Filmmaker Spotlight: Tadashi Nakamura

Tadashi Nakamura is the director, producer and editor of “Pilgrimage.” The film will be featured on the X1 Asian American destination in March’s Nisei Stories collection. We had the pleasure of asking Tadashi what inspired his filmmaking journey and how his Japanese American heritage influences his work.

Tadashi Nakamura (Photo: Sthanlee B. Mirador)

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month.

Tadashi Nakamura: Pilgrimage” tells the inspiring story of how a small group of Japanese Americans in the late 1960s transformed an abandoned WWII concentration camp for Japanese Americans into a symbol of retrospection and solidarity for people of all ages, races and nationalities in our post 9/11 world.

How did you get into filmmaking?

TN: Both of my parents are documentary filmmakers, so I grew up in the Asian American film community. My dad, Bob Nakamura, is a director and my mom, Karen Ishizuka, is a producer. Even though I watched my parents make films as a kid, I didn’t really pick up a camera until I went to UCLA as an undergrad. I was an Asian American Studies major and learned how to make my first film in the EthnoCommunications program. It was there that I made my first film “Yellow Brotherhood.”

What are some films and/or filmmakers who have inspired you?

TN: “A.K.A. Don Bonus” by Spencer Nakasako and “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” by Renee Tajima-Pena had a huge impact on me. I had the privilege of being a student of both Spencer and Renee as a graduate student in the Social Documentation program at UC Santa Cruz and continue to benefit from their mentorship to this day. “Dogtown and Z-Boys” by Stacy Peralta really influenced how I edit archival material with music. “Amandla!” by Lee Hirsch taught me how to use music to drive a film emotionally.

Tadashi Nakamura (middle) with his parents, Bob Nakamura (left) and Karen Ishizuka (right). (Photo: Tadashi Nakamura)

 Do you have a favorite Asian American film?

TN: “Wataridori: Birds of Passage” by my dad, Bob Nakamura. The film documents three Issei (first-generation Japanese Americans) as they struggle to establish their lives in America. One of the three people profiled in the film is my grandfather Harukichi Nakamura. The film is not only a reminder of our immigrant roots as Japanese Americans, but also a personal reminder of the sacrifices and struggles that my family has made in order to provide me with the privileges I have today. I am not only the son of a filmmaker, but also the grandson of an immigrant gardener.

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

TN: The main reason why I make films is to document and share the stories of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities that continue to be ignored by mainstream media and academia. The work of Asian American cultural workers both past and present have given me an understanding of my place in this world and a sense of purpose. My goal is to contribute to that culture and continue that cycle.

What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?

TN: I think it’s really an exciting time for Asian American media, not just cinema. There’s some really good television shows, podcasts, music, and films being created by Asian Americans, both mainstream and independent. I think the current disgraceful political climate has elevated the role and responsibility of artists and creatives in our community. And luckily there are many talented people willing to step up or step to the side and make room for new voices.

What’s next for you?

TN: I’m doing a lot of short-form documentary work with the Nikkei Democracy Project, a multimedia collective that uses video, art and social media to capture the power of the Japanese American imprisonment story and expose current threats to the Constitutional rights of targeted Americans. I’m also working with Visual Communications on a photo exhibit showcasing their documentation of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the Los Angeles area during the 1970s.

On the set of “Mele Murals.” (Photo: Tadashi Nakamura)


Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Tadashi Nakamura! Watch “Pilgrimageon the X1 Asian American destination or with Xfinity Stream this March.

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For more Filmmaker Spotlights or Asian American news and entertainment visit Xfinity Asian American.