SENIOR IN MOTION: DIGITAL HISTORIES FELLOW MICHI TANIOKA

As fellow Digital Histories filmmakers Fran Ito, Steve Nagano, David Osako, NJ Nakamura, and Glen Kanemoto listen in, director Michi Tanioka (with mic) answers an audience question regarding her documentary IT AIN'T HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE 'NUFF (Photo: Brandon Okumura)

As fellow Digital Histories filmmakers Fran Ito, Steve Nagano, David Osako, NJ Nakamura, and Glen Kanemoto listen in, director Michi Tanioka (with mic) answers an audience question regarding her documentary IT AIN'T HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE 'NUFF (Photo: Brandon Okumura)

INTERVIEW With Connie Oh

CONNIE OH: Give us a brief introduction of yourself. Are you from the Little Tokyo area? Any hobbies or interests outside of filmmaking? Any past experiences in filmmaking?
MICHI TANIOKA: I was born in Santa Monica. We did live in Little Tokyo prior to World War II and was evacuated to the Manzanar concentration camp in 1942. I may possibly be in that infamous picture taken in front of the Nishi Honganji Temple (now the historic building of JANM), where evacuees wait to take buses to the train station heading towards Manzanar.
     Most of my time is taken up gardening and reading. I also volunteer at my church, am a docent at the JANM, tutor LAUSD elementary school children in the Wonder of Learning program, and am active in the Council for Pacific Asian Theology and the Prime Timers — a seniors group.
     I started making films at LTSC’s Discovery Center in 2006 and have continued on at Visual Communications, where there is an extremely supportive staff.

Any favorite films? Favorite filmmakers?
My favorite film is LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON which was produced in Japan; it is a very moving film about family dynamics. My favorite directors are Ingmar Bergman (AUTUMN SONATA) and Akira Kurosawa (RAN) as well as many other directors around the world.

A scene from Michi Tanioka's IT AIN'T HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE 'NUFF. (Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker)

A scene from Michi Tanioka's IT AIN'T HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE 'NUFF. (Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker)

What is your film from the 2016 Digital Histories cycle about?
In September of 2015, my husband George and I moved to a retirement community in Alhambra called Atherton Baptist Homes. To me the place has a sacred aura surrounding it, and that is why I decided to make my film IT AIN'T HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE ‘NUFF for this year’s film project. 

What is your favorite moment in your film IT AIN'T HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE ‘NUFF?
The favorite scene in my film shows my husband teaching his beginners ukulele class. Since their playing is not quite up to par, I deleted their singing and playing and substituted his voice and strumming. The ladies look quite proud and happy, like potential professional musicians.

What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
My favorite part of filmmaking is writing the script and shooting the footage. I like the editing process — shaping the final story — but technically, it is the most difficult and frustrating for me.

What was it like to see your film premiere at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival?
It was so exciting to see our class films screened at the Aratani theater this year. Last year, our films were shown at the much smaller 190-seat Tateuchi Democracy Forum. I felt as if we had come up in the world as now we were given a bigger theater, a better date and prime time. As a senior filmmaker, I encourage others to try making a film. It will change your life!

Never Too Old to Learn: director Michi Tanioka (second from left) and colleagues master the intricacies of non-linear digital editing at The Little Tokyo Service Center's DISKovery Center, the first home of the Digital Histories program. (Photo: Jeff Liu/Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

Never Too Old to Learn: director Michi Tanioka (second from left) and colleagues master the intricacies of non-linear digital editing at The Little Tokyo Service Center's DISKovery Center, the first home of the Digital Histories program. (Photo: Jeff Liu/Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

As a senior filmmaker, what do you personally think is the value of a program like Digital Histories? 
Digital Histories has changed my life. I didn’t think I had any creative juices left as I entered a new decade, but filmmaking has opened up new vistas for me and has brought excitement, new friends, self-esteem and creativity.

Any future projects or dream projects you are thinking of trying out?
I am thinking of three possible film projects: 1) the story about the Japanese-Peruvians who were used as hostages/prisoners of exchange during World War II; 2) a film about the LGBTQ community, supported by The Open Door at Evergreen Baptist Church, or 3) a story about a 105-year old Chinese woman living at Atherton Baptist Homes, who is sharp as a tack and maneuvers her walker like a marathon runner!

For additional information about Digital Histories, please click here.