Escolha o seu idioma de preferência para tirar o máximo proveito das páginas do nosso Jornal:
English 日本語 Español Português

Fizemos muitas melhoras nas seções do nosso Jornal. Por favor, envie-nos a sua opinião ao escrever para!

Toge Fujihira: Master Photographer and World Traveler - Part 2

Read Part 1 >>

Toge Fujihira (Photo courtesy of Kay Bromberg)

Even as Fujihira and Shilin made their documentaries on Native Americans, they also collaborated on a series of films for the Protestant Film Commission. In 1951, Fujihira travelled to Brazil to shoot a film on Church missionary work there. The following year, they released An End to Darkness, a nondenominational film about a Liberian boy’s struggle for a Christian education and his desire to return home and serve his people. 

Similarly, Challenge in the Sun (1952) depicted a young missionary couple representing the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Missionary District of the Panama Canal Zone, and their work in city slums and jungles. Shilin and Fujihira went on to make In Fertile Soil (1953), which traced the work of the Church in rural Idaho, and was selected for the prestigious Edinburgh International Film Festival.

In 1955, Fujihira and Shilin produced A Song of the Pacific, a documentary commissioned by the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church on the missionary work of the Church in Hawaii and the South Pacific. The film features the stories of a young Nurse, an old Korean, a Hawaiian clergyman and an Okinawan with Hansen’s Disease.

Tragically, Alan Shilin died in 1955 due to complications of lung cancer, bringing an end to Shilin Productions and Fujihira’s documentary work with him. A year after Shilin’s death, his last collaboration with Fujihira, The Village of the Poor, appeared. Set in India, it told the story of a dancer, a farmer, and an outcaste whose lives are changed by love.

After Shilin’s death, Fujihira worked as Director of Film Productions International. Perhaps his biggest break was when he was tapped to serve as director of photography for the 1957 film Mark of the Hawk, an independently produced dramatic film starring Sidney Poitier and Eartha Kitt. Set in British East Africa, it features Poitier as a Black labor leader and legislator pressured toward violence both by a white extremist and by his own brother, a Mau-Mau terrorist. Poitier is ultimately convinced of the importance of Christianity as a weapon for racial equality. Although the film was not a great commercial success, Fujihira’s photography was singled out for praise by reviewers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mildred Martin.

Toge Fujihira also took on diverse cinema work as a freelancer. He provided camera work for a set of three short instructional baseball films for the New York Yankees that were released in early 1965. He filmed Arthur Mokin’s 1968 film “Brazil I love You,” a travelogue of Brazilian society, and collaborated on two films produced by the United Church of Canada, Someone Must Care (1967) and That All May be One (1970). He also worked on a variety of educational filmstrips.

Toge was not the only Fujihira involved in camera work in the postwar years. Tod Fujihira, after resettling in New York, went on to teach darkroom laboratory techniques at the School of Modern Photography, then became official photographer at the Pratt Institute Art School in Brooklyn. In 1960, Tod opened a camera studio on East 23rd Street in New York City, near the campus of the School of Visual Arts.

As part of his work for the Methodist Church, Toge Fujihira toured the world an estimated six times during the postwar years. He first went to Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Panama. He later embarked on a photography tour of South Asia, travelling through India, Nepal, and Pakistan. In May 1959, Fujihira was commissioned by the Presbyterian Church’s Foreign Mission Board to shoot a film about the church’s missionary activities in South Korea. However, he was forced to abandon the project when he was refused a visa by the South Korean government. He regularly provided images taken abroad for faith-based magazines such as Together, ConcernGospel Herald and Gospel Messenger, as well as the educational journal Adult Teacher.

Even as Toge Fujihira toured for the Methodist Church, he also worked on a freelance basis in association with the Monkmeyer Photo Press Service. His photos of sites in Latin America, Africa and Asia, credited under the tagline “Fujihira from Monkmeyer,” were regularly featured in the New York Times and the Saturday Review, as well as in Newsweek, and several other publications. His photographs were featured in a 1969 filmstrip, “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: Ode to Joy.” He also produced striking photos of “Freedom City,” which portrayed an African American cooperative community in Mississippi, including images of a voter registration drive.

Although his main work was as always as a photographer, Fujihira became increasingly active in later years as writer and photojournalist. He contributed multiple articles to the Methodist magazine New World Outlook. For the August 1973 issue, Fujihira penned an article marking the centennial of Methodism in Mexico, including his photos of Mexican Methodist churches and parishioners during services. In December 1973, he published another article, “Japanese Christians Oppose the Shrine,” The article aired criticism of the Yasakuni Shrine, which housed imperial Japan’s war dead. He also contributed pieces to other magazines. For The Rotarian he produced the text and photos for the article “Hogar Harris—Haven of Hope” (1969), on Rotary Club assistance in Bolivia.

During the years after 1955, Fujihira grew less involved with Japanese American communities. However, he provided important assistance to the Japanese American Research Project at UCLA, directed by T. Scott Miyakawa. In March 1965, Fujihira helped project members document the life of an Alaskan Issei, Frank Yasuda, and his role in establishing the Alaskan town of Chandalar at the beginning of the 20th century. Nisei journalists such as Larry Tajiri and Bill Hosokawa continued to report on Fujihira’s activities, notably his world tours. For example, in May 1963 Hosokawa devoted one of his Pacific Citizen columns to Fujihira’s South Asia tour.

Similarly, for most of his postwar career Fujihira did not address specifically Asian American topics in his work. However, in 1970, in partnership with New York journalist Taxie Kusunoki, he produced a filmstrip, “Asian Americans,” that spoke of the sufferings and achievements of Asian immigrants and their descendants. In January 1973, he published an article entitled “Oriental Inclusion Act” in the magazine The Interpreter.

Shortly afterwards, in March 1973, he produced an article on Asian Americans and blacks that appeared under different titles in several African American newspapers, including the Baltimore Afro-AmericanPittsburgh Courier, and Philadelphia Tribune. In it, Fujihira pointed to the example of Black Pride as an inspiration for Asian Americans to study their own history and culture. Along with comparing the discrimination facing both African Americans and Japanese Americans during World War II, Fujihira asserted that “Asian Americans owe a lot to the ‘Black Power’ movement which made them aware of their own ‘yellowness.’ The young Asian American activists, he concluded (with a nod to the title of his old friend Bill Hosokawa’s book) were no longer ‘Quiet Americans.’”

Toge Fujihira died of heart failure on November 28, 1973 in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was on assignment for the United Church of Canada. His sudden death was felt throughout the Japanese American community; JACL National President Henry Tanaka eulogized Fujihira in the pages of the Pacific Citizen. He was awarded an obituary (as Toge Fujihara) in the New York Times. In 1988 Fujihira was elected posthumously into the United Methodist Hall of Fame. To memorialize Toge and Mitsu Fujihira, their son Donald Fujihira created a scholarship in their name for students of Swarthmore College.

During his lifetime, Toge Fujihira established himself as a pioneering Asian American filmmaker and photojournalist who travelled around the world to capture powerful images.

His career had many parallels with that of his exact contemporary, Yoichi Okamoto, the official White House photographer during the administration of Lyndon Johnson. Both men were Nisei who first established themselves as photographers in New York State in the prewar period, and then gained their greatest fame through their prolific multiyear production of images for a principal client (the Methodist Board of Missions in Fujihira’s case, the U.S. government in Okamoto’s).

Both also worked as freelance photographers and photojournalists on an international scale. Yet, unlike Okamoto, Fujihira maintained close ties with Japanese communities, both in his social and professional life. In his documentation of wartime and postwar Japanese American community life and his portraits of individuals, Fujihira stands as a forerunner of Corky Lee and other members of a younger generation of Asian American community photographers.

1940s. (Photo taken by Toge Fujihira; Courtesy of Kay Bromberg)

*Special thanks to Kay Fujihira Bromberg and Donald Fujihira for their help with this article.


© 2021 Greg Robinson; Jonathan van Harmelen

filmmaker photographer Toge Fujihira