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Monday, May 8, 2000

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Police captain and magician Alan Arita shows his
sleight-of-hand trick, changing a dollar bill's pattern.

HPD investigator
makes magic in
his spare time

But he hasn't figured out
how to use his 'powers' to
help him find stolen goods

By Rod Ohira


Whenever he goes to work in a tuxedo instead of his police captain's uniform, Alan Arita steps into a realm reserved for the likes of master illusionist John Hirokawa.

Magic has turned out to be a profitable side business for the 44-year-old Arita, who performs only two to three times a week locally, but earns between $400 and $1,500 per show.

"I just do private shows, convention work, and it helps that I can do shows in Japanese," he said. "Magic is a business now but it's still fun for me."

When he's not working at magic, Arita oversees property-crime investigations for the Honolulu Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division.

A Farrington High graduate who earned a Master's degree in criminal justice management from Chaminade University, Arita became interested in magic 37 years ago when his parents bought him a magic set.

Encouraged by his wife, the former Suzette Marushige of Wahiawa, he began taking lessons about 22 years ago at Magic & Novelty Center on Alakea Street, which was then owned by Hirokawa's mother, Ruth.

"I was doing basic card tricks and working with cups and balls and ropes at the time," Arita said. "You can learn a trick in 10 or 15 minutes but perfecting it takes years.

"The three things in magic is practice, practice, practice. The idea is to take a trick and make it look simple."

As his skills improved, Arita was able to earn extra money by performing at small parties.

"John Hirokawa was charging $150 for a gig then, so I got a lot of referral jobs from his mom," Arita said. "Most every weekend, I got $25 for a half hour.

"It wasn't big money but I couldn't believe I was being paid for something I enjoyed doing."

Arita's big break came in 1992, when he became the backup magician for the late Ben Kai (Tsunoda), who was the opening act for Tihati Productions at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

"I had to learn his show and after two weeks, I was very uncomfortable," Arita said. "The birds kept flying away and I kept dropping things.

"I was ready to quit when this old waiter came by and asked me, 'How's it going?' He said he watched other magicians and they were just like me starting out. After talking to him, I decided to try one more night. It turned out to be presentable enough."

Arita was 32 years old when he started doing tricks involving doves and rabbits.

"Working with animals is difficult until they get used to you and there aren't many people around who want to share secrets about animal tricks," he said.

"I had a trick where I would change a dove into a rabbit. Once, the rabbit came out of the illusion box before the bird went in."

Arita went on to develop his skills as an illusionist.

His signature trick, which was invented in Germany, is called a "cube-zag."

The illusion involves placing a female assistant in a box, then running sword blades into the box and then big cubes through it. Only the assistant's hand, holding an oversized money bill, is visible to the audience once she enters the box.

At the end, the assistant emerges from the box wearing a different outfit.

The costume change is an important part of the trick, says Olive Zanakis, an Aloha Airlines flight attendant who has assisted Arita for five years.

"It took us about two years to figure out how to do the costume change," said Olive, who is the younger sister of KITV reporter Mary Zanakis. "Doing the cube-zag wasn't that difficult once we got the timing down.

"I really enjoy working with Alan. He's got that real innocent look with the twinkle in his eye that draws the audience in because they know something is coming up.

"He also allows me to play with the audience. That's important for me because he doesn't know what I'm doing behind his back."

Arita also uses Lia Phillips, a former University of Hawaii cheerleader, and Kellie Learmont as assistants.

"They're the stars of the show because they provide the misdirection that makes me look good," he said.

The working crew also includes technician Eric Basa.

"I'm lucky because I have a full-time job," said Arita, who has invested more than $25,000 into his side business.

"It makes it easier to handle the cost of doing shows."

Jimmy Yoshida, known to many as the "grandfather of magic in Hawaii," rates Arita as one of the top local magicians.

"For a guy who has been a magician for only a short time, he's worked himself up real fast," said the 80-year-old Yoshida, owner of a magic supply business.

"His presentation is good."

Arita's plans include doing more corporate magic shows, such as the one he did recently for Panasonic.

"They were demonstrating new products and during a 15-minute break, we utilized the product in a magic trick to get a message across," he said.

Arita also wants to develop an anti-drug magic show for young children.

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