The renowned animator of The Snowman revisits the American concentration camp in which he and his family were interned in this new documentary. Dermod Moore spoke to the director, Sé Merry Doyle, one of the producers, Vanessa Gildea, and to Murakami himself.
‘I was 9 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. That was when the shit hit the fan for all Japanese people in America. My family, alongside 125,000 Japanese-Americans, were forced to evacuate their homes and were interned in concentration camps, west of the Mississippi. We ended up in Tule Lake, in Northern California, a dry, arid lake in the middle of nowhere. The War Relocation Authority hastily set about turning the desert into a prison. Our family had no choice but to settle in. Our new address was Ward 3, Block 24.’
These words open Loopline Film’s latest feature documentary, Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien. They are spoken by the eponymous narrator, the animator and director of such masterpieces as When the Wind Blows and The Snowman.
For most of his life, he has kept these early memories to himself.
Luck, a certain kind of continuous encouraging serendipity, played a large part in the making of this film. A former animation student of Murakami was told the whole story about ten years ago, and got a grant to write a treatment for a documentary. However, it contained only a brief mention of the concentration camp. The BBC turned it down, because they were already making a film about another animator at the time. The real story had been missed.
Sé Merry Doyle: I remember how this film started for me. At the 2007 Galway Film Fleadh, I saw Linda Hattendorf’s The Cats Of Mirikitani, a film about an 83-year-old homeless artist who was interned in Tule Lake Camp. Jimmy, an old friend of mine, was in the audience, and I remember asking him if he identified with it, because it was about a Japanese-American. He got quite emotional about it. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked him. He said, ‘I was in that camp’.
Jimmy Murakami: The coincidences were all there – the artist in the film was called Jimmy M, he painted, he went to the same camp, although he was a lot older than me. I got very emotional because it was my past coming back.
SMD: I was shocked. He’d never told me. But I didn’t jump at it then, I let it go. It got a little seed going, but I didn’t push at it. However, when Jimmy told me he had started doing paintings about that period in his life, encouraged by his wife Eithne, I flew out to his house. I got excited, Jimmy was being active rather than passive about it, and it was visual. I brought a camera with me, we shot a pilot, and I immediately sensed this could be a great story. That’s a good year and a half ago…
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.