Attached are emails I sent to everyone, including the playwright Ken Narasaki whose last words to me were:
You, who were once a life force that helped spawn so many Asian American theater artists have now become a poison determined to kill your fellow artists because they are not you.
He accuses me of the same crime as David Henry Hwang. They must’ve met at the David Henry Hwang Theatre.
I don’t want to kill any writer. A writer once written never dies. I want the writer given his proper measure. That’s not rhetoric. The proper measure of a writer is the knowledge he claims in his work. Critics from the writer’s culture take a writer’s measure. That same standard applies to Japanese American writers who claim to be Japanese American and writing an especially Japanese American work.
Ken Narasaki claims to have improved on Okada’s ending in his play. I measure him against his claim. What makes his claim offensive is he is sure that had Okada lived he would have written an ending more like Narasaki’s.
I continue to believe that if John Okada were alive, he wouldn’t be quite as harsh a critic, but of course, we’ll never know.
The JACL of Mike Masaoka and his scribe Bill Hosokawa condemned NO-NO BOY in the JACL paper, the PACIFIC CITIZEN. JACLer Kenji Okuda is the curator of JACL image at the Smithsonian Institution. He was offered Momo Yashima’s A COMMUNITY DIVIDED, a reading of the JACL docs, government papers and personal papers of Frank Emi, leader of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, and Heart Mt draft resisters Mits Koshiyama and Yosh Kuromiya. Okuda refused with, “Washington is a JACL town.” And so it was, the JACL’s Norman Minetta that had his brother-in-law Mike Masaoka’s name placed on an official monument as a “civil rights advocate.”
Masaoka had been a paid “Confidential Agent” of the FBI. Actually two Confidential Agents T-11 to spy on the Nisei whose civil rights pretended to serve, and SLC-147 to spy on the JACL! The JACL openly mischaracterized the camp resistance to the JACL’s drafting the Nisei out of camp and the Rocky Shimpo, the Denver paper that carried the news of resistance and counseled standing on the Constitution. A COMMUNITY DIVIDED was kept out of the Smithsonian because it was anti-JACL. John Okada and his family were known to hate the JACL. The JACL had rejected the unfinished manuscript to a new Okada novel, unread, for UCLA’s collection of camp memorabilia.
Narasaki had rewritten the anti-JACL NO-NO BOY as a pro-JACL, NO-NO BOY and passed it off as the work of John Okada.
Literary research of NO-NO BOY led me to the JACL, and Michi Weglyn’s YEARS OF INFAMY and the bewildering endorsement by the JACL’s Mike Masaoka and the contradictory quote from Okada’s novel, a book the JACL’s Hosokawa belittled and effectively condemned to a warehouse. Jim “Hajiime” Akutsu presenting himself as the model for Ichiro in Okada’s NO-NO BOY led to James Omura and the Denver, Rocky Shimpo and the Fair Play Committee and the draft resisters from Heart Mountain and vast and variously complex Japanese America opened up before us. You are the Sansei among Chinamen. What you say counts more than anything a non-Nikkei like me coughs up. I seem to have reduced him to tearful namecalling.
Reader's of the exchange of emails will see Chinese I respect disagree on N0-NO BOY. But we're Chinese. Japanese American lit is an expression of Japanese America itself. Have the JA's given up authority over their lit to the JACL who gave it to the White racists?
What does JA think about Okada’s work? Does Japanese America care? Narasaki is depending on Japanese American indifference to Japanese America.
YOSHe AND N0-NO BOY
A release selling Greg Watanabe as the Clark Gable of 21sf Century. Watanabe is playing Kenji in John Okada’s NO-NO BOY a new play written, set to go places, by Ken Narasaki, and directed by Alberto Isaac. March 27th was the premiere performance. Has it attracted your attention yet?
In the 1957 novel, John Okada took a grim dry subject, made a title of it NO-NO BOY and wrote the most depressing downbeat plot in a realistic yet entertaining "American" way that settled the nerves of jittery Japanese American readers, that the author was a vet of the war in the Pacific who has “reasons” for writing about a traitorous pariah that refused to fight.
How often do JA theatergoers have the chance to compare the work of JA novel to a new play that has taken on the burden of duplicating the literary effect in theatre? What better test for life in a community, than knowledge about itself? If there's a community, it will rouse if not rise.
Yosh Kuromiya said he re-read NO-NO BOY, which he had disliked, trying to understand Lawson Inada’s and my enthusiasm for Okada. He was still shucking the thinking other people were right about him, though he didn’t show it when Lawson and I came into his life at Heart Mountain. Why did Lawson and Frank re-issue this book?
Think of it. A resister had taken us seriously and re-read NO-NO BOY. Two year’s later Lawson Inada published DRAWING THE LINE, a poem about Yosh Kuromiya touching his pencil to the paper and drawing Heart Mountain in a single line. That same year Yosh Kuromiya a draft resister from Heart Mountain and Jim Akutsu the admitted model for Okada’s “Ichiro” the No-No boy, of NO-NO BOY appeared in Frank Abe’s CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION.
From Akutsu who told the same story the same way, we listen and learn that Akutsu went to see the Min Yasui, a lawyer released from jail to Minidoka concentration camp. If he told this story to Okada, he told it just as we heard it. He had just been ordered to appear by the Draft. He had a letter to the Spanish Consul to forward to the Imperial Japanese Government asking to be “repatriated.” He wanted Min Yasui to read it and advise him. He reasoned that when the U.S. Gov reads that letter they’ll say “He’s not a Jap! He’s as American as you or me!” and he’ll be free. Yasui said to forget it and obey the order to appear.
Yasui went on to write “The Mother’s Petition!” to work his way back into the good graces of the JACL. He was rewarded with the Denver Office of the JACL where he devoted his energy to putting James Omura’s ROCKY SHIMPO editorials out of business. The Rocky was where the camp resistance got their news and the editorials was where they got their advice to observe the Constitution.
Jim Akutsu had written James Omura at the Rocky to please forward his letter to Frank Emi at Heart Mountain. Omura refused. When the letter finally reached him, Frank Emi advised Akutsu to get himself a lawyer, in a hurry.
Yosh Kuromiya heard these stories told and retold by Jim Akutsu, James Omura and Frank Emi in the course of making Emiko Omori’s RABBIT IN THE MOON, Frank Abe’s CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION.
Elements of Okada’s fictional Ichiro and the real Jim Akutsu combines with the story of Frank Emi’s fronting of Kiyoshi Okamoto’s stand on the Constitution to organize resistance at Heart Mountain in David Mura’s novel FAMOUS SUICIDES OF THE JAPANESE EMPIRE.
Yosh Kuromiya took NO-NO BOY seriously enough to go to Pasadena to see the new play. Yosh Kuromiya the resister writes Ken Narasaki, the playwright, the knowledge of Jim “Hajiime” Akutsu as Ichiro and JACL that has seeped from the novel, to the poem based on something of the novel, to the novel based on new facts and NO-NO BOY, to two PBS documentaries, into uncomfortable common knowledge among Japanese Americans. Narasaki might not have heard because of the constant nagging of the JACL and the threat of JACL police, the mainland 442nd.
Instead of thanks Narasaki offers his reasons for rewriting Okada’s end to NO-NO BOY, that amount to, he’s dead. I can do what I want with the dead.: – we intended to show that in the end, there was hope for Ichiro...that he would discover love and life. I’m sorry you disagreed with the ending, but I continue to believe that if John Okada were alive, he wouldn’t be quite as harsh a critic, but of course, we’ll never know.
It’s because we’ll never know, that we should not fuck with the end as written. Okada isn’t the same rewritten, and Narasaki know’s he’s violated the work he claims inspired him. If Shakespeare had lived longer he might have rewritten a happy end for ROMEO AND JULIET instead of one dying after the other. Then again he might not.