Collaboration Update #6




So, the end always comes.

In the end. Creation is fun and exciting, and at the same time draining and difficult. The end of every creative effort is bittersweet, as it is with this wrapping up of collaborating with Lillian. And I know it’s not really the end, since Lillian will be soldiering forward with her project, trying to animate it to life. It’s also not really the end because of things I’ve learned with this effort. The dynamic with Lillian has been different from my normal, so I’ll be carrying those lessons with me as I continue to work with folks in my semi-retired way, no longer “the boss” but rather the advisor, the guide.

But for now, this chapter closes.

gif of Yoda closing his eyes and meditating

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 #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

Collaboration Update #3


Lillian and I have started into actual co-creation now, with Lillian writing the various project texts and me editing, or perhaps more accurately, suggesting edits. We’re taking Lillian’s ideas, notions, and disparate elements and forming them into a cohesive whole that will describe the project to outsiders, in the most eloquent and compelling way possible.

This will be fun. But also probably the hardest part of the journey for Lillian, who is, after all, the central creator here.

Write. Edit. Repeat.
Write without Fear.  Edit without Mercy.



Michael loved the idea of serendipity – surprises hidden for decades, found only by accident. There are two storylines – the first about searching for Mom’s best friend in Vancouver, MIORI; the second about what had happened to my family when they were deported to Japan after the war was over.  At first, I had combined both the stories and gave it the title, SERENDIPITY.  

I recorded the narrative by me, the storyteller. I found that the story is way too long to be animated in only three more months. So I divided SERENDIPITY into two separate stories. The first is WHERE IS MIORI?  Maybe like the well-known WHERE IS WALDO?  A search for a girl lost in the meandering journeys of time by her best friend, my mom, discovered by me by happenstance.  The second is THE LETTERS. Also about finding letters by chance which give me answers about what had happened to my family who were deported to Japan, after the war. 

Here are recordings of WHERE’S MIORI?  And THE LETTERS.  Each recording is 20 minutes long.  Michael and I are leaning towards THE LETTERS.

An WW2 government identification card (front side) of Lillian's mother Lily (Reiko) Hamaguchi.
The backside of the same identity card with finger print, serial number (05949) height, weight, address and occupation (houseworker)
a very old black leather photo album belonging to Lillian's mother.
a black and white photograph of three friends: Burney, Miori and Butch, all three smiling in the snow.
a sugar beet harvesting kinfe with its' hooked end.
Beet Topping knife
Steamer ship

Collaboration Update #2


Starting a new project is so very hard. And so very exhilarating. All those stories and ideas and research make the beginning the best, resplendent with potential.

Our first two questions right now are: 1) who is this for, and 2) what is the single idea closest to our hearts. So daunting. So exciting. ’Til next time then.

Photo of an office worker buried in a Humongous pile of papers at her desk.
Photo of a cupcake display cake arrayed with dozens of colourful and delicious cupcakes.


Photo of Lillian's artwork entitled "Sticky Rice 22,000" mixed media drawing on shoji paper, 39" x 180"  A symbolic pilgramage of the forced relocation across Canada, each grain of rice representing a Japanese Canadian.
STICKY RICE 22,000: out of the darkness into the darkness is a mixed media drawing on shoji paper, 39” x 180”, a symbolic pilgrimage of the forced location across Canada, each grain of rice representing a Japanese Canadian. There are scattered grains along the journey representing those who were lost along the way. I am glad that I was able to show it at least one time and see it on the wall. The text reads: “my father said: you should not waste a single grain of rice” 

I shared with Michael, several creative attempts over a decade to tell the story of my family’s forced relocation from their home in Vancouver in WWII, through the eyes of the women in my family for three generations – Issei, Nisei and Sansei. As Michael pointed out, the most difficult part of this project is choosing the story to tell and the audience. I have a tendency to think laterally and ideas just pop into my head. It’s great to have a partner who helps me focus on one part of the story which becomes, in his words, “a voyage of discovery and revelation.  

Photo of a sketch of Lillian's new piece entitled "Between Despair and Hope. BEHOLD THE BLACK RAIN" which addresses the world's environmental crisis and nuclear testing.
Currently I am developing artwork for an environmental crisis inititiative LETTERS TO THE EARTH: Between Despair and Hope.  BEHOLD THE BLACK RAIN is in the sketchbook stage. Since the bombing of Hiroshima, many countries have continued nuclear testing – over 500. Everything on the earth is affected by the fallout – all living creatures, everything we eat, everything we touch. This installation will consist of thousands of strands of washi yarn, recalling the devastation in two large cities in Japan. Nagasaki is located very close to Kumamoto, where my family came from. 

Very recently, I discovered lost threads between my mother and her best friend, Miori, and neighbour on Cordova Street. Completely by happenstance! I had also created an accordion book, LETTERS FROM JAPAN, communication between my Canadian-born mother and her sister who was deported to Japan with her Japanese National husband in 1946. This could be the starting point of a search for lost friends, lost family connections, lost years. Either story, told from my point of view as one who had never experienced the hardship personally, would provide an intriguing storyline of mystery and resolution. I have two cousins left who returned to Vancouver after living through post-war Japan. I could ask them to give me details. I discovered that Miori has a daughter living in Montreal. I am sure she could tell me about her mother after relocation. 

Most of my work in the past had been educational. But my current artworks are becoming more abstract and conceptual.  

Collaboration Update #1


I am thrilled to collaborate with retired legendary Filmmaker/Producer for the National Film Board, Michael Fukushima.  I know that Michael will give me so much education about filmmaking that he will inspire me in unimaginable ways. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to give an authentic voice and bring to life, the courageous members of my family who had endured so many challenges to be Canadians.  To be with them through all of their struggles, to be thankful for all of the gaman and strength they needed to persevere in the face of disaster. 

For most of my life, I had denied being a Canadian who is Japanese because the issue of my identity has been a troubling one. Perhaps my ambivalence stems back to my early years when we first came to Ontario, in the living room of my parents’ closest Nisei friends every Saturday night. Other Nisei friends also came to this house.  While my sister and I watched television, the adults spoke in whispers about “TASHME”, which I thought was a Japanese word… much later I learned that it was the acronym of the names of the three B.C. politicians who wanted  to force all Japanese Canadians to be interned – Taylor, Shirras and Meade. The adults looked so serious and worried as they asked about long-lost friends. I assumed that whatever they were discussing was a bad thing. My parents never spoke about what had happened… and I never asked. I just wanted to get away from being Japanese. 

In 1995, I asked my mother to write her story for her grandchildren. At first, she was reluctant saying no-one would be interested in her life, But I persisted. Mom wrote her memoir.  In 2001, six years after she wrote her story, I painted SHIKATA GA NAI/ IT CAN’T BE HELPED, ALBERTA, 1951, of myself holding my Anglo doll, behind a barbed wire fence, my mother toiling in the sugar beet field behind me. This was my first major work on my family story of forced relocation. The beginning of healing for both my mother and me.

Acrylic painting: Shikata ga nai/It Can't Be Helped
Shikata ga nai/ It  Can’t Be Helped , Alberta, 1951.        Acrylic on Board.    30”x48”


Me. Starting a new creative project, hard.

Pooh Bear thinking