The Brighter Side of Dark: Toyo Miyatake, 1895–1979 (film)


Title The Brighter Side of Dark: Toyo Miyatake, 1895–1979
Date 1996
Director Robert Nakamura
Producer Karen Ishizuka
Runtime 28 minutes

A 1996 short documentary film by Robert Nakamura about the life and career of Los Angeles photographer Toyo Miyatake. Through Miyatake's personal and artistic life (he was very much engaged with other modernists of the 1920s and '30s), the film reveals the vibrant artistic and intellectual milieu of Los Angeles's Little Tokyo district prior to World War II as well as the impact Executive Order 9066 and Miyatake's wartime incarceration had on his artistic career. Using a camera lens that he smuggled into the camp at Manzanar where he was incarcerated, Miyatake reconstructed a camera and eventually became the official camp photographer, producing iconic images of camp life and the landscape of the Eastern Sierras. After the war, Miyatake was able to reconstruct his photography business and resume work at his studio in Little Tokyo. For generations, he was the community's most trusted portrait photographer, enlisted for weddings, graduations, and other celebratory milestones in the lives of Japanese Americans.

In a 2009 interview, Nakamura said that the "film was very interesting to me because... [it] broke a lot stereotypes that we had about the early immigrants," going beyond "looking at them as farmers, fishermen and small businessmen in Little Tokyo" to illuminate the prewar Issei art colony in Los Angeles.[1] Nakamura revisited the topic of Miyatake five years later, producing what he called "a much more elaborate documentary" titled Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray for the Japanese American National Museum.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

Footnotes

  1. Interview of Robert Nakamura by Adam Hyman and Pauline Stakelon, May 23, 2009, Los Angeles Film Forum, "Alternative Projections Experimental film in Los Angeles, 1945- 1980," accessed on March 31, 2015 at http://alternativeprojections.com/assets/Uploads/Robert-Nakamura-Oral-History-Transcript.pdf, 102.