Jesse Nishihata Visual Storyteller
The legacy of Jesse’s work endures, and his vision has not lost meaning over the years. The issues he brought to light are still with us, and still require examination. And the world is still very much in need of the generosity and spirit that he expressed in every frame, in every shot. – Junji Nishihata
Pioneer, visual poet, and prolific filmmaker, Jesse Nishihata (1929 – 2006) paved the way for all Nikkei artists who have followed and directly inspired many who are leaders in the creative community today. Terry Watada, Nikkei Voice and Bulletin columnist, author, and teacher recalls, “The passion with which he committed himself….was remarkable.“
A new retrospective exhibit at the Nikkei National Museum pays tribute to Jesse Nishihata and his eclectic and extensive body of work.
Born Hideo Nishihata in 1929 in Vancouver, to immigrant Japanese parents, Jesse spent his childhood on Powell Street, the former Japantown, where his father owned a tin metal shop. He was thirteen when all of that was shattered during WWII with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His family were among the 22,000 Canadians of Japanese ancestry expelled from the BC coast. Jesse survived internment in Tashme, he worked in the sugar beet farms in Diamond City, Alberta, and he went on to complete his education in Montreal and attend graduate school in London. By the time the Japanese Canadians received an official apology from the Canadian government in 1988 after more than a decade of struggle for justice, Jesse was already a well-established independent filmmaker who had been teaching film and media studies at Ryerson University and had already worked for 12 years as a contract producer for CBC. In 1977 he earned a Genie award for his seminal work, The Inquiry Film, a precedent-shattering examination of Native rights and economic development in Canada’s North. Jesse’s first film about the Japanese Canadian WWII experience Watari Dori: Bird of Passage (1973) was framed around his own family history and in 1989 he produced a video record of the Japanese Canadian fight for redress in Justice In Our Time: How Redress Was Won.
Jesse’s lens, both literal and figurative, extended beyond the Japanese Canadian experience. As his son Masashi narrates in a tribute film, “In all of his work he teaches that we must look beyond accepted versions of reality, that everyone no matter their race, disability, or disadvantage, can take part in the creation of truth.”
While documentary was Jesse’s genesis, his panoply of films extended to avant-garde experimental visual poetics in his 1988 film Black Earth which illustrated a metaphor of the earth as a woman and was filmed on location in India.
Jesse passed from this world in 2006 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The legacy of Jesse Nishihata extends beyond his extensive and eclectic body of work. His visual stories live on in those he has inspired in the process.
Exhibition runs April 1 – May 4, 2014
Opening reception: Wed. April 2, 7pm – 9pm
Curator’s talk: Sat. April 12, 2pm
Nikkei National Museum
6688 Southoaks Crescent, Burnaby
The Inquiry Film screening:
Monday April 14, 7pm at Centre A