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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Author Yamanaka reacts to the film

 •  Story of child abuse told in 'Silent Years'

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

One of Hawai'i's most celebrated and controversial writers, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, has drawn international acclaim for her deeply personal, often disturbing stories of growing up local.

Expanding on the pidgin literature traditions of Eric Chock, Darrell Lum, Milton Murayama and other Island writers, Yamanaka's work offers an unflinching look at the complex interplay of race, class, gender and regional identity in modern Hawai'i.

In addition to her groundbreaking 1993 poetry collection "Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre," from which "Silent Years" originated, Yamanaka has also written four novels: "Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers" (1996), "Blu's Hanging" (1997), "Heads by Harry" (1999), and "Father of the Four Passages" (2001).

In an e-mail interview with The Advertiser last month, Yamanaka shared her impressions of "Silent Years," the first film adaptation of her work.

Q. How much of a role did you have in the production of the film?

A. I had no role in the actual production of the film. It was ALL James' (Sereno, director) vision, which was incredible.

Q. How does "Silent Years" compare with other dramatic presentations of your work? Is there a particular performance medium that is most sympathetic to your artistic aims and concerns?

A. In a word, stunning. Its images were unrelenting. Also, the use of an adult narrator made it all the more painful as a device of point of view because it implies that the girl has not fully "recovered" from the pain of her experience.

It's always been a bit uncomfortable for me to see my work on stage at Kumu (Kahua Theatre), and now it's uncomfortable to see my work on the screen because whereas the characters only existed in my mind before, they take on human interpretations with the actors. It's odd. I'm sitting in a dark theater and I feel like God must feel, or the Olym-pian gods as they watch the lives and stories of those they created unfold before them.

Q. "Silent Years" is drawn from two of your early poems. What's it like for you to experience these poems again at this stage in your writing life? Did you feel any impulse to refine or revise?

A. It never fails to evoke the same feelings in me that were evoked in the creation of the poems when I read them again or when I see them performed. I feel a knot at the pit of myself. I experience it all over again.

I feel no impulse to refine or revise. They no longer seem wholly mine. These works exist in the world and are in constant revision and refinement when someone reads them and makes them their own.

Q. What are your impressions of the individual elements of the film? The direction and cinematography? The individual actors? The narration?

A. With regard to the individual elements of the film, I was amazed at the locations they used that were very evocative and almost accurate to the text.

The face of Julie Nagata was amazing. I think she captured the essence of the girl.

What I thought was genius was the use of the adult narrator Janice Terukina, whose voice bled in and out with the performers on the film.

Wil (Kahele) as the uncle was frightening. What I didn't expect was the subtlety of Matt's (Miller) character's hesitation and reluctance at certain parts of the film. In those small moments, he gave a humanity to an inhumane character.

The soundtrack is incredibly haunting and powerful.