A Few Words With...John LaDue

by John A. Wilcox

I love Japanese culture. I regularly watch Japanese TV via NHK World. I recently saw a fascinating piece on NHK by John LaDue. LaDue is a director and on-air personality. I contacted him about doing an interview & he graciously agreed! Join us...

PS: Where were you born?

JLD My parents met at a University in Hawaii, got married and had me and my younger brother in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. My dad was planning to move to China for work, and Japan was a temporary location. My family moved to Tokyo when I was 3 years old. So my siblings and I all went to Japanese kindergarten then Chinese elementary and middle school. It's a bit complicated but I explain it all in depth in a YouTube video with a Youtuber in Japan called Oriental Pearl. You can find the link near the bottom of the list here: John LaDue Linktree

My earliest memories were in Japan, and my first words Japanese. My family and I would go back and forth from Tokyo to Kona throughout my childhood for my dad's work. I have very fond memories of going buggy boarding with my two younger brothers, as our house was right on the beach. We would finish our school work, and run out to the yard, grab our boards and jump off the yard wall right onto the sand, and surf until it got too dark to see.

Every time my dad told me we were going back to Japan I would cry. Because our home in Tokyo was in the middle of a concrete jungle, they put me in a Chinese school in Tokyo where I learned mandarin Chinese from the time I was 6, on top of learning Japanese. It was tough, and my life in Hawaii seemed like heaven in comparison.

PS: How has Japanese culture impacted your life?

JLD I tell people I'm an American with a 'Japanese heart.'

I look like a normal white dude, but feel very comfortable in Japan, and Japanese culture is a part of me, it's who I am. My favorite part of Japanese culture are the traditional arts, especially Kintsugi. The Japanese traditional art form of mending broken pottery with gold and lacquer. That's why I called my company Kintsugi Media

Because in a world where so much is thrown away for newer shinier objects, Japan's 'Wabi Sabi' aesthetic that includes Kintsugi values the brokenness, the history of something/someone.

We in the West tend to hide our brokenness, our scars from the past, but kintsugi teaches us that our brokeness and scarred past is a beautiful part of our shared humanity. I have been taking Kintsugi classes for a while, and it's VERY time consuming. But the patience and persistence is a beautiful testament, that the broken object is worth the time and difficulty it takes to mend. After the mending is complete the gold broken lines make the vessel more beautiful that it was before it was broken. It's a beautiful analogy of how the world ought to be.

PS: Why did you decide to live there as an adult?

JLD After attending Chinese school in Japan for 9 years, I went to an American school in Tokyo. After graduating I moved to LA in 2000 to attend film school. Because I had spent most of my life in Japan, it was a tough adjustment to life in LA. But I figured things out, and after uni got a job at a Japanese company in LA. I worked there for 2 years, but yearned to be back in Japan...my true home.

I moved back to Tokyo in 2006 after an insane 6 years in LA, I have stories :)

The truth of it is, like I said, my heart is Japanese, so I'm a fish out of water anywhere else.

PS: What do you feel are the most pronounced differences between the US & Japan in terms of everyday life?

JLD People in Japan are taught from a young age to value the group or the community, or even just others over yourself. You can see that played out in how people treat each other on a daily basis. Japanese tend to be meek, at least outwardly, and so society is able to function with out all the ego that gets in the way.

As for the US, I've only lived in Hawaii, and LA, a little bit of time in the mid west and Seattle, so you can't really categorize 'all of the US' but one take away was that people in America don't really listen. Like really hear one another. There is a lot of talking over people, without hearing them. I think a lot of the societal problems we see today perhaps stems from this. Talking at each other, and not really listening or hearing one another.

In Japan, people are good listeners, of course there are 'US type' personalities where people like to hear themselves talk, but in general Japanese people listen, really listen and honor the person who is speaking.

There are a lot of other things, but I'd have to write a book to fit them all in.

PS: What drew you to take on the Mommy Or Daddy? project?

JLD A good friend of mine went through a messy divorce, not seeing his kids for half a year, then visitation only once a month. He was suicidal, and lost his will to live, but his love for his kids kept him alive. The film is an exploration of that level of despair, and the way out of it through lending a helping hand to others, it's a story of healing and redemption.

PS: What surprised you most about reaction to it?

JLD People in Japan watched it, any many blamed the protagonist mother, which often happens in Japan. I was surprised that even after hearing the heart breaking story, there was still the thinking that 'she must have done something to deserve it.'

PS: How did you come to hook up with NHK?

JLD I began working at NHK in 2008. NHK World was looking for a bilingual producer. It took me a while to get used to the Japanese way of telling a story, which is not in the same order as the US.

For example in Japan they often start off a news piece with a wide shot of a city, town or building to give the setting. But in the west it's usually the more visually compelling footage first to get people hooked.

PS: I saw your piece on the financial perils of young anime artists. How did that topic get on your radar?

JLD I've been working in Japan's entertainment industry since moving back from LA in 2006, and the problem with unfair pay is a problem throughout the industry. I watch anime with my kids, we're currently going through the entire One Piece anime, which is really long, but my kids love it. My kid likes to draw and talks about becoming an anime artist. I knew how bad the industry is, and just not a great place to work to say the least, so this 'Anime in crisis' story was my attempt to spotlight the problems but more importantly bring about change before my kid grows up and goes into the industry. I want the government and powers in place to address it before that happens. We have about 10 years until my kid grows up, so have a decade to try and change things, which is good, because it takes a decade to change anything in Japan. Joint custody took decades, and it's still needs a lot of serious reform.

PS: Do you think an equitable solution might be found?

JLD It really depends on whether the government takes it seriously, and it should. Like I said in my report, Anime is a 20 billion dollar industry, but could be ten times that if the government reforms the 'power structure' between the anime studios and the group of investors.

PS: Anything culturally that's big in Japan that we should be aware of but aren't yet?

JLD People in Japan were generally very impressed with Netflix live action version of the anime One Piece I think it's one of the first times Hollywood has pulled that off. The subject matter was treated with respect and there was a lot of involvement with the author and creator of the anime, and it turned out great! My kids and I watched the first season 3 times! :)

There is also a movement in Japan to go back to their cultural roots. The US occupation post WWII and the new direction General MacArthur took the country and we still see in modern day Japan was very shallow, lacking the millennia of Japanese tradition and culture. Japan is waking up to that and many are looking to take back their traditions.

Because the US had a huge negative impact on Japanese education and media. My new documentary that should be out my December 2024 explore all of this too.

PS: AKB48 has an interesting group concept with various iterations & alumni offshoots. Any clue why that business model works so well?

JLD AKB began as a fringe group in the anime mecca of Akihabara. It was mostly otaku or men who don't associate with society much, but spend time gaming, and in the '2 dimensional world' known as Nijigen. I'm sad it has become mainstream, because it tells you a lot of how distorted Japanese society has become. AKB and its offshoots are a genre that keeps grown men trapped in their unhealthy 'fetishes' in my opinion, and ties into my film of why Japan needs to return to their roots.

PS: What projects do you have on the horizon?

JLD My documentary is called Children Of Yamato and explores how the US post WWII cut off and forbid Japanese children from learning their 'origin story' Imagine if Marvel or DC heroes forgot their origin story. Or US kids were never told about President Washington or the revolutionary war.

In my opinion its the same. I explore that past, Japan's unfortunate militarization in WWI and II, and go on a journey with a 'Shrine maiden' to find out where does Japan go from here.


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