a Painful Past
Photo courtesy of Farallon Films
When Academy Award–winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki
(B.A., '76) was making "White Light/Black Rain," a documentary
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that airs on HBO in August, he worried that
no one would want to watch, that no one would care anymore. The 50th
anniversary of the nuclear bombs had long passed and the images were
so disturbing that even the filmmaker -- who had seen them many times
already -- wept in the editing room.
But Okazaki's 86-minute account of the nuclear attacks of August 6 and
9, 1945 -- told in the words of 14 survivors -- was well-received at
Sundance, where it premiered in January. The film riveted high school
students -- whom Okazaki feared would be "bored or freaked out"
-- at a special screening in Salt Lake City. "The great thing is
that it's a new generation of people who are paying attention to this
and caring about this," he says.
grandson of Japanese immigrants, Okazaki came to filmmaking by happenstance.
He applied to SF State as an art major, only to learn the program was
full. "I just ran and got the school catalogue and started going
down the list of majors and stopped at film. And in 10 seconds, I had
this epiphany," Okazaki recalls. "I was very shy, and I thought
film would be good for me, because it would force me to deal with life."
Cinema Professor Jameson Goldner remembers Okazaki as "one of the
cleverest writers and directors we had." Although the filmmaker
would become known for his dark subject matter, Goldner recalls his
wit and humor, which would much later find outlets in "The Fair,"
a look at the 28 varieties of food-on-a-stick at the Minnesota State
Fair, and the romantic comedy "Living on Tokyo Time," Okazaki's
In "White Light/Black Rain," Okazaki returns to well-trod
ground -- U.S.-Japan relations during World War II. His "Days of
Waiting," the story of a Caucasian woman interned in 1942, won
an Oscar for Short Subject in 1990. Academy Award nominations went to
1985's "Unfinished Business," about three men who refused
internment, and 2005's "The Mushroom Club," about Hiroshima
After "White Light/Black Rain," Okazaki is ready for a lighter
project. Given his track record, it won't be easy. "I'm always
searching for a way to do something lighter, but whenever I pitch things,
I always hear, 'No, that's too uplifting,'" Okazaki says, laughing.