Hito Hata: Raise the Banner (film)


Title Hito Hata: Raise the Banner
Date 1980
Director Robert A. Nakamura; Duane Kubo
Producer Duane Kubo
Screenplay Robert A. Nakamura with John Esaki
Story Visual Communications
Starring Mako (Oda); Pat Morita (Yamada); Hiroshi Kashiwagi (Tatsumi); Saachiko (Haru); Tad Horino (Komatsu); Yuki Shimoda (Takagi); Yoko Sugi (Hostess Yoko); Ernest Harada (J.E. Yamaguchi); Shizuko Hoshi (Mrs. Inada)
Music Dan Kuramoto
Cinematography Dale Iwamasa
Editing Alan Kondo
Studio Visual Communications
Runtime 90 minutes
Budget $400,000

Landmark feature film produced by Visual Communications (VC), a Los Angeles based non-profit in 1980. Centering on the life story of an Issei man, Hito Hata was likely the first dramatic feature film about Asian Americans by Asian Americans since the silent film era.

The origins of the film stemmed from a $300,000 grant awarded to VC by the U.S. Department of Education in October 1978 to produce ""television programming for the national audiences about the Asian American experience in the United States."[1] The VC staff collectively decided on the concept for the film and scripted it. Wanting to address both contemporary and historical issues, they decided on a storyline about an elderly Issei bachelor, Oda (played by academy award winning actor Mako), who was threatened with eviction from his Little Tokyo apartment due to the redevelopment of the area, an issue that was then current in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. He tells a young Sansei woman named Linda stories about his life, which are recounted in flashback: working as a railroad and agricultural worker as a young man, the celebration of Nisei Week in the 1930s, and the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Little Tokyo in 1942. Initially uninterested in her heritage, Linda comes around in the end and joins the fight against evictions.

Robert A. Nakamura and Duane Kubo directed the film. Scripting and production planning began in the late summer of 1979 and production began in early 1980. Despite the grant, budget concerns proved to be an issue throughout the making of the movie and its aftermath, with the film eventually going $100,000 over budget, and necessitating a temporary halt in production in May. With the cooperation of the Little Tokyo community, the large scale recreation of the 1935 Nisei Week was filmed with 300 extras from various community organizations. The railroad scenes were shot in Laws, California, using trains from the Laws Railroad Museum. Working around the clock, the filmmakers completed the film in time for its premiere at the Los Angeles Music Center on October 26, 1980. VC toured the film around the country in subsequent months in a series of fundraisers to recoup the debt incurred in its making, a strategy that had the side benefit of building a national Asian American media network.[2]

In January 1981, the national Public Broadcasting Service rejected the film for a nationwide airing citing its length and slow pacing. Despite a letter writing campaign, Hito Hata was never shown nationally, though it aired on many local PBS stations and received a national broadcast on NHK in Japan.[3]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Iwata, Eddie. "The VC Story." Rafu Shimpo, Dec. 20, 1980, 15, 22.

James, David E. "Popular Cinemas in Los Angeles: The Case of Visual Communications." In The Sons and Daughters of Los: Culture and Community in L.A. (Edited by David E. James; Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003):

———. The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Kiyomizu, Ellen. "Hito Hata: Raise the Banner." International Examiner, January 1981, 6–7.

Kotani, Roland. "Raising a Single Banner." Hawaii Herald, April 17, 1981, 7.

Okada, Jun. "'Noble and Uplifting and Boring as Hell': Asian American Film and Video, 1971–1982." Cinema Journal 49.1 (Fall 2009): 20–40.

Footnotes

  1. Hito Hata: Raise the Banner booklet (Los Angeles: Visual Communications, [1980]).
  2. Hito Hata: Raise the Banner booklet; Pacific Citizen, May 2, 1980, 3 and Oct. 24, 1980, 7; Los Angeles Film Forum, "Alternative Projections Experimental film in Los Angeles, 1945- 1980," oral History project, interview of Robert A. Nakamura by Adam Hyman and Pauline Stakelon, May 23, 2009, 70–76, accessed on April 12, 2015 at http://alternativeprojections.com/assets/Uploads/Robert-Nakamura-Oral-History-Transcript.pdf; Renee Tajima, "Moving the Image: Asian American Independent Filmmaker 1970–1990," in Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts, edited and introduced by Russell Leong (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, Inc. 1991), 22.
  3. Hawaii Herald, May 1, 1981, 10; Nakamura oral history, 76.