Find this in a library at
A Song for Ourselves

Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by Karen Ishizuka
Directed by Tadashi Nakamura
DVD, color and b&w;, 35 min
College - Adult
Asian Studies, History, Multicultural Studies, Popular Culture

Reviewed by Charles Burkart, Media Bibliographer, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Date Entered: 6/17/2010

A Song for Ourselves is a thirty five minute biography of the late Chris Iijima, Asian community activist, anti-war protestor, folk singer, teacher, lawyer and devoted father. The documentary makes use of home movies, family interviews, animated photographs, archival footage, television segments, and professional video.

Chris Iijima came to maturity during the turbulent anti-Vietnam war era of the late sixties and seventies. His "progressive" parents encouraged his interest in politics. He actively participated in the college anti-war Zeitgeist, but with an Asian-American perspective. Chris's unique musical talents lead him to form an Asian American protest rock group with Nobuko Miayamoto, and later Charlie Chin. He successfully toured the United States with this rock band, Yellow Pearl.

Despite obvious musical talent and a plug from John Lennon, Chris chose not to follow a corporate musical career and instead opted for teaching young children. Confessing that he wouldn't have even considered dating a white woman while in his radical twenties, a more mature Chris married a fellow teacher, Jane Dickson, and settled down to have a family.

Feeling he had exhausted his teaching career, Mr. Iijima decided to get a law degree and devote his energies to Asian community activism. The family moved to Hawaii, where Chris worked for a university. The biographical documentary takes a turn to the tragic side when Chris learns he has amyloidosis, a fatal disease. Chris Iijima prematurely passed away at age 57 and is still deeply mourned by his wife, children and the Asian community.

A Song of Ourselves is both an interesting and moving biography. I particularly liked the way old Vietnam War posters and photographs were animated in the documentary. Overall, the editing and technical aspects of the documentary were first rate. If I have any criticism of A Song for Ourselves, it would have been for the documentary to devote more time to Chrisís protest singing. However, the DVD did contain some unique and valuable Special Features: Farewell Chris: Los Angeles Memorial, Mother of the Movement: Kazu Iijimia, Chris Iijima extended interview and additional photos and music.

I can recommend A Song for Ourselves to both college and university libraries that have Asian or multicultural studies programs. In addition, public libraries that serve large Asian communities will also want this poignant and arresting film.

A Song for Ourselves won a number of awards including:

  • Best Documentary Short Film, Urbanworld Film Festival 2009
  • Cine Golden Eagle Award, Documentary Short, Independent Division 2009,
  • Special Jury Award San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2009.