I had always wanted to animate my stories. But I was a Fine artist who once dreamed the impossible dream. I have to pinch myself because here I am, collaborating with legendary producer Michael Fukushima. He actually chose to help me bring my story to life. How lucky am I?
In the beginning, I had wanted Michael to tell me what to do. So I bombarded him with my fine art works on my family story. I waited. Just by chance, I had sent him an accordion book I had imagined about letters between my aunt who had followed her husband into exile in Japan after the war and my mom, who had remained in Canada, honouring my dad’s decision. I had never exhibited the book of letters because I had thought that no-one would be interested in a book with no realistic drawings, only abstract bursts of black and white calligraphic impressions.
Michael loved the idea of letters which illustrated the close bond between sisters who share secrets divulged to no-one else, not to their husbands, not to their parents, not to their children. They had shared a lifetime as confidantes. The letters to one another are their only way of surviving unspeakable nightmares. It took me weeks to see what Michael saw… but never told me. The letters are not about the plight of Japanese Canadians caught in a political wrangling where nobody wanted them. The letters are about the human connection between sisters struggling for survival in hostile worlds, thousands of miles apart. The sisters could be sisters in any culture, at any time. The story is universal.
As we know, the central premise of the Yume project has been collaboration; across generations, practises, locations, temperaments. As it happens, one way or other, my entire producing career has been about collaboration and iterations rather than what some see as a more conventional top-down, straight-line producing approach.
The art of producing art has always been exciting and fun for me, because it exercises all the muscles. Persuasion, encouragement, nudging, challenge, debate, and teaching, to name a few. By the end of the project I need to feel like I’ve been listened to if not heeded, and the filmmaker needs to know that it remains their project no matter the passion of our conversations. Nor the seemingly endless pile of iterations.
Although it’s early in the overall creative process, and although we won’t emerge at the end of Yume with a finished film, Lillian and I have embodied all of the best attributes of creative collaboration. The story she wants to tell and media work she wants to create will be wonderful because of those free and open discussions, and the iterative, evolving process we’ve happily engaged.
About a decade ago, the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival honoured me with its Canadian Spotlight accolade, and I got to ramble on and on about how I produce and cajole animation artists.