‘The Mushroom Club’ looks at Hiroshima almost 60 years after WWII
A Japanese train rumbles across the Hiroshima train tracks, the camera tracking its movement as director Steven Okazaki’s muses on the denigration of the meaning of the word “peace” in Japanese society, a word held almost sacred immediately after the bombs dropped on Japan.
“Japanese troops were sent into Iraq, marking the first time since World War II that Japanese troops were sent into a foreign country,” said Okazaki in the fils.
The film cuts from the train to a cigarette machine – the “peace” and “hope” brands glistening prominently.
“The Mushroom Club,” Okazaki’s newest film, looks at Hiroshima almost 60 years after the end of World War II. Okazaki shot the film himself with a digital camcorder and described the process after the screening ended.
“It was an incredibly simple film, done for nearly nothing,” said Okazaki.
The film received an Oscar nomination in 2006 for Best Short Documentary.
“The Mushroom Club” was shown as part of the International Film Series (IFS), an event started at CU in 1941 by a group of professors wishing to highlight films and directors not seen in typical movie theaters. The IFS has developed into a major event in past decades, attracting famous directors such as Vernor Herzog, David Maysles, and Trent Harris.
This year Sundance Institute named the IFS a participant in the Sundance Institute Art House Project to celebrate the Sundance festival’s 25th year of existence. The series will show 25 movies from the Sundance repertoire.
“We run a gamut between obscure film and films from really well-known directors,” said IFS organizer Pablo Kjolseth. “(The Sundance Institute) came to us and asked if we wanted to be a part of the series.”
The IFS also screened Okazaki’s 1990 film, “Days of Waiting,” a film chronicling the experiences of Estelle Ishigo, a white woman who followed her Japanese husband into the internment camps at the beginning of World War II. The film won the 1990 Oscar for Best Short Documentary.
“She had a sense of history when it was happening,” said Okazaki of Ishigo, who wrote letters, drew sketches and painted while in the camps.
Okazaki tells the film in the form of a letter written by Ishigo to a friend. The text of the letter, a compendium of various letters and biographical writings from Ishigo, describes the hardships and alienations experienced by Japanese-American citizens during and after internment.
“We were only 25 miles from home, but it felt like we were in a foreign land,” said Ishigo as she described her first chilling experiences at the camp.
Sometime after the war, Ishigo donated all her belongings from that period to the University of California at Los Angeles archive, where they sat virtually untouched for decades.
“I opened the boxes, and this film was in it,” said Okazaki.
Ishigo’s drawings and paintings capture emotions of disparity and solitude in the camps and the struggle to maintain pride and dignity while surrounded by barbed-wire fences and machine gun towers. Okazaki moves from sketch to sketch, vividly illustrating Ishigo’s perspective as an unquestioned member of the Japanese community.
When Okazaki researched the film, he visited Ishigo, who had not lived on her own for years. The doctor at the institute where she lived was pessimistic about her coherency, but Okazaki said her eyes lit up when he told her he was thinking about making a film.
“These are the moments that are kind of scary and wonderful at the same time,” Okazaki said, pausing briefly. “I told her what we were thinking about doing and she sat up and said, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for someone to tell this story.'”