‘Sonzai: Japantown Santa Barbara’

Documentary Tells Story of Santa Barbara’s Forgotten Japantown

Credit: Courtesy

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation hosted an online premiere screening and Q&A on Friday, July 30, with the filmmakers of Sonzai: Japantown Santa Barbara, a documentary exploring the cultural and archaeological history of the thriving Japanese American community that lived on Canon Perdido Street in pre-war Santa Barbara.

The film tells the story of Nihonmachi — a densely populated strip where the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic park now stands, which in the 1920s held boardinghouses, bathhouses, cleaners, restaurants, pool halls, and grocery stores. The district was also home to more than 500 Japanese Americans in the area prior to WWII, when nearly all of its inhabitants were removed and taken to internment camps.

Sonzai filmmakers Barre Fong and Koji Ozawa interview researchers who analyzed artifacts found in an archeological dig that took place prior to El Presidio being rebuilt in the 1960s, and members of the Nihonmachi community who describe their experiences before and after Pearl Harbor in the documentary that was shown as part of the 12th Annual Asian American Film Series. 

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