Rea Tajiri

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Rea Tajiri is a Japanese American video artist, filmmaker and screenwriter, known for her personal essay film History and Memory (1991), dramatic narrative feature Strawberry Fields (1997) and experimental documentary Lordville (2014).


Tajiri was born in Chicago, Illinois. Tajiri attended California Institute of the Arts,[1] and worked as a producer on various film and video projects in Los Angeles and New York.

Tajiri's video art has been included in the 1989, 1991, and 1993 Whitney Biennials. She has also been exhibited at The New Museum for Contemporary Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, The Walker Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archives. Tajiri is a 2015 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991) was Tajiri's personal essay documentary about the Japanese American internment. It premiered at the 1991 Whitney Biennial and won the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association. It also was awarded a Special Jury Prize: "New Visions Category" at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1992, and won "Best Experimental Video," Atlanta Film and Video Festival, 1992. In 1993 she made Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice, a documentary about the Nisei Japanese American human rights activist. Tajiri co-produced the documentary with Pat Saunders.

She partnered with Japanese Canadian author Kerri Sakamoto to write a coming-of-age story about a Japanese American girl in Chicago in the 1970s, resulting in Strawberry Fields, shot in 1994 with funding from CPB, NEA, and ITVS. The film stars Suzy Nakamura, James Sie, Chris Tashima and Takayo Fischer, and was completed in 1997, screening at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival. It also was selected to the Venice International Film Festival and won the Grand Prix at the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival.[2]

Tajiri's father, Vincent Tajiri was the photo editor for Playboy Magazine during the 1950s and 1960s; her uncle, Shinkichi Tajiri, was a prominent sculptor who resided in the Netherlands. Tajiri's father served in WWII in the 442nd regiment. During her time at the California Institute of the Arts she studied studio art.

Tajiri continues to live and work in Philadelphia. Tajiri was promoted to Associate Professor in Film Media Arts at Temple University in 2017, she has taught at Ithaca College, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and SUNY Purchase. Currently, Tajiri is working on a documentary feature entitled Wisdom Gone Wild,[3] a film which details her sixteen-year journey as a caregiver for her mother who had dementia. For this film, she received an ITVS Diversity Development Grant and the CAAM Documentary Fund Award.

Current career[edit]

As of fall 2008, Tajiri is teaching as an associate professor at Temple University in the Film Media Arts Department,[4] a public research university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She works in the Division of Theater, and is a teacher of documentary production. In 2012-2013, she was the Faculty Director for Temple University's Los Angeles Study Away Program (Temple).

Film characteristics[edit]


Tajiri is credited as being a groundbreaking documentary filmmaker for brilliantly weaving together different narratives, taking from found footage but also her own history and experiences.

Avant-garde Documentary

Directed by Rea Tajiri, '"Strawberry Fields" doesn't follow a straight narrative line. Instead, Tajiri opts for graceful and dreamlike forays into the collective memory of war-era Japanese Americans. By showing the audience grainy photos and films of a world that Irene can never know, director Tajiri heightens the sense of quest in this enigmatic film." Lynn Voedisch Chicago Sun Times[5]

Tajiri's Film Techniques

"Tajiri often focuses her inquiry on the representation of Asians and Asian-Americans in popular media. In Off Limits (1988), she critiques Hollywood's portrayal of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese people, juxtaposing fragments from Easy Rider with her own text to give voice to a Vietnamese character. In History and Memory (1990), Tajiri examines the construction of history and the manipulation of collective memory through a powerful pastiche of personal reminiscences and mass media images of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II." Electronic Art Intermix[6]

History and Memory:

An experimental film which reflects the memory of Tajiri's mother of the war period which she lived in. The plot is displayed through pieces of memory and known family history. Tajiri presents the film in four different parts: Events that that happen in front of the camera, events that are restaged, events that are told through the memory of character conversation, and events that are known to have happened but not shown at all. As the narrator of this documentary, Tajiri uses text and verbal communication with her audience in order to enhance the purpose of the memory or images she gives to her audience. Through this film Tajiri has highlighted the absence of Japanese Americans among filmmaking. By upholding whatever deconstructed history and memory she may have of her family's experience, Tajiri is praised for bringing attention to the culture of her family's past. Tajiri is also known to bring attention to a topic by using absence to declare presence. In History and Memory, absent characters share a significant presence since their memory is so vital to the film's message. This ability to highlight a character, topic, or event that is absent without confusion or misunderstanding is difficult to achieve for a filmmaker, but Tajiri certainly succeeds in doing so (Streamas). This documentary ultimately awarded Tajiri with the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Documentary association and a Special Jury Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival (Dorsey). Tajiri's way of filming is most recognized in History and Memory where she distorts the camera in order to show the recollection of memory.

Strawberry Fields:

Strawberry Fields was produced by Open City Films and ITVS. It was first premiered in Europe at the Venice International Film Festival and the film also was the recipient of the Grand Prix at the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival (Dorsey).

Tajiri's is applauded for her work within Asian American cinema, which she strongly associates herself with as a director as well as an individual, focusing on the recognition of the Asian American identity in her films, which is different than the Asian American culture. Tajiri goes against societal norms in Strawberry Fields, where protagonist Irene, a third generation Japanese American woman, publicly flaunts her inner rage, something which was not taken well if you were a woman living in the seventies (Feng). In the majority of Tajiri's filmmaking she is constantly bringing attention to societal issues, like in History and Memory, where she highlights Asian Americans, Latinos, or Black people not being able to immerse themselves within the white American population shank ]]


Tajiri has cemented herself as an important filmmaker that warrants a deeper understanding of her work and the contexts in which they exist. Her work is becoming more widely recognized and studied, becoming a vital part of the curriculum in many University's documentary and avantgarde film studies. Her work has also helped with women filmmakers and women's cinema. Tajiri has also brought attention to identity within filmmaking, displaying cultural tensions and curiosities in order to educate her audience through the story she is telling within specific films.






  • Robot Stories 2003


  • 1989 NEA Visual Arts Fellowship
  • 1990 NEA Production Grant
  • 1992 International Documentary Association, Distinguished Achievement Award – History and Memory"
  • 1992 San Francisco International Film Festival, Special Jury Award: New Visions Category -- "History and Memory"
  • 1992 Atlanta Film & Video Festival, Best Experimental Video -- "History and Memory"
  • 1993 NEA Visual Arts Fellowship
  • 1994 NEA Production Grant
  • 1998 Fukuoka Asian Film Festival, Grand Prix – Strawberry Fields
  • 1992 Rockefeller Media Fellowship
  • 1999 Rockefeller Media Fellowship
  • 2000 New York Foundation for the Arts
  • 2001 Smack Mellon Residency
  • 2003 MacDowell Colony Residency
  • 2015 Pew Fellowship in the Arts


  1. ^ mediaartists fellowships listing
  2. ^ Strawberry Fields awards on imdb
  3. ^ "Wisdom Gone Wild". Retrieved 2017-01-08.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago.
  6. ^ "Electronic Arts Intermix : Rea Tajiri : Biography".
  7. ^ "Hitchcock Trilogy".
  8. ^ "Off Limits".
  9. ^ (mdlion) (24 February 2002). "History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1992)". IMDb.
  10. ^ "Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice (1999)". IMDb.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Rea Tajiri on IMDb
  • Rea Tajiri in the Video Data Bank
  • Rea Tajiri profile on Women Make Movies site
  • Rea Tajiri Fellowships listing on
  • Feng
  • Streamas
  • Harvey, Dennis. "Film Reviews: STRAWBERRY FIELDS." Variety (Archive: 1905-2000) Mar 24 1997: 36. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2018
  • Shank, Barry. “Comments on ‘Patriotic Drunk.’" American Studies, vol. 44, no. 1/2, 2003, pp. 114–119. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  • Kathleen Hulser. The American Historical Review 96, no. 4 (1991): 1142-143. doi:10.2307/2165011
  • Rea Tajiri,