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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, March 12, 2001

"After America...After Japan"'
Americans who aren't afraid to "go native" while living in
Japan find returning home difficult ,says film director Regge
Life, because the experience of living abroad changes them.

You really can’t
go home again

Filmmaker focuses on
experiences of Japanese and
American expatriates

By Gary C.W. Chun
Special to the Star-Bulletin

After years of living abroad, the bracing reality of returning to your original place of birth should be welcome relief to anyone. To finally return to old, comfortable habits and surroundings. To go home.

But according to a video documentary that depicts the predictaments that arise when both American and Japanese expatriates return to their respective native cultures, the transition can be a little rockier than first expected.

"After America ... After Japan" is the last of a trilogy of films by executive producer/director and writer Regge Life that focus in on intercultural exchanges between the two countries.


Bullet What: "After America ... After Japan"
Bullet When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday (abbreviated version of documentary will be shown, followed by discussion)
Bullet Where: Tokai University Auditorium, 2241 Kapiolani Boulevard, 9th floor
Bullet Cost: $10 general, $8 for Japan-America Society of Hawaii and Nippon Club members, $5 for students
Bullet Call: 524-4450

Life's first two efforts documented African-Americans living in Japan and then the children of intercultural marriages.

In a phone interview last Thursday, Life spoke from a New York editing suite, where he earlier put together an hourlong version of the documentary that he'll bring to the Tokai University showing later this week.

(One interview that did not make this new cut is one with taiko drummer/ instructor/composer Kenny Endo, who was born in Los Angeles and now splits his time between Hawaii and Japan.)

"This new film chronicles the experiences of people -- some who have lived abroad four to six years, to as much as 50 years -- who made a significant effort to interact with their new culture. People who weren't afraid to go a little bit native," Life said.

"This is the conclusion of the series of how people are affected by culture more than, say, just having to learn another language.

"This new set of cultural rules these people find themselves living by changes them, and this documentary looks at who they've become. You really can't go back home, to be exactly who you were before you went to live abroad," he said.

"Everyone tries to prepare before traveling and living abroad," Life said, "in order to make negotiating the bumps a little easier. But the essence is is that you realize you can't prepare for everything.

"It's the subtle things that get you. I liken it to a prizefight where all the training in the world doesn't prepare you for that little punch that sneaks in and floors you.

Although lifetime Hawaii residents are familiar with coping and learning to negotiate through cultural differences between ethnic groups, Life said, this idea is alien to others.

"With Americans living in Japan, it's learning to adapt to the ways of reasoning, where the whole personality of the group is considered more important than the individual. Whereas the American style is 'tell us what you want !'

"Japanese living in America find things a little more expansive than the conformity and uniformity of their native culture. The idea of idependent thought is foreign to them," Life said.

So while the end result for those who've lived abroad successfully is "this wonderful blend" of intercultural sensitivity, this is not something they can readily share once back home, specifically with those who aren't as well-traveled.

"After America ... After Japan"
Americans who have lived in Japan often have trouble, on
returning home, relating to people who are not as worldly.
They end up settling in cosmopolitan cities such as
Honolulu, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"You have to be patient with these former ex-pats," he said. "Sometimes they can't verbalize what's troubling their return home, so you have to be a careful listener."

Life said he tries to stay in touch with those he's interviewed, and while some actually go back to their place of birth, others find a more comfortable compromise.

"In many respects, going back to the local environment can be more devastating," he said, "so just to get their feet back on native soil, they move to places with a more cosmopolitan feel, like Hawaii, San Francisco or Los Angeles ... anywhere with a great sushi restaurant or karaoke!"

Life hopes that people who see "After America ... After Japan" will awaken to the reality that "we must learn to live out of the box ... to think globally. A race-based reality no longer works for anyone.

"The job market is opening up all over the world. I hope this film will open up the viewer to being a global citizen, and not just an American, an Asian-American or an African-American."

Life's two previous documentaries have been shown on Japanese NHK and American PBS networks. And as soon as Life gets an actor-narrator for this latest project (he's used Ossie Davis and Joe Morton for his last two films), the longer version of "After America ... After Japan" will be shown nationwide on PBS sometime later this year.

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