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“The challenge is thus : How can one recreate without recirculating domination”
—Trinh T. Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red
When I visit my family in Tokyo, I stay in a small tatami prayer room adorned with pictures of my ancestors. They hang where the wall meets the ceiling, hovering above my futon bed; my eyes are closed but I feel their gaze through my lids. Two years ago during one of my visits, my grandmother brought out a family photo album assembled by her mother, Kau. It depicts her family’s life abroad during her husband’s two-year term at the Shanghai branch of the Bank of Taiwan, Japan’s colonial bank. In these pages I found my gaze returned by deceased family members, and I grew attached to their uncanny looks. I open up the album again and again hoping to recover more than the trace of bygone light.
Yuumei is my imagining of a world outwards from the photographs—an attempt at time travel that pushes the limits of what is said and unsaid in the frames. By time travel I do not mean an escape from the present into a time capsule of the past but rather, the points of connection that emerge from a perspective in the present looking back. Michel Rolph Trouillot in his book Silencing the Past writes about the power of material traces in historical production— archives allow for the continual “remembrance” of dominant narratives. The Tadaki domestic archive operates much like the state archive discussed by Trouillot. It dictates how my family remembers and tells stories; it renders other histories unthinkable.
China’s landscape appears countlessly in our Japanese settler-colonial album bereft of any Chinese people. These pastoral images naturalize the presence of the settler within the landscape under the same sort of logic with which the Hudson River School operated. To break the silence in these frames, I collected family stories and songs that recall this period of Japanese imperialism. Shawna Lee, my friends mother, sings her mother’s favorite song, “Ye Shanghai” (Shanghai Nights) by Zhou Xuan. Beneath the the romantic, upbeat melody, it alludes to the zones of exclusion and underdevelopment, “her (Shanghai’s) inner sorrow” that allowed for the spectacle of the “city that never sleeps”.
Filmmaking is a tool for undoing the closure effect of the album. The editing process constellates a web of otherwise isolated glances. Part of this work of constellating is thinking about my own positionality in relation to my great grandparents. Growing up as a Japanese American in Hawaii I am what Haunani-Kay Trask calls a “settler of color”. By the time my great grandparents were in Shanghai, members of my family had migrated to Hawaii as laborers in the sugar plantation industry. Their nissei children, raised in a settler colonial space joined the U.S army to fight for “freedom” and “democracy”. Following the war, the U.S empire reconfigured the “Japs” as Japanese-Americans fit for citizenship, to legitimize the state led project for Hawaii’s statehood. The dominant narrative justifies the continued dispossession of Native Hawaiians by framing Hawaii’s admission as a liberal and anti-racist feat for Hawaii’s non-white communities. This immigrant “success” story for the “melting pot of cultures” resonates with the ideologies surrounding the International Settlement in occupied Shanghai: Futami among other capitalists embraced “internationalism” and “free markets” in the “Paris of the East”. These narratives of “East meets West” render the violent policies of imperialism invisible: “liberal multiculturalism works in tandem with white supremacy, allowing for forms of racism, settler colonialism, and militarism to be insulated from large movements seeking their end (Saranillio 2018, 13).
I see Yuumei as the beginning of a short film series—one historical node that reverberates among the others I discuss in the paragraph above. By building relationships between seemingly disparate temporal and spatial coordinates, I question assumed chronologies and master narratives.
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Nash, Sancia M., "Authoring the Tadaki Family Photo Album" (2019). Senior Projects Spring 2019. 104.
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