Hibakusha: Hope and Peace in the Aftermath of Nuclear DestructionNEWS, News Left Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
By Waseem Mainuddin
Steve Nguyen’s upcoming project, Hibakusha, documents the life of Kaz Suyeishi, a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor and lecturer who talks about the aftermath of nuclear destruction. Suyeishi travels to New York for an interview with the local channel 4 News and Paul Tibbets, the pilot whose aircraft dropped the a-bomb on Hiroshima. At points during the interview, Suyeishi’s mind wanders back to the time in Hiroshima before the bombing and the horror of the aftermath. The film takes its name for the Japanese word for the atomic bomb survivors, literally translating to “Explosion-covered people.” The film’s first screening is on October 20th at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
Steve Nguyen is both a director and the co-founder of ChannelAPA. Channel APA is an online publication focused mostly on promoting independent Asian American artists and entertainers. His work has been featured in the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, the San Diego Asian Film Festival, and San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
What inspired you to do the project?
I wanted to recreate Kaz Suyeishi’s Hiroshima experiences through a different means of storytelling. It was crucial—but difficult—for us to accurately convey the message of hope and peace that resonated throughout her story. After much thought, I decided that animation was the best route to go for this film, and everyone in the cast and crew was incredibly supportive of our efforts. They inspired us to keep going!
Was there any thought as to try other animation styles, such as rotoscope?
I’m a huge Richard Linklater fan when it comes to his animated films, but I didn’t believe that rotoscope was the right technique for this film. We used it only as a reference, but Choz Belen and I loved the idea of experimenting with traditional hand-drawn methods and 2D animation. We took images of real people, and Choz digitally composited them onto After Effects to simulate animated movements.
The best way I can describe it is that we took elements of everything we’ve done in the past, mixed it together, and caused a huge explosion so that right out of the cauldron, we accidentally created our very own HIBAKUSHA-style of animation!
How did you come into contact with Kaz Suyeishi?
I was introduced to Kaz back in 2007 through my friend and fellow producer, Dean Matsuda. We connected at the Shinnyo-en Temple in Yorba Linda, and then again in Los Angeles during a Koyasan Buddhist Temple meeting in Los Angeles. We helped organize a lecture at our university so that Kaz could speak to the Japanese student organizations, and judging by the reactions of everyone in the audience that listened to her… I knew her story had to be made into a film.
Since then, I’ve really taken advantage of our time together in order to study and develop the idea for HIBAKUSHA.
Why choose musicians as voice actors?
We treated this film like a work of art, and I believed that the musicians that I chose (Connie Lim, Jane Lui, and Paul Dateh) had the uncanny ability to channel the perfect pitch of emotions and feelings in their voices. You can hear it in their music. It speaks very definitively toward their audiences, so I felt that the transition from singing to voice acting would be completely natural. Actress Karin Anna Cheung is also a musician by trade, and she did a phenomenal job voicing Kaz!
How has your work in other films helped with the creation of this one?
This is unlike any other project that I have completed before, so I can’t tell you if any of my particular film experiences can relate to this one. For me, the goal of HIBAKUSHA was to challenge myself creatively and spiritually by making a film that would attempt to improve the quality of life by promoting hope and peace.
When is the film being released?
The first screening will be at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on October 20 at 2 PM. For more information about future screenings, you can visit our official site at www.hibakushafilm.com.
Hope to see you there!
Waseem Mainuddin is a contributing writer at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Continue the conversation by posting a comment here, on OurChinatown’s Facebook page, or on Twitter at @ourchinatown.
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