Growing up half Japanese, half Italian American in a white neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, was not always easy for filmmaker and Emerson alumnus Matthew Hashiguchi, MFA ’11.
Hashiguchi set out to examine his own experiences “growing up Asian in white suburbia,” and those of his family members. He emerged with Good Luck Soup, which will have its television premiere Tuesday, May 9, on PBS stations nationwide and on WORLD Channel as part of documentary series America Reframed’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month programming.
“It was kind of a way to figure out: ‘I’m guessing we all experienced these things because we’re Asian. This is how I responded; how did you respond?’” Hashiguchi said.
Hashiguchi’s story, or part of it, begins not in suburban Ohio, but in California, by way of the Rohwer and Jerome Internment Camps in Arkansas, where his grandmother, Eva, spent nearly three years during World War II.
He grew up hearing about what happened inside those internment camps, where thousands of the roughly 120,000 Japanese American residents of the Western U.S. were sent following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I knew about the internment camps quite a bit,” Hashiguchi said. “You know, what I wasn’t really aware of was what happened surrounding the internment camps. What happened before and what happened after. There were a lot of anecdotes I had never heard before…There were a lot of tales I hadn’t heard.”
When she was released, Hashiguchi’s grandmother moved to Cleveland, one of the few American cities that was welcoming to Japanese Americans after the war. The city’s Jewish population, in particular, was willing and eager to hire the new arrivals, including Eva, he said.
“In a way, [Cleveland] was a sanctuary city,” Hashiguchi said. “It’s a very diverse city, and in that long tradition of diversity, they were very open to these different groups.”
Good Luck Soup revolves around Eva, her life, and the family she produced. Each generation relates to its Japanese heritage, to Cleveland, and to each other, a little differently, Hashiguchi said.
“The World War II generation is still there and still close to each other,” he said. “My father’s generation is still there, but kind of removed from it and don’t live as close to each other. My generation is kind of all over the place.”
His own generation’s experience varies based on something as seemingly arbitrary as what school they went to.
Hashiguchi went to a “very insular” private school, where he felt different among his classmates, causing him to reject his own background.
His cousins, who attended a very diverse public school and don’t have a Japanese last name, “didn’t really perceive themselves as Asians,” and didn’t struggle with their identities in that way at all.
Hashiguchi said in making the film, he got answers—about his grandmother’s life before and after the war, about how others in his family experienced being Japanese American or biracial—but that doesn’t mean the story’s over.
“This whole story is kind of ongoing,” Hashiguchi said. “What is identity? What is heritage? That’s going to change in my family, because if I have children, they’re hardly going to identify with their Japanese heritage. They’re hardly going to be perceived as Asian, apart from their last name.”
In making the film, Hashiguchi talked to a lot of his grandmother’s contemporaries, but he wasn’t able to fit it all into the narrative of the film. Not wanting to lose those stories, he gathered them on the film’s website, which was built by Emerson alumnus Russell Goldenberg, MFA ’12, and will continue to add new ones.
Hashiguchi said if it weren’t for Emerson, specifically Visual and Media Arts Chair Brooke Knight and Professor Jan Roberts Breslin, dean of Graduate and Professional Studies, Good Luck Soup might never have gotten made.
“My background was journalism. I was never looking at myself; I was always looking outwards,” said Hashiguchi, who went on to get an MFA in Media Arts. “I came to Emerson and they kind of presented this different way of telling stories and finding inspiration, and if I didn’t have that guidance or that exposure, I would not have looked at my life and my family.”
To find out where Good Luck Soup is playing locally, go to the film's website.