Tomi Fujiyama may be a diminutive figure in her colorful cowboy hats and Western shirts, but she’s got a big voice. As a 19 year-old in 1964, her dream of performing at the Grand Ole Opry came true. Now, 50 years later, the Japanese native of Nagoya returns to Nashville in the documentary “Made in Japan”–hoping to repeat the performance that garnered the only standing ovation five decades earlier, when her act followed legendary Johnny Cash’s.
Along with her taciturn husband, Fujiyama backtracks over trails that she initially traveled in America, taking the viewer along on a road trip to the radio stations, record labels, and recording studios where she was featured. There’s also a trek to Las Vegas where Fujiyama once gigged for 18 months straight resulting in four hospitalizations.
Entertaining American troops on military bases post-WWII, Fujiyama entered show business with her father’s encouragement. For those familiar with Japanese enka, it’s not so farfetched that she shifted from singing that style to American country and western. Both have roots in blues and mostly messages of love gone wrong.
Talking non-stop in Japanese and English (her “howdy neighbors, howdy ya’ll” is hilarious), Fujiyama pokes fun at herself. Upon meeting two well-endowed American women who hug her, she steps back, gazing at their busts and refers to them as Dolly Parton before adding, “I have big one here” and pointing to her plumpish belly.
‘Made In Japan’ was screened earlier this month at the Portland Film Festival.
Boy (Bryan Greenburg as Josh) and girl (Jamie Cheng as Ruby) meet cute in the feature narrative It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong. While bored at a birthday party at an outdoor bar in Hong Kong, Josh is distracted by Ruby stumbling onto his path, lost and looking for her friends at a nearby club. Although he’s white and Jewish, Cantonese-speaking Josh has lived in Hong Kong for 10 years. Ruby, on the other hand, is a true Cali girl from L.A. who happens to be of Chinese descent. She doesn’t seem interested in learning much about her ethnic heritage while she’s in Hong Kong and looks forward to returning to L.A. That is, until Josh offers to help find her buddies and the two embark on a marathon walk-and-talk around the city. By the time they locate the club where Ruby’s pals are waiting, the two are deep into each other’s lives and opt to spend more time walking and talking. But there are complications. One year later, the two meet cute again (this time on a ferry) and another long conversation ensues. The script features clever, hipster dialogue as Josh and Ruby explore their emotions, but the real star is Hong Kong–glittery, glamorous and downright gorgeous.
‘It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,’ shows September 17 at Women in Cinema at SIFF Cinema Uptown. For more info, visit www.siff.net/cinema/women-in-cinema-2015.
When former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., was appointed ambassador to China in 2009, his adopted Chinese daughter was a blessed accessory that imbued him with credibility. Along with his speaking Mandarin, Huntsman’s daughter, Gracie Mei, charmed the Chinese.
In the documentary, All Eyes and Ears, three stories are intertwined—Huntsman’s, Gracie Mei’s and Chen Guangchen, the blind activist who sought asylum in the U.S. By far, Gracie Mei’s is the most intriguing as she’s dragged to parties and presentations displayed like a mini diplomat. Looking uncomfortable, eager to please and just a little scared, she seems to be a naturally shy child thrust into the political spotlight based only on her Chinese ethnicity. While adults like Huntsman and Guangchen play politics with grown-ups, it’s the scenes of Gracie Mei visiting the vegetable market (where she was found as an infant) and the orphanage (where she spent her childhood) that linger long after the screen goes dark.
‘All Eyes and Ears,’ shows September 19 at Women in Cinema at SIFF Cinema Uptown. For more info, visit www.siff.net/cinema/women-in-cinema-2015.
A girl’s struggle to stay in school is the focus of the documentary Drawing the Tiger. On a small Nepal farm, Shanta Darnal works hard alongside her family, feeding their meager livestock and growing scanty crops. Unfortunately, her father has a second family with another wife and child, so they all remain impoverished. But because of her quick mind and determination to learn, Shanta is offered a scholarship in Kathmandu. Even though it means her mother will toil harder without her help, it’s also an opportunity for Shanta to pursue a career in medicine that will eventually support her family.
Living with her older brother in the city, she’s encouraged by his support, but finds disappointment in his wife’s scornful comments about her educational pursuits. Like a lot of women around her, Shanta’s sister-in-law married as a teenager. She’s wary of girls like Shanta whose own mother says of her, “I don’t think she’ll marry. She has a brain.”
It seems frivolous to Shanta’s sister-in-law that Shanta is being educated while her husband plods along removing mud from Hindu statues for a living. With such heavy expectations weighing on her, Shanta is like the vulnerable prey for a hungry tiger. Undervalued, overwhelmed, and on her own, Shanta meets tragedy head on.
‘Drawing the Tiger,’ shows September 25 at Local Sightings at Northwest Film Forum. For more info, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/e/2252279.
An absorbing anthropological documentary, Dreadlocks Story covers a lot of history. Besides exploring the relationship between the dreadlocks hairstyle and pioneers of black pride like Marcus Garvey and Leonard P. Howell, the film also makes a connection between Afro-Jamaican Rastafarians and Indian Hindu Sadhus, and their similar lifestyles.
While European slave traders took Africans to the Caribbean, the British brought along indentured Indian servants who had sometimes been kidnapped. Both Africans and Indians shared common spiritual beliefs based on animism and, like Rastafarians who stopped cutting and combing their hair, Sadhus also allowed their hair to tangle, twist and mat together.
Using interviews, archival footage, reggae music and scenes of religious rituals, the fascinating tale of two groups that merged together in Jamaica is eloquently explained.
Keep an eye out for film festival announcements for ‘Dreadlocks Story.’