Interview with Chris Tahsima – Actor, Writer, Director

Visas and Virtue

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Chris Tashima starred along side Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Paul Rudd and many more in The Cove PSA (public service announcement) inspired by the 2010 Oscar winning documentary. He was nominated for an Emmy in Day of Independance and won an Acadamy Award in 1998 for his Live Action Short Film, Visas and Virtue, in which he both starred and directed. Among movies in his filmography are Americanese, On the Roof and Strawberry Fields.

Chris was kind enough to grant me the following interview.

Holise: Chris, I noticed that you have been very excited about a recent project. Would it be the upcoming film, Model Minority, that is now in post-production? What can you tell us about it?

Chris: MODEL MINORITY is a gripping family drama that shatters sterotypes, examines drug and alcohol abuse and how these issues contribute to the disfunctional breakdown of a contemporary mixed-race family. I play an alcoholic dad. This feature is the directorial debut of actress Lily Mariye. It was a great role to play and the film is expected to be completed sometime this fall or winter.

Holise: What are your future plans? Will you be writing or directing any time soon?

Chris: This fall I will star in the narrative historical drama, LI’L TOKYO REPORTER, a short film in which I portray real-life newspaper man and civil rights pioneer, Sei Fujii.

I am also negotiating to star in a sci-fi adventure movie shooting in Portugal in November. I haven’t signed yet, but if it goes I will be playing opposite a rather legendary British actor. Very exciting (sorry I can’t say more).

I also hope to be directing a theatre piece next spring; the world premiere of a new play.

Holise: Watching The Cove for the first time must have been very intense, as it was for all of us. What was your initial reaction?

Chris: I had heard much about it prior to seeing it, so I was somewhat prepared, and had certain expectations (which were more than fulfilled). Initially I thought it was a very well made documentary which had an excellent chance of winning the Oscar (a judgement based more on filmmaking skill and technique, rather than about subject or message). I also found it to be very moving. Although I am third-generation Japanese American, I do feel a connection to the Japanese people and relate to stories about Japan on a personal level. What struck me was the message that most of the Japanese people don’t know about what happens in Taiji, and once they are made aware, seem to be against it. I did have some fear that the film might be anti-Japanese, or that the fishing/whaling “culture” of Japan might be under attack. It was not, I felt. The film was more specifically about a practice, method and cover-up, I thought.

Holise: What was it like working with the others in The Cove PSA?

Chris: I was approached by the director, Andres Useche, to be in the PSA. I was grateful to be asked, and honored to be in a project that had so many stars involved, and that had such an important message. Each person was filmed separately (depending on individual schedules and available locations). I only worked with Andres and a couple of producers. So, unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet or work with any of the other stars. However, I was very pleased with the final cut and thought Andres did an excellent job.

Holise: Chris, I’d like to thank you for signing my petition “A Star is Overdue as a Cove Guardian in Taiji, Japan” and I am very moved at how you are so supportive of the cause. I know that you have been very busy and unable to make the trip to Taiji. Do you have any plans for going to Japan? If so, will you be visiting Wakayama prefecture?

Chris: I actually have family in Wakayama. That prefecture is where my father’s family is from and he has cousins who live there. I do not have any known plans to visit Japan in the future, though I hope to and would welcome the opportunity. And, if I do go, I will likely try to make a trip to Wakayama to visit with relatives. I have not been there since THE COVE was released, and now that I know about Taiji, it would be interesting to visit there. We’ll see…

Holise: I have a couple of question from my group, Ocean Bloggers Alliance. Sandy McElhaney of “Save Misty the Dolphin” asks, “What are your thoughts on the best ways of outreach to the people of Japan about the plight of vulnerable dolphins?

Chris: As I’m sure you are aware, the Japanese have a long history of whaling, as a culture, and get very defensive about any criticism on that topic. The dolphin plight is somewhat of a different topic, but may be tricky to separate out, when trying to get a message to the people of Japan. It is important to stay on topic and have lots of facts and perhaps personal testimony to share. Personally, I think whaling should be stopped, but I think that is a different discussion. To stay focused on the dolphin issue, to best get the message across, will take diplomacy, tact, patience and compassion. It’s hard because people (on both sides) tend to get emotional, which leads to more argument than accomplishment.

Holise: Kristen Shirah-Carson of asks, “Do you find yourself under more scrutiny or deal with more bias people in your perception of the dolphin slaughter being of Japanese-American Decent? If so what do you say to those people to get your opinion across?”

Chris: Truthfully, I don’t think there has been either any more or less scrutiny, due to my being Japanese American. I think it depends more on the individual who is involved in the debate, and whatever he/she may be bringing to the table (consciously or sub-consciously). Occasionally, people confuse the specific issues and blame Japan as a country, or the Japanese people, in a racist way (as if they all kill dolphins). But, that is individual ignorance (as most racism is), and that will happen regardless of whether I am Japanese American or not. If anything, I think perhaps being Japanese American has created more opportunity for me, to be involved in any effort or discussion. Honestly, I think that is why Andres asked me to be in the PSA; he wanted there to be Asian American, and specifically Japanese American voices added to the mix.

Thanks for asking.

As far as I am concerned, Chris Tashima outshines the other stars in The Cove PSA. Not only did he sign my petition, he has repeatedly shared my tweets with his followers on Twitter. Please support Chris Tashima!