5/04: Documentary film on artist and activist Nobuko Miyamoto

Still of Nobuko Miyamoto and a crowd from Nobuko Miyamoto: A Song in Movement. Courtesy of JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center and PBS SoCal.

JANM Celebrates World Premiere of Documentary on Artist and Activist Nobuko Miyamoto 

LOS ANGELES, CA, April 15, 2024 – The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) announces the world premiere of Nobuko Miyamoto: A Song in Movement on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at 6 p.m. at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center as part of the VC Film Fest. Directed by Tadashi Nakamura, the director of JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center (MAC), and Quyên Nguyen-Le, a Daytime Emmy–nominated queer Vietnamese filmmaker, Nobuko Miyamoto: A Song in Movement is the first documentary film (running time: 60 minutes) that looks at the life and times of dancer, writer, singer, performer, folklorist, and activist Nobuko Miyamoto. Tickets to the screening are $20 and are available at festival.vcmedia.org/2024.

Born in Los Angeles, Miyamoto was only two years old when her family was forcibly removed from their home to the Santa Anita temporary detention center. When her father volunteered to harvest sugar beets for a season, the Miyamotos moved to Montana, followed by Idaho and Utah.

When she returned to Los Angeles she studied dance and was in films like The King and I, Les Girls, and West Side Story. An activist and musician during the anti-war movement, she and Chris Iijima traveled around the country playing folk protest music about the Asian American experience.

In 1973 she created the first album of Asian American music, A Grain of Sand, in collaboration with Iijima and Charlie Chin. Five years later, she founded Great Leap, a multiethnic performing arts organization that puts the Asian American story on stage. In 2021 she debuted her album, 120,000 Stories, and published her memoir, Not Yo’ Butterfly: My Long Song of Relocation, Race, Love, and Revolution.

In this film, Miyamoto reflects on a life that has bridged coasts, industries, families, and history, after decades of groundbreaking cultural work that unites communities and sets the bar for Asian American storytelling. Featuring rare archival footage, the film is a story of a changing community told through the singular life of one of its most beloved storytellers.

Nobuko Miyamoto: A Song in Movement is made possible by a National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant, the Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation, the Center for Asian American Media, and the Peng Zhao and Cherry Chen AAPI Voices Fund. A co-production with PBS SoCal, the documentary will debut as part of PBS SoCal’s ARTBOUND series later this fall.

“By telling this extraordinary story of Nobuko and her family, JANM’s new documentary showcases survivors’ immense creativity during wartime incarceration. Art is the powerful thread that connects her Santa Anita experiences to the civil rights and Asian American movements into today. Through these intersectional histories, new audiences can engage with this comprehensive story that bears an enormous weight of history and offers a new interpretation of Santa Anita for all Americans,” said Ann Burroughs, President and CEO of JANM.

“It’s a huge honor to work on this film about Nobuko and her epic career. She has played such a consistent and important role in bridging communities together through her work. She has done so much as an activist, singer/songwriter, dancer, and leader in the arts community, and even now at eighty-four years old, I have a hard time keeping up with her!” said Nakamura.

About the Japanese American National Museum (JANM)

Established in 1985, JANM promotes understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. Located in the historic Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles, JANM is a center for civil rights, ensuring that the hard-fought lessons of the World War II incarceration are not forgotten.

A Smithsonian Affiliate and one of America’s Cultural Treasures, JANM is a hybrid institution that straddles traditional museum categories. JANM is a center for the arts as well as history. It provides a voice for Japanese Americans and a forum that enables all people to explore their own heritage and culture.

Since opening to the public in 1992, JANM has presented over 100 exhibitions onsite while traveling 40 exhibits to venues such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Ellis Island Museum in the United States, and to several leading cultural museums in Japan and South America.

JANM is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday–Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and on Thursday from 12 p.m.–8 p.m. JANM is free every third Thursday of the month. On all other Thursdays, JANM is free from 5 p.m.–8 p.m. For more information, visit janm.org or follow us on social media @jamuseum.