Frank Chin: Don’t Fuck With No-No Boy

April 11, 2010


A release selling Greg Watanabe as the Clark Gable of 21st Century.  Watanabe is playing Kenji in John Okada’s No-No Boy a new play written, set to go places,  by Ken Narasaki, and directed by Alberto Isaac.   March 27th was the premiere performance.  Has it attracted your attention yet?

In the 1957 novel,  John Okada took a grim dry subject, made a title of it No-No Boy and wrote the most depressing downbeat plot in a realistic yet entertaining “American” way that settled the nerves of jittery Japanese American readers, that the author was a vet of the war in the Pacific who has “reasons” for writing about a traitorous pariah that refused to fight.

How often do JA theatergoers have to compare the work of (a) JA novel to a new play that has taken on the burden of duplicating the literary effect in theatre?  What better test for life in a community, than knowledge about itself?  If there’s a community, it will rouse if not rise.

Yosh Kuromiya said he re-read No-No Boy, which he had disliked, trying to understand Lawson Inada’s and my enthusiasm for Okada.  He was still shucking the thinking other people were right about him, though he didn’t show it when Lawson and I came into his life at Heart Mountain.  Why did Lawson and Frank re-issue this book?

Think of it.  A resister had taken us seriously and re-read No-No Boy.  Two year’s later Lawson Inada published Drawing The Line, a poem about Yosh Kuromiya touching his pencil to the paper and drawing Heart Mountain in a single line. That same year Yosh Kuromiya a draft resister from Heart Mountain and Jim Akutsu the admitted model for Okada’s “Ichiro” the No-No boy, of No-No Boy appeared in Frank Abe’s Conscience and The Constitution.

From Akutsu who told the same story the same way, we listen and learn that Akutsu went to see the Min Yasui, a lawyer released from jail to Minidoka concentration camp.  If he told this story to Okada, he told it just as we heard it. He had just been ordered to appear by the Draft. He had a letter to the Spanish Consul to forward to the Imperial Japanese Government asking to be “repatriated.” He wanted Min Yasui to read it and advise him. He reasoned that when the U.S. Gov reads that letter they’ll say “He’s not a Jap! He’s as American as you or me!” and he’ll be free.  Yasui said to forget it and obey the order to appear.

Yasui went on to write “The Mother’s Petition!” to work his way back into the good graces of the JACL. He was rewarded with the Denver Office of the JACL where he devoted his energy to putting James Omura’s Rocky Shimpo editorials out of business.  The Rocky was where the camp resistance got their news and the editorials was where they got their advice to observe the Constitution.

Jim Akutsu had written James Omura at the Rocky to please forward his letter to Frank Emi at Heart Mountain.  Omura refused.  When the letter finally reached him, Frank Emi advised Akutsu to get himself a lawyer, in a hurry.

Yosh Kuromiya heard these stories told and retold by Jim Akutsu, James Omura and Frank Emi in the course of making Emiko Omori’s Rabbit In The Moon, Frank Abe’s Conscience and The Constitution.

Elements of Okada’s fictional Ichiro and the real Jim Akutsu combines with the story of  Frank Emi’s  fronting of Kiyoshi Okamoto’s stand on the Constitution to organize resistance at Heart Mountain in David Mura’s novel Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire.

Yosh Kuromiya took No-No Boy seriously enough to go to Pasadena to see the new play.  Yosh Kuromiya the resister writes Ken Narasaki, the playwright, the knowledge of Jim “Hajime” Akutsu as Ichiro and JACL that has seeped from the novel, the poem based on something of the novel, the novel based on new facts and No-No Boy, two PBS documentaries, into uncomfortable common knowledge among Japanese Americans.  Narasaki might not have heard because of the constant nagging of the JACL and the threat of JACL police, the mainland 442nd.

Instead of thanks Narasaki offers  his reasons for rewriting Okada’s end to No-No Boy, that amount to, he’s dead. I can do what I want with the dead—”We intended to show that in the end, there was hope for Ichiro…that he would discover love and life.    I’m sorry you disagreed with the ending, but I continue to believe that if John Okada were alive, he wouldn’t be quite as harsh a critic, but of course, we’ll never know.”

It’s because we’ll never know, that we should not fuck with the end as written. Okada isn’t the same rewritten, and Narasaki knows he’s violated the work he claims inspired him.  If Shakespeare had lived longer he might have rewritten a  happy end for Romeo and Juliet instead of one dying after the other.  Then again he might not.

Frank Chin

3 Responses to “Frank Chin: Don’t Fuck With No-No Boy

  1. […] Act in Seattle in 1977.  We’ve both been inspired and mentored by writer Frank Chin, who had this exchange with Narasaki in 2010 on the original Santa Monica production of this […]

  2. Tony Burgess Says:

    *Totally off-topic*

    I’ve been trying to get in touch with Frank Chin, who was a good friend of my father, Jackson Burgess, who died in ’81.

    Frank, if you see this, please get in touch. I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn, I’m even in the phone book (Boulder Creek, CA). My wife found a picture of Dad that you made and had it nicely framed for my birthday. I love it, I want to ask you about it, and I thought you might enjoy seeing it again.

    There’s no other emotion from my early childhood that I can recall as vividly as the combined terror and delight that I felt as you came stomping through the house, a giant cowboy coming to toss me in the air like a wiffle-ball.

    -Tony Burgess

  3. Ken Narasaki Says:

    I’ve already replied to Frank Chin in a separate email but I did want to say here that we are not “selling Greg Watanabe as the Clark Gable of the 21st Century” – that was a comment in a blog with which our production has nothing to do. Also, I hope it goes without saying that I never said anything like “I can do anything I want with the dead” as Frank Chin’s misplaced quotation mark and ugly sentiment might imply.

    As I told Frank in the email, I don’t wish to get into a war of words with him because I know from watching his other battles, it’s a fruitless exercise and indeed, his follow-up emails have been filled with name-calling and ad hominem attacks.

    It is impossible to adapt a work from one medium to another without sometimes making major changes to make the story “work” in its new form, and of course, making the story “work” is an entirely subjective decision. Many members of the Okada family have seen the play; none have complained, and at least one has told me that she does not view the changes “as a breach of John’s story.”

    I admire Frank’s playwriting and fiction and hope he returns to theater again someday.

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