Sunday, April 28, 2:30pm; and followed by Lily Mariye’s multiple award-winning Model Minority. www.sacramentofilmfestival.com

Lily Mariye's Model Minority (photo courtesy of Nice Girl Films)

Lily Mariye’s Model Minority (photo courtesy of Nice Girl Films)

The film stars Nichole Bloom as Kayla, an underprivileged Japanese American girl with a drug addict mom (Jessica Tuck) and an alcoholic dad (Tashima), who endangers her promising future as an artist when she becomes involved with a drug dealer (Delon De Metz). Laura Innes, Helen Slater, Takayo Fisher, Courtney Mun and Marc Anthony Samuel are also featured, along with music by three-time Grammy nominee, saxophonist Boney James.

29th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
The 29th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival at the Directors Guild of America, CGV Cinemas, and The Art Theatre of Long Beach. The film festival, produced by Visual Communications, the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts center, continues to be the largest festival of its kind in Southern California and is the premier showcase for the best and brightest of Asian American and Asian international cinema. Lil Tokyo Reporter screening is on Sun, May 12, 3pm, CGV Cinemas, Theatre 2, 621 S. Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90005; includes Q&A session with actors and filmmakers. www.asianfilmfestla.org/2013/

Lil Tokyo Reporter was produced by Mayon Denton and Michael Iinuma in association with Visual Communications and the Little Tokyo Historical Society. The team was also sponsored by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and the Terasaki Foundation.

Chris Tashima (Photo by Lia Chang)

Chris Tashima (Photo by Lia Chang)


About Chris Tashima:
Academy award winning director and actor Chris Tashima can currently be seen in Jeffrey Gee Chin’s narrative short Lil Tokyo Reporter as Sei Fujii, an immigrant pioneer, leader and publisher and in Lily Mariye’s impressive debut feature Model Minority, in which he gives a rich multi-layered performance as the Sansei alcoholic father.

He has appeared in several noted independent features including Rea Tajiri’s Strawberry Fields, starring Suzy Nakamura, and Sherwood X. Hu’s Lani Loa -The Passage (from executive producers Francis Ford Coppola and Wayne Wang), as well as Hu’s ensemble drama, On the Roof.

Tashima received an Academy Award® for the dramatic short film, Visas and Virtue, which he directed, co-wrote and starred as Holocaust rescuer Chiune Sugihara. For television, he directed, co-wrote and acted in the PBS Special, Day of Independence, receiving an EMMY® nomination. Visas and Virtue and Day of Independence is available on DVD and can be found here.

Directorial stage credits include world premiere’s of Dan Kwong’s Be Like Water at EWP, and Nihonmachi: The Place to Be, a musical tribute to the history of Japantowns, produced by the Grateful Crane Ensemble.

Below are excerpts of a chat I had with Chris, last year in New York at the Asian American International Film Festival.

Chris gives the 411 on Jeffrey Gee Chin’s Lil Tokyo Reporter
Jeffrey Gee Chin directed Lil Tokyo Reporter, with a screenplay written by Guinevere Turner (American Psycho), based on the research of executive producer Fumiko Carole Fujita and the Little Tokyo Historical Society. In addition to Tashima, Lil Tokyo Reporter stars Eijiro Ozaki, Ikuma Ando, Keiko Agena, and Sewell Whitney.

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo courtesy of Lil Tokyo Reporter

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo courtesy of Lil Tokyo Reporter

Chris: Lil Tokyo Reporter is a wonderful narrative short film that I’m really excited to be a part of. It’s right now in post-production. We filmed it over a week last year. Now it’s getting the score and visual effects.

It’s about a real life Issei pioneer named Sei Fujii. He was very active in the Japanese American community in the 20’s and 30’s, all the way up to the 50’s. I knew nothing of him, in fact, I had not heard of him until the filmmaker Jeffrey Gee Chin, came to me and said, ‘I’m making this film that I want you to be in.’ It’s amazing how many stories we don’t know about. But a person of this significance.

The reason he was discovered by the filmmaker, was because the Little Tokyo Historical Society did a story on the Japanese Hospital, which I believe was founded in 1929 for the local Japanese community to get medical needs fulfilled because of either language differences, cultural differences, dietary, all these needs that they weren’t getting from regular hospitals. Sei Fujii was part of the original founders of the Japanese Hospital. Pretty much everybody in Southern California has family that was there at some point. It’s in East L.A. which had a large Japanese American community. Sei Fujii founded the Kashu Mainichi, which was the bilingual California Japanese Daily News, now no longer around, but it was a fairly large publication in California, as a means of bringing the community together, helping them, keeping them informed. He also was the individual who sued the state of California in 1952, to overturn the Alien Land Law which prohibited the Issei, or Japanese immigrants who could not become citizens, from owning land. And he won. And that opened the door to eventually winning citizenship for Japanese immigrants. There’s all these things that he did in between. To learn all of this, and to learn that there was this one man who had done so much and that I had never heard of him, was again, a great need to tell the story.

Although Sei Fujii was one of the most pinnacle civil rights leaders in the early 20th century, Lil Tokyo Reporter highlights his journey away from his political contributions, and delves into his interpersonal journey to defend and promote his deteriorating community during the Great Depression. Fujii vowed to protect his people, defending them in legal cases with Attorney Wright. During the Great Depression, the community united at their first annual pageant parade while Fujii promoted their accomplishments through his new radio program and newspaper.

Chris: So Jeffrey came to me. I had met him several times at different film festivals. He said, ‘Well I have this story that I wrote and I want you to be in it. I immediately said yes. I’ve been consulting with him a lot. It’s his first large narrative work. It’s very ambitious. It’s going to be about half an hour. It’s a period piece, set in 1935 in Little Tokyo, so to recreate that era. To tell a very good dramatic story even though it has got all of this history in it, you still want to do a good story. It’s basically about Fujii in the mid 30’s as a newspaper editor, confronting those challenges about, ‘Do you write about negative things about your own community. If you think in the long run it will help. But if it makes your community look bad or makes individuals look bad. In fact, somebody tried to assassinate Sei Fujii. He was discovered lying in the street with a gun shot wound and was sent to a Japanese hospital. Of course, he didn’t die. But that’s how controversial he was. These kind of things happened back in the 30’s.

Director Jeffrey Gee Chin with his cast on the set of Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo by Reece Carter

Director Jeffrey Gee Chin with his cast on the set of Lil Tokyo Reporter. Photo by Reece Carter


In the narrative that we’re telling, he discovers a gambling den in Little Tokyo and how it is sort of swindling the farmers that are coming to town to drink and gamble. Taking their money, a little bit of extortion, the dark seeder side of Little Tokyo that people didn’t talk about. We met a lot of Nisei, that knew Issei, like their dads who used to go to this gambling joints. And none of them would talk about it. That’s what the film is about.

About The Little Tokyo Historical Society
The Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) focuses on researching and discovering the historical resources, stories, and connections of sites, buildings, and events related to Little Tokyo as an ethnic heritage neighborhood. LTHS is committed to documenting and verifying history of locales, sites, and buildings, as well as preserving and sharing the history and personal stories of Little Tokyo and its residents.

LTHS was formed in 2006 by members of the Little Tokyo community to commemorate the Nikkei history and heritage through various means such as: archival collections, photos, exhibits, lectures and workshops, and gallery. Although other organizations documenting Japanese American history exist, LTHS narrows its focus by concentrating on the history of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, rather than the larger scope of Japanese Americans nationwide.

LTHS operates as a volunteer organization, comprised of members from the Little Tokyo community including nonprofit employees, business owners, and residents.

Other Articles by Lia Chang
World Premiere Screening of Lil Tokyo Reporter Starring Chris Tashima at Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, September 14-16, 2012
Video: Academy Award Winner Chris Tashima Talks About His Roles in Lily Mariye’s Model Minority and Lil Tokyo Reporter
Meet Lil Tokyo Reporter’s Star Chris Tashima and Director Jeffrey Gee Chin at the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Booth at the 72nd Annual LA Nisei Week Japanese Festival on August 18, 2012
Lily Mariye’s Model Minority, Jayshree Janu Kharpade’s Fire in Our Hearts, Eliaichi Kimaro’s A Lot Like You, Vincent Sandoval’s Señorita, and Liang Cheng’s My Spiritual Medicine among AAIFF’12 Award Winners
AAIFF’12: Lily Mariye’s Model Minority, starring Jessica Tuck, Nichole Bloom, Chris Tashima, Helen Slater, Laura Innes and Takayo Fisher, screens at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas on August 4, 2012
35th Asian American International Film Festival Line-up in New York
Two-Time Grammy Nominated Hiroshima Kicks off 2013 Spring Tour at The Laguna Playhouse, with Special Guest Taiko Master Kenny Endo on April 15, 2013
Photos: All-Access Pass to Disney’s Aladdin at The Muny with Thom Sesma, Francis Jue, Robin De Jesus, John Tartaglia, Jason Graae, Curtis Holbrook, Eddie Korbich, Samantha Massell and Ken Page
Performing Arts Images from the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection on Display at the Library of Congress to Celebrate APA Heritage Month
Photos: Yellow Fever Playwright Rick Shiomi Explores New Territory with An All-Female Cast
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2013 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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