Collaboration Update #5


Modern Buddha
Who am I / who are they
Does the mask hide
or reveal?
Process takes time (sometimes)!
watching the plaster dry.

Kayla sitting with a plaster mask on, waiting for it to dry

Modern Buddha


march 27, 2022
dear dawn,
i’m currently in montreal. last night, i saw julie for ramen. tomorrow, i’m planning to visit the mount royal cemetery. my great grandparents (ichiro and waka okauchi) are buried there.
today, i went to a portuguese restaurant and their egg tarts were amazing. this might be because they were heated up but they were goopy and soft and warm and so delicious. i ordered two to go with some lamb chops for dinner tonight. i was thinking of eating the egg tarts at the cemetery tomorrow and i imagined having a sort of conversation with their graves. i’ve never done that before (talked to my ancestors) but it was something that crossed my mind.
anyway, i got home and i noticed they forgot the egg tarts.
i have an old ube (purple yam) muffin in the car i can eat with them or maybe i can bring the last of my bagels instead.
we’ll see.
i hope ottawa is treating you well.

april 2, 2022
dear dawn,
the mount royal cemetery is huge. i knew this already but even though i picked up a map at the office when i arrived, i found myself driving in circles looking for the plot number. because the cemetery is on a giant hill, this was not easy. it also snowed that morning but thankfully, i still have winter tires on my car.
there weren’t clear numbers or signs that i could see so i returned to the office to ask for a better map. they told me that the plot numbers were on the ground so pretty much, they were covered by the snow. 🙂
eventually, i found the plot located on a little intersection in an area of the cemetery called mount murray. the last (and first time) i was here was five years ago with my dad’s cousin. he told me he would visit semi-regularly. as i stood there on monday in the -11 weather eating my bagels, i was thinking about this and of another relative who upkeeps my family’s graves in vancouver. i think that’s kind of neat and maybe i should make a point of visiting more often when i return home. growing up, my parents wouldn’t take us to do that kind of thing so before i left for ontario last summer, i visited the cemetery where my uncle and great uncles are buried for the first time since their funerals years ago.
i chatted with ichiro and waka until i was too cold and then i made my way to sherbrooke.
talk soon,

Kayla's grandparents' headstones at the Mount-Royal Cemetery in Montreal

Collaboration Update #5


A gif of Tom Cruise bawling his eyes out

The final sprint, the light at the end of the tunnel. Or sometimes, the realization that something that’s been fun and adventurous is about to end.

The satisfying part of this journey with Lillian has been knowing that once I enter the black hole anomaly to continue on my uncertain retirement path, she’ll be moving forward with a clearer and(hopefully) stronger story and proposal for the beautiful film she wants to create. For me, this is what collaboration is all about, and I’ll be excited to see whatever Lillian ends up with at the end of it all. And beyond. After I’m sling-shotted into the anomaly.


For the first few weeks (of this collaborative process), I was in a panic because I was comparing our collaboration to the others in YUME.DIGITAL DREAMS, many of whom already demonstrate exciting, brilliant works which could be in the final exhibition. But our collaboration is the opposite of all of the others. It is a LONG,LONG process with no flashy graphics or storyboard, mostly letters between Michael and myself. BORING for viewers, I thought. But maybe there are other artists who dream of being animators and filmmakers, who can find our collaboration an eye-opener. For me, it is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Early on, I had caught Michael’s attention with several stories. Here is Michael’s response to my bombardment:

Michael: Feb. 18  

Alright, Lillian; I think we have a pathway in front of us. Something more skewed towards an adult, art-sensitive audience. Perhaps that could take advantage of your many gallery and museum contacts as “vectors” for dissemination. This is a solid starting point for tone, aesthetic, and nature of story. 

Next is to decide on the particular story, or combination of stories to start building a scenario and narrative from. As noted, I’m fond of the two epistolary “quest” stories: the one about your aunt in Japan, her family struggles, and the effect of those letters on the in-Canada relatives; and the one about seeking Miori and building/re-building your family story from its E Cordova beginnings. 

Where does your heart sing the strongest? 


Me: Feb. 20  

Hi, Michael, 
I can’t make up my mind. Help!  Today, I am going to call my cousins to see if they could tell me more their deportation to Japan.   

Michael: Feb. 20 

I do like the idea of searching for answers to both stories. At least for now; it might turn out that one is stronger than the other, but right now, pursuing both offers up maximum opportunities. 

My understanding is that Sandon was quite hellish. 

Your first stab at a narrative opening is solid, and leads me to think that your initial tone could be deep regret. Here you are, three-quarters of a century on, wishing you had asked about those photos, letters, and stories when you could’ve gotten answers. Now, instead, you’re forced to become a detective, a researcher, and an interpreter of memory and imagination. I think that’s a very strong, intimate, and poetic position for you to start from. 

Good luck with your cousins. 


Collaboration Update #5



We are working on the shigin “Meiso-Nippongo” with the folk song “Kurdo Bushi” interspersed between verses: This week I’m finding it intimidating to learn these new songs, new styles, a language that still feels foreign in my mouth because of the classical vocal technique that is so ingrained in my throat and tongue. I recognize about half of these words, and deducing from what little grammatical knowledge I can remember from my lessons a few years back, I try to figure out what might be going on in this piece, before I resort to Google translate and other translations online.  

I find myself either feeling scared to try and make mistakes, because I know I will, because I don’t have the tools, because this language is my father-tongue, because the experts are a continent and an ocean away. I have to rely on my western music education, slow and repetitive listening, notating everything down in a western style, writing out this old Japanese min’yō in rōmaji, and I know it’s still not perfect. It never will be. I know there are a million more training wheels I will have to implement along the way. I know it will never be like the original Japanese style, but I’m not “original Japanese style” either, I guess. I’m just me, and I can only do my best. Watashi wa ganbarimasu-yō!  

Collaboration Update #5


Will's illustration of three purple and horned demons

As the details of our final submission begin to fill in, I take a moment to reflect on this project. I think everyone’s having a good experience, and it shows in the submissions that we’ve seen so far. Hitoshi has been a huge inspiration and motivation for me to push myself as an artist and keep things interesting. I even recorded a short vocal for him to tune up in one of the tracks we are thinking to include in the final submission.

i have given a lot of thought to my family’s beginnings in canada, and where we are now. The next generation, my son, is only now starting his journey. but i think about the society he will grow up in, and how much to expose him to, and when, on a daily basis… it’s intimidating and exciting at the same time.

Anyways, here is a teaser of a short sequence I put together for our final submission, using one of Hitoshi’s demo tracks


Bamboo forest 

For our final piece, I asked Will if he could create a bamboo forest. While he said he’d never seen one in person, what he drew looked just like the small grove of bamboo beside my parents’ house. I remember it being dense, dark and spooky. The squeaky sound of bamboo hitting each other gave me goosebumps but it was also relaxing. In our video, the sound of taiko and shinobue are coming through the forest along with the wind. 

Visual Art – Will Shintani 

Music – Hitoshi Sugiyama 

Collaboration Update #4


The new mask I made of Shion using the plaster cast of her face and from photos she sent me. Even the inside of the mask is covered so she has options how she uses the mask in performance. It’s been mailed off to her cross country!

Shion Mask #1 front
Shion Mask #1
Shion Mask #2 angle
Shion Mask #2
Shion Mask #3 side
Shion Mask #3
Shion Mask #4 back
Shion Mask #4


My first time playing with my mask!

The mask that Miya handmade and sent to me from Halifax arrived last week and as soon as I took it out of the box, I had a burst of new movement ideas I wanted to try. I am in awe of the detailed work that Miya puts into each and every mask she creates; in this movement exploration I wanted to capture some of the minute gestures evoked by all of the tiny pieces of paper that are cut and glued to make this unique, one-of-a-kind mask. I also explored aspects of video editing that Miya and I have been researching as part of our collaboration.

My first time playing with my mask!

Collaboration Update #4


screen grab photo of Noriko and Teiya talking over Zoom


I was really inspired by the beats Noriko-san added to the latest extrapolation of the nagatua “Otsukisama” and so I took that shamisen line and added some more beats, and taiko rhythmic backings and then felt inclined to sing overtop, just improvising a bit. The melodies in these pieces are really cool, and so I wanted to keep the integrity of that at least. However, the poetry is child-like and quite innocent so adding these beats leaned into that playfulness.

I love that our conversations and musical explorations are rooted in form and style, honouring tradition, but also leaving enough space so we can still embrace our contemporary sensibilities and tastes. Here’s a more traditional recording of Otsukisama, and then a snippet of a modern, upbeat version

Collaboration Update #4


illustration of 3 people flying kites that are charmingly made up of a stop sign, a pair of pants and a fed ex shipping box.


'I always say that I can't draw' Baco's response to Jon's 'inept paper dolls'.
I always say that I can’t draw — but isn’t drawing just a moving line?

I enjoyed spending some quiet, reflective time with the image, inept paper dolls, that Jon sent to me. And that led to this response piece called, I always say that I can’t draw—but isn’t drawing just a moving line?

Although I mailed the actual piece to Jon, I also sent him photographs of the accordion folded bookwork and the text for the poem via email, since I wasn’t sure how long it would take before he’d receive the physical piece.

The following is the text written on the pages of the bookwork.

I always say
that I can’t
draw —
but isn’t
just a moving


rough cut
and shadow folds

not quite
hand in hand

but definitely
in proximity.



through neighbourhoods
and interior spaces —

not rooms, per say
but imaginings

that hover
in the body.


as I enlarge
the image

I feel a whispering
in my lungs

each cut out

a silent


bend marks
where fingers held

while scissors cut
this walking

through nights
& shadowy dreams —

are these cut outs


I’m curious about
the word, “inept”

on the photo’s label —
it makes me think

of the word

silkscreened by Katarina
on the front of

a used
orange-ish t-shirt.


clothes found at a church
rummage sale

made anew and
sold to fellow artists.

she wondered who
if anyone

would buy that shirt.
yup, it was me

who proudly wore
“inadequate” for years.

Collaboration Update #4


-20 in the backyard. Snow sprinkled on bamboo. Quickly snapped black and white photo of an ink drawing which has been slightly smudged
-20 in the backyard. Snow sprinkled on bamboo. Quickly snapped photo. Smudge. Permanent. 

Bamboo: food, home, music, youth, strength, bending, elegance, simplicity. Bamboo is and always has been a significant part of me. This week’s submission is a calligraphy ink drawing of bamboo using techniques I learned from my uncle and whose bamboo art hangs above my workspace. My piece was inspired by Will’s stickers that pushed me to consider who I am within Canada as a Japanese man and what I can contribute to our project. 

Who am I? Like bamboo, I want to bend rather than break. I grow and change quickly when the conditions are just right and slow down and wait when they aren’t.  

(Many thanks to my wife for capturing my ideas in words.) 

Hitoshi Sugiyama – Photos 

Will Shintani – Sticker Design 

black and white bamboo photo in the background in the foreground, Will Shintani's Artist logo/name sticker


still from Will's animated video of a bunch of crazed people walking in a group against a purple background and grey ground.

We talked about the cyclical nature of life. a lot of thinking this past week. I wanted to try something that was different from my usual creative instincts.

I made a new video, was just playing around with animation. Never tried it, so I just looked up a reference for frame by frame walking animation. it’s pretty straightforward, so I tried to have fun within the animation in each individual frame.

It’s a very sloppy drawing but you can see the point of it, i think. I mean, it’s just a guy walking, haha.

I added a track that Hitoshi made a few years back. I wanted to sync the beat with the steps, and this was the perfect pace. I found it on his youtube channel:

Collaboration Update #4


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.

Collage of US transport ship "Marine Angel" on blue washi paper
Marine Angel
Collage of "Marine Angel" and Lillian's mother
Collage of Marine Angel and children
Letter from Eunice
Letter from Sisters


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.

Reel Asian International Film Festival