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A new assignment for this 'Reporter'

Film about Japanese American activist Sei Fujii will screen to raise funds for preservation project.

November 14, 2012|By Andrew Shortall
  • Mary Urashima, left; Karen Chu, of the Little Tokyo Historical Society; Gloria Alvarez; Chris Tashima, back left, the lead actor in the film; and volunteer Dennis Masuda, back right. Urashima and Alvarez are members of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. There will be a special benefit screening of a short film called "Lil Tokyo Reporter" to help pay for the preservation of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church.
Mary Urashima, left; Karen Chu, of the Little Tokyo Historical… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Sei Fujii spent most of his life fighting for the civil rights of Japanese Americans. This weekend, he'll return to Huntington Beach to help preserve part of their immigrant history.

It won't be the real Fujii, who passed away in 1954. But even in fictional form, his appearance may draw a crowd.

A short film telling the activist's story, "Lil Tokyo Reporter," will screen four times at the Charter Centre Cinemas. The screenings aim to raise funds to keep the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, which historians have called Orange County's most valuable surviving Asian American site, from demolition.

"We view this as both a fundraiser and a friend-raiser," said Mary Urashima, chair of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. "This is our first event, and we're wanting to make people aware of our historical preservation effort. With this wonderful opportunity to host the film premiere here, that will bring in a lot of people who didn't know about us."

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The film's director Jeffrey Gee Chin, cast and producers are set to attend every screening. Chin decided to team up with the task force after he met Urashima at the National Asian Pacific Islander American Historic Preservation Forum in June.

Asked why he wanted to work with Urashima's task force, Chin said, "particularly the fact she's trying to preserve the history of Huntington Beach that was affected by the contributions of Sei Fujii and the injustice of the American government at that time period. I feel very flattered we have the opportunity."

As a newspaper publisher and USC Law School graduate, Fujii educated fellow Japanese Americans about their civil liberties and, perhaps most importantly, overturned California's Alien Land Law of 1913 with the help of lawyer J. Marion Wright in 1952.

The film, which is co-produced by the Little Tokyo Historical Society, focuses on Fujii's mission to protect and educate his fellow Japanese American immigrants during the Great Depression.

"I've always appreciated the stories of these pioneers," Chin said. "I always felt that if these aren't documented now they'll be quickly forgotten."

Actor Chris Tashima, who appeared in the Oscar-winning short film "Visas and Virtue," stars as Fujii. The cast also includes Eijiro Ozaki ("Letters from Iwo Jima"), Ikuma Ando ("Letters from Iwo Jima"), Keiko Agena ("Gilmore Girls") and Sewell Whitney ("Beyond a Reasonable Doubt").

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