Rea Tajiri- “Observing others from a distance”

In her documentary film History and Memory, Rea Tajiri poetically reconstructs the silent narrative of her family’s experience in Japanese internment camps. The public history or memory of the event(s) is represented in film through WWII Govt. propaganda, glamorized Hollywood films, and limited archival footage (some of which declares that Japanese Americans surrendered willingly and entered the camps on their own volition). Tajiri tells a story about her sister following a boy that she has a crush on, and the fact that she preferred to take a posed picture of him (like a movie star) rather than talk to him. Her sister’s story is likened to the existing public memory of the Japanese internment, which is glamorized and is intent on “observing others from a distance”.

The private, subjective history of the event is most evident by the silence and forgetting of the Japanese themselves. Tajiri rebuilds an incomplete public narrative by inserting various streams or channels of personal and collective family memory, i.e. the ghost of her grandfather, photographs, artifacts (the bird and ID badges), recorded stories and testaments from her family, and her own “intuitive” memory of the event. She categorizes memory into: 1) events that have happened and that we have images for (bombing of Pearl Harbor, newsreels); 2) things/events we don’t have images for that we restage in front of the camera (POV of Japanese); 3) things that have happened which only exist in the mind of the observer(s) present at the time (suppression of personal experience and memory); and 4) things in which there are no observers except the spirits of the dead (the spirit of her grandfather witnessing their house being stolen). Tajiri relays her own cognitive memory of her family’s experience, particularly through her mother, in the image with the canteen, a memory constructed from an anecdote from her mother. She experiences all of her family’s collective silence intuitively as she talks about a “place” that she had never been to “yet I have a memory for it”, and her memory of “a great sadness before I was born”.


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