When You're Smiling | Chicago Reader

When You're Smiling

Janice D. Tanaka's hour-long 1999 video recounts her family's assimilation to mainstream America, from her Japanese grandparents' settlement in South Central Los Angeles to her parents' internment during World War II to her siblings' “model minority” phase. Her interviews with relatives and with friends from similar backgrounds mostly confirm the usual cliches: the old-world father who wants his kids to be “110 percent super-Americans,” elders who choose to forget discrimination, boomers who resent their conformist upbringing. Tanaka's matter-of-fact narration produces some heart-tugging moments, and the confessions of alcoholism and attempted suicide are touching, but this garden-variety memoir belongs in a family archive. On the same program: Kimi Takesue's Rosewater (1999), an experimental short about a meek, bespectacled man attempting to preserve a desert rose. A gorgeous visual poem (in black and white), it connects seemingly random images of a junkyard, dripping water, and an Eve who disgorges apples from her mouth.

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