Because ours is such a young city – and one laughably beholden to developers – it’s unsurprising how little the nabobs who run it value its short history. It wasn’t too long ago that the area around Oppenheimer Park was a thriving commercial enclave known as Japantown, home to Vancouver’s Japanese-Canadian community. In World War II, Canada’s internment policy – forcing some 21,000 Japanese-Canadians from their homes and businesses into rural camps away from the Pacific coastline – effectively destroyed the community.
Fast forward 75 years and the area has never really recovered. (The concentration of Japanese businesses has moved elsewhere, to the West End’s Ramenland and Alberni’s Little Ginza). What’s left is just memory and the traces whispered by architecture. There are, of course, ways in which we can see it as it once was. Historical writing and documentary film help us fill in the blanks and kickstart our imaginations. Animation could play a role, too.
Third generation Japanese-Canadian Blair Fukumura is giving it a shot from Ontario with Sunset on Powell Street, a short animated film project that aims to digitally recreate the neighbourhood’s main drag, Powell Street, in its prime:
My new animated short film Sunset on Powell Street is a tribute to the golden age of Vancouver’s Japantown. Using 3D animation software, I’ve begun resurrecting Powell Street, an area that was emptied of it’s Japanese inhabitants during the Second World War. I’ve grown up hearing stories about this ghost neighbourhood from my father, and with funding, I would like to restore the street, if only on film, to it’s former glory.
He’s already started work “blocking in some of the buildings, vehicles, and characters,” but he needs help to finish the job and so is reaching out with an Indiegogo campaign. Blair has also reached out because he’s in need of colour photos of Powell Street from the 1950’s and onwards.
“Not an easy task as I think the area has been considered a slum ever since Japanese internment, but perhaps some artsy types were there shooting old store fronts before buildings were torn down and repainted? I haven’t found anything online.”
If you have any images or know of someone who does, give Blair a shout at kitkat71 [at] gmail.com. And if you’re feeling flush, donate a buck or three to help him finish his project.
As a young child growing up in Vancouver my dad and I used to shop in Japantown and Chinatown. I am glad to see Japantown will be remembered for it’s contributions.