Friday, November 30, 2007

Commentary | "History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige" (1991)

Filmmaker Rea Tajiri is well-known for her avant-garde style -- so when I watched this film I was prepared me to examine her work within an avant-garde framework, meaning I was prepared to search for abstract meaning in “germinal” images and conceptual film techniques. Though her scrolling script and zooms and pans on still images were certainly powerful, what I found most compelling about History and Memory was simply Tajiri’s narration. There was a haunting quality to her voice, something in her tone that made it clear that she needed to find justice and resolution for this piece of her life that she somehow had always known was missing. Because her family did not have photographs or belongings that could serve as memoirs, she drew from her memory an image of her mother filling a canteen in the desert.

Along with this image, Tajima explores a number of seemingly unrelated fragments and weaves them together, allowing them to draw from and enrich one another until they become a tangible and personal story about the internment camps. She creatively inserted her memories and their spin-offs alongside a history that was told through Hollywood images of Japanese Americans and World War II propaganda. For Tajiri, combining history and memory was an attempt to reconstruct her own version of history—her decided choice to identify a story to tell among a history that was incredibly multi-layered and even confusing.

Despite it being somewhat fictionalized, her film nevertheless comes across and feels truthful because she reconciles that she’s still struggling to fill in the gaps. I felt that the disjointed nature of the film really spoke to how difficult it is to represent the past. And when she said, “I began searching because I felt lost, ungrounded,” her words expressed an inherent sadness that I felt we could all relate to; sadness about a past that is not necessarily ours but that we empathize with because it relates to what we could image our own family’s experience to be, and for more reasons that are hard to articulate.

Company Credits (via
Production Company / Unknown
Distributor / Women Make Movies (

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