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A man who fought against the California Alien Land Law: The story of Sei Fujii “Lil Tokyo Reporter” - Interviews with the production team and cast members - Part 2

Read Part 1 >> 

Executive producer: Fumiko Carole Fujita
Director and scriptwriter: Jeffrey Gee Chin
Leading actor: Chris Tashima 

Playing the lead, Sei Fujii, in “Lil Tokyo Reporter” is a third-generation Japanese-American actor and director, Chris Tashima. He found himself strongly attracted to the script. “Since it was a prewar story, I read the script without any prior knowledge. I didn’t know about Sei Fujii either. But the script was exceptionally good and the theme was just great. I felt like I had to tell the world about Fujii’s life.”

Chris talks about his Issei grandfather who resiliently made a success in business again after losing everything in the war

When asked how he put himself into the role of a first-generation immigrant who lived in the prewar time which he had no knowledge of, Chris said that it was just his regular work process as an actor. “No matter who they are, it’s just a regular process for us the actors to turn ourselves into characters as much as possible. I learned about his personality and what he did, and I turned myself into Fujii.” In such process, he thought about his own grandfather, a first-generation immigrant just like Fujii, which helped him better understand Fujii’s character. Chris then told us about his memories with his grandfather.

“My grandfather was an Issei and he ran a number of supermarkets in the Eastside of Los Angeles. Before the war, he was engaged in agriculture in Santa Paula but lost everything in the war. He established his business from scratch after the war. He was a successful businessperson and community leader at the same time. I remember clearly that in my childhood, everywhere I went as I took a ride in my grandfather’s Cadillac, everyone knew him. Even as a child, I felt that my grandfather was respected by many. He was fluent in English as he was in Japanese, so I didn’t have any problem communicating with him. Plus he was hiring Mexican workers so he spoke Spanish, too.”

Chris looked proud when he talked about his grandfather. Perhaps Sei Fujii, who lived as an activist and journalist, and his entrepreneur grandfather, had things in common, though they had different careers, because they lived in the almost same era as Issei.

Now that he had the support from Chris, Jeffrey, the director, soon had a meeting with him. “As a fledgling director, I never felt so fortunate to have Chris on the team. I emailed him every day and asked for his advice on everything. In our first meeting, we talked in depth about how to prepare for filming, potential issues, how to avoid them and what would be best for us. He has more experience in working on much bigger projects than me. Now Chris is like my mentor.”

Oscar-winning actor to take the lead

A film made by real professionals

We asked Jeffrey what the most difficult scene was. “It’s the scene inside the Tokyo Club. We had over 30 cast members on the set and had to spend a good amount of money, so I was under a lot of pressure. There was also a time limit. At the place we rented, we had to finish filming within 12 hours, from 6pm to 6am. It was a very challenging scene.”

Another notable aspect of this film is the setting of the prewar First Street in Little Tokyo reconstructed to bring back the old place to life. No car is present, and low-rise buildings, whose remnants we can see today, are lining on both sides of the street – Civic Center in Los Angeles can be spotted at a distance. The computer graphics of the scene is a product of a specialist who worked on the movie “Avator” as a supervisor of its visual effects. In fact, it was not only the computer graphics but everything from production design, coloring, editing to audio was created by the hands of real professionals. Jeffrey says that the film production was made possible by a number of fortunate chances in addition to the appearance of Oscar-winning Chris Tashima.

With much human support and funding, “Lil Tokyo Reporter” in completion has received high acclaim all over the world. Currently its DVDs are available for purchase on and more screenings are scheduled to take place in the U.K. next year and in South America, too, where there is a high population of nikkei immigrants.

With limited budget, they could only make a 30-minute short film this time, but Carole and Jeffrey are eager to make a longer film about Sei Fujii to depict his life more in depth. In order to do that, they will need Fujii’s biography in English, and they plan to continue their research.

But before that, we asked each of the three to give a message to people who might decide to watch the short version after reading this article.

“Throughout the history of Little Tokyo, people faced and had to overcome so many hardships to bring a better life for future nikkei generations. I hope that their stories will reach out to as many people as possible.” (Carole, Executive producer)

“As a filmmaker, I began to think of my mission as a way to tell people a life story of one Asian-American who sacrificed his life to fight for future generations. And I hope that this film will inspire people.” (Jeffrey, Director and scriptwriter)

“I want people to follow our Twitter (laugh). But all jokes aside, I want them to know that this is a very special film that was made possible by individual efforts of all members involved, combined with community support and it took the blood and sweat of so many people. Film is the medium through which we can most effectively convey human emotions. By watching this film, you can learn about Sei Fujii in detail. I hope that you will all watch it.” (Chris, Leading actor)

Next, we will have an interview with Eijiro Ozaki, a Japanese actor who played a role in the film.

Part 3 >>


* DVDs available for purchase on the official site of Lil Tokyo Reporter


Message from Executive Producer:

"Lil Tokyo Reporter” continues to be screened nation-wide and internationally. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation payable to the Little Tokyo Historical Society to support ongoing promotions. Your much appreciated support will help us share the forgotten civil rights journey of Issei Pioneer Sei Fujii.

Mail to: Lil Tokyo Reporter Film, PO Box 3552, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274

F. Carole Fujita
Executive Producer
Lil Tokyo Reporter


© 2014 Keiko Fukuda

fumiko carole fujita Jeffrey Chin little tokyo Little Tokyo Reporter Sei Fujii