First to Go: The Story of the Kataoka Family

sf examinerThe Inspiration Behind the Award-Winning Documentary

Contributed by special guest writer, Mark Matsuno

One of life’s simple pleasures when I was a kid was leafing through old family photo albums. The weather was often grey and gloomy in San Francisco’s Richmond District, being close to the bay as the fog rolled in, so I would often grab a few albums and find a cozy spot on the living room carpet next to the fake log fire and transport myself to another time. I always loved seeing those old deckle-edged black and white photographs of my mom and dad, my relatives and especially my sister and brother caught in a candid moment or just clowning around. By then, there were color photos, but the years had given them an antiquated patina, adding a nostalgic effect, which your iPhone’s camera filters can only attempt to duplicate. In this digital age, I find it sad that kids these days won’t know the simple pleasure of gathering around old albums.

Photos that predate the ‘50s are particularly interesting to me. I often had no idea who these Japanese immigrants were, but they always looked so dignified in their stoic poses and they always seemed to be dressed in black three-piece suits like they were going somewhere important. They would often pose in front of a big black car, which I’m told was seldom their own. The suits could very well have been navy blue or Prince purple, but in black and white photos, your mind has to make the choice. I chose blacks and greys. I would ask my mom about them. “Who are these people?” Most of the time, she wouldn’t even know.

I must have been around fourteen when I came across an article neatly cut out of the San Francisco Examiner’s front page. I remember my mom telling me something about her father being “the first to be taken away,” but here was a yellowing piece of actual proof. In the masthead, it read, “Monday, December 8, 1941.” The headline read, “First S.F. Japanese Prisoner,” and there was a picture of my grandfather, Ichiro Kataoka, being escorted in handcuffs down the front steps of his hotel on Post Street in the heart of San Francisco’s Nihonmachi.

TUNNEL VISION 36” X 18” ACRYLIC ON CANVASAmong all the melancholic, endearing, funny photos was this dark piece of family history that would nag at me through the years. I had to know if my grandpa, who I barely remember since he passed away when I was three years old, was a criminal. You always want to believe that your country is fair and just and that the FBI would only go after the bad guys. My mom was a young girl of fourteen when the Japanese Imperial Air Force sent planes to destroy the US Naval Base in Honolulu at Pearl Harbor, so she had very little understanding of what was happening to her father, and eventually to her mother, herself and her five siblings. What she had to offer as an explanation was this: my grandfather was a businessman who was able to buy a hotel in the Japanese section of the city. In cornering that market, he would often drive out to the docks and greet incoming ships carrying passengers from Japan before the days of air travel. He would introduce himself as the owner of Aki Hotel and make them feel less like strangers in a strange land. It was partly an act of kindness, but it was mostly just smart. As a result of his frequent trips to the ships, bowing to greet new Japanese immigrants, along with his growing prominence in the Japanese community, he was secretly under surveillance.

METRO 20” X 20” ACRYLIC ON CANVASWhat I do remember about my grandpa was that he was a small, quiet man. He couldn’t speak English well, so we had little actual conversation. It’s a typical Sansei dilemma. When the FBI cuffed him, he went peacefully to meet whatever fate his new country would impose on him. I’m sure he was scared and had no idea of the magnitude of what would follow for his family and 150,000 other people of Japanese ancestry trying to make America their new home. He was taken first as an example of what would happen to the entire Japanese community in San Francisco.

SF VIEW 36” X 18” ACRYLIC ON CANVASFlash forward to the early ‘70s. I had moved to Los Angeles to start a career in advertising. My grandfather had been long gone and the days of flipping through photo albums were far behind me. I kept in touch with my family as much as I could and would take frequent trips to San Francisco. On one of those trips, I heard that my cousin, Marjorie, had gotten a job at The Examiner. I didn’t connect the dots until a couple of years later that she might be able to access the microfilm of that newspaper article. I thought it would be great to send it to a color lab, make large framed posters and give them to my relatives on my mother’s side. Marjorie came through for me and in turn, I surprised my family with theatrical poster-sized sepia-toned framed copies. For me, the importance of that piece of family history was mostly personal, a piece of the Kataoka legacy.

Little did I know that my son, Myles, would grow up to become an accomplished filmmaker and use his great-grandfather’s story to create a beautiful, heartfelt and poignant documentary using my mother, one of two surviving children, as the onscreen narrator. Myles had a vision surpassing my own and the ambition and talent to make it happen.

On a personal note, I am thrilled that my grandfather’s story is now immortalized, as well as my mother’s persona. On a more far-reaching note, Myles’ award-winning documentary, “First To Go: The Story of the Kataoka Family,” has been shown in many film festivals across the country this past year, opening the eyes of many Americans who had no idea this injustice had ever happened. Without getting into the ramifications of racial profiling and current immigration tensions, it’s my hope that, in some small way, my son’s film can bolster awareness and ultimately make a difference.

mark matsuno photoBio:  Mark Matsuno was born and raised in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles at the age of twenty to pursue a career in advertising. After a three-year stint at Young & Rubicam West, he started his own graphic design boutique specializing in movie advertising. Currently, he has his own design firm in Glendale, CA. Much of his time is spent on high-profile films such as Jurassic World, Minions and many others. He is the proud father of son, Myles, and daughter, Alyssa.

Mark is also a dedicated fine artist creating paintings of urban landscapes among other subject matter. You can view his art throughout this posting and at markmatsuno.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cosmic Dating Experience

Contributed by special guest writer, Dan Chinn

imageWhen a guy has had bad luck with women for awhile, he begins to think that he is jinxed. It seemed that every woman I met that I was attracted to was either involved with someone or didn’t like my style. My style back then was Hippie. Never a fashionable high point in the history of style, but I was making a statement about materialism and being a Hippie was part of the idealism that ran through the collegiate universe at that time. It was 1971 and I was living just off campus in a house that I shared with three other loosely associated friends who were like-minded. We all wore our hair long and liked flannel shirts and blue jeans. That year, I wore the same flannel shirt and jeans every day and a lot of my friends would wear the same “outfit” most of the time. I could recognize my friends from a great distance just from their clothing. The comfort of cotton was more important than being fashionable. The more you washed flannel the softer it became. I really loved my blue, white and red plaid shirt. I would wash it once a week and I was good. After a year of wearing it and washing it, the fabric had lost some of its bulk and the colors had slowly washed out so it was getting thin. So thin was it that one of my roommates had put his finger into a small hole and ripped it in half. I went down to JC Penney’s and bought two new flannel shirts the same day.

My persona restored to its former un-capitalistic glory, I was back on the hunt for my Hippie Chick and some of that “free love” that Hippies were supposed to be getting. I was 22 years old at the time and still taking classes at Portland State University. It was summer and the campus was sparsely populated. PSU is a city college with most students living off campus, some at home with their families and some living in student housing. Summer term was lonely for unpaired singles.

I had not outgrown my love for comic books and found that the new generation of “Head Comic books ” was a great source of amusement. Zap Comics, The Furry Freak Brothers and Dr. Atomic comics were a laugh a minute and the exaggerated artwork was accompanied by witty situations and Hippie philosophy. Some of which became quoted by the general college pot-smoking “Heads.” Sayings like “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” And common terms and sayings would get mutated by comedians and friends. Second and third generation slang like “Right on” became “Rat on” to be funny. And phrases became contracted like instead of “I got to go home” became ” I gotta.” This counter-cultural shift in English was mirrored in the new comics and a lot of my friends would follow the misadventures of the Furry Freak Brothers as each monthly issue showed up at the local bookstores.

Back to my story. I was looking at the rack for Head Comics at Looking Glass Bookstore when a saw this beautiful woman looking at a copy of R. Crumb’s “Big Ass Comics.” Our eyes met and we smiled at each other briefly. I said “Hi” and she said “Hi” back. Both of us went back to our comics. I would look up occasionally and look at her and she was doing the same. I found a purchase and went to pay for it. I had lost sight of her until I saw her unlocking her bike on the street just outside the side door.

I don’t usually try to meet someone in such a setting but I thought of the old saw “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and asked her if she’d like to get a snack and she said yes, so we had a bite to eat and got acquainted. She was a Native American from the Warm Springs Tribe. We hit it off like a dream and she told me to come visit her at the Warm Springs Reservation. She had four roommates, but they had a spare bedroom I could stay in. She was so beautiful and I thought to myself that she could pass for an Asian and that would make my family happier (heretofore, I’d been pretty much pairing up with fair-haired women). I wasn’t into astrology but I knew my sign and it was something we could talk about as we were making polite conversation. Then came the stunning discovery that she and I had the same birthday. I had never met anyone that shared the same birthday before, let alone the same birth year. And forty years later I can still say the same thing. The same birthday and year. Her name was Patti. I thought this was a sign – or at least, wanted it to be a sign.

Patti gave me her phone number and address and I told her I would come visit. I had a part-time job and scheduled a week of vacation two weeks out.

I did not have a car back then, so I took a Greyhound bus to Warm Springs and was planning on walking the few miles to Kahneeta, the resort famous for its natural hot springs and campgrounds. This was before all of the casinos at Indian Reservations. As I was walking down the road to the resort, I found that the local people that worked at the resort or lived on the reservation would slow down and ask me if I wanted a ride and even offered to feed me, too. I politely refused them all for the first couple of miles because I hadn’t hitchhiked before and I was uncertain about being picked up by strangers.

Then, a pickup truck with the resort logo on the side stopped and offered, and I accepted the ride. It was August and the heat of the day was getting to me. I mentioned Patti’s name to the driver, and he said he knew her and the “dorm” she shared with four other women. She was the dorm mom it turns out even though she was just a year or two older than her roommates.

Now comes the beginning of the best part of my visit. If this was a movie, this is where the romantically-themed music motif playing in the background suddenly swells and the camera does a close-up shot of two lovers that embrace and kiss for the first time. In reality it was even better than in the movies. As I approached the front door of the house that was called the dorm – I had just walked maybe ten of the forty-foot walkway – the screen door swings open and out shoots Patti running barefoot. And like a woman greeting her soldier-boyfriend who has returned from war, she leaps into my arms and gives me a big kiss right on the mouth. I held on tightly and she held on tightly as I carried her the twenty feet back through the door. I was taken with her beautiful face and slim athletic body. She was very beautiful. A beauty queen.

Our meeting was but an hour total back in Portland, and my memory of her was just a couple of flashbacks in the bookstore and riding away on her bike and looping around me once and saying goodbye. We had talked twice for a bit on the phone just before I got on the bus. I had kept the conversation short cause long distance rates were high for a student. I just wanted to make sure she was still interested in having me visit. The greeting told me that she did. Wow! Even though she had come through the door running, it all seemed like slow motion.

For the next four days we were inseparable. Eating, sleeping, exploring the reservation and visiting her friends. We went everywhere holding hands. All of her friends noted our closeness, and we were happily received by everyone. It was a dream visit with nonstop affection and fellowship with this Native American beauty. I could see a future with her. I was young enough to be adaptable to the idea of living at the “Res” after I finished my last five semesters of college. I had to leave but promised to come back as soon as I could.

When I got back to Portland, I was able to schedule a four-day visit two weeks later. I could hardly wait to see her again. I took the early bus to Madras and got off at the Warm Springs Junction and got a ride right away from an old “Caddy” convertible with two women in the front bench seat. It was just after noon when I arrived at the dorm. I knocked and one of the girls answered the door and said that Patti had left a couple of hours ago, but they were expecting her back soon. I was hungry. Hadn’t had breakfast so I went down to the cafeteria for a snack while I waited. Just as I got to the parking lot, I saw her walking out of the cafeteria with this other guy. A scruffy unshaven fellow wearing a leather range-rider type jacket. She was close by his side as they walked over to a Porsche 911 sports car. As he got behind the wheel, Patti came over to greet me by giving me a hug and said, “This is not a good time.” Then, gets into the passenger seat of the Porsche and off they go.  Damn … the curse had struck again. After I ate a cheeseburger basket in the cafeteria, I went back to Portland the same day.

Back in Portland, Patti and I talked briefly on the phone. By the hushed tone of her voice, I guessed her boyfriend was in the next room. He was her ex-lover and he wanted another chance, and she was going to give him one more. I thought to myself, Porsche 911 vs Strawberry Racing Cycle Professional racing bicycle. I didn’t need my three terms of Calculus to do the math … .

DanChinn blog photo

Bio: Dan Chinn was born to Suey Q. and Faye K. Chinn, Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School (Pre-Engineering, Electronics) and attended PCC and PSU (Electronic Engineering, Poetry, Film Making, and Marketing). He worked at Bell Telephone, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Portland Branch, Tektronix Inc., and Intel Corporation before retiring in 1998. Dan is now a writer, poet, photographer, artist, and musician.