Hatta, Kayo 1958(?)-

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HATTA, Kayo 1958(?)-


Born c. 1958, in HI; daughter of a Buddhist cleric turned restauraneur. Education: Stanford University, received degree; also attended University of California at Los Angeles Film School, c. 1986.


Agent—c/o Miramax Films, 375 Greenwich St., New York, NY 10013.


Film director and writer. Directed short films, such as Tomboy; worked with documentary film-makers Pat Ferrero and Felicia Lowe in San Francisco, CA, c. 1980s. Co-organized 16th Annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.


Audience Award (with Mari Hatta), Sundance Film Festival, 1995, for Picture Bride.


(With sister, Mari Hatta, and director) Picture Bride (screenplay), Miramax Films, 1994.


An autobiographical film based on Hatta's experiences growing up in New York City; a movie based on The Floating World by Cynthia Kadohata.


After working on short films as a student at the University of California at Los Angeles Film School and assisting documentary filmmakers in San Francisco, Kayo Hatta researched and, with her sister Mari, wrote a screenplay for a movie that was a very personal project for her. Picture Bride was inspired by Hatta's grandmother's journey to Hawaii from Japan in the 1930s as a "picture bride." Not to be confused with the mail-order brides of today, a picture bride was a woman, often from Japan or Korea, who agreed upon an arranged marriage with a man living in the United States based on photos and letters. The practice was based on long-standing traditions and was common in the early 1900s, when many Asians were immigrating to the United States, especially Hawaii and California. In addition to learning about their own grandmother's story, Kayo and Mari interviewed many other surviving picture brides to get their stories and create as realistic a portrayal of the times as possible. As Hatta told Mun-Ying Lau in a Northwest Asian Weekly interview, the intention was to tell a story "about holding on to old traditions while embracing new traditions. My film captures a group leaving one culture behind and embracing another, but retaining many of its ties to its old culture. And just the whole experience of coming to another country is very American."

Filming on location on the north shore of Oahu, Hatta was able to recruit some talented Asian actors for her project, including Toshiro Mifune, Akira Takayama, and Youki Kudoh as the lead character, Riyo. The problem, however, was getting funding for the film. Hatta received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources, but still struggled because she refused to make her film commercial enough to attract a major studio. What the studios asked her to do, explained Hatta, was cast a white male actor with major star recognition as Riyo's husband. "That's the way of the Hollywood mainstream," the director told Lau, "to tell the story from the point of view of a Caucasian, and to set them in an exotic location, and that's exactly what we wanted to avoid." Hatta not only cast all Asian actors in the lead roles, but the writers and production team were all women, a rarity in the film industry.

With additional help from Kudoh, a major television star in Japan who made contacts with businesspeople to raise extra funds, and money from Miramax Films to pay for its distribution, Picture Bride became a reality and won the Audience Award at the 1995 Sun-dance Film Festival. The story features Riyo, a sixteen-year-old woman from Japan who in 1918 decides she must leave her country after her parents' deaths. An aunt makes contact with a sugarcane farmer in Hawaii, who sends the young woman pictures and letters. Riyo agrees to be his wife, but when she arrives in Hawaii she is startled to find that Matsuji, her new husband, is decades older than his pictures indicated. Forced to work on the sugarcane plantation for pennies a day, Riyo finds life hard and disappointing, and she yearns to return to Japan. To do that, however, she would need to raise $300. Stealing her husband's savings, she tries to escape, but soon comes to accept that she must instead build a new life in Hawaii.

Although during this time in Hawaiian history there were many other important issues going on, such as racial conflicts and labor strikes, critics praised screenplay for focusing on the central story, with its theme of adapting to a new life and the gradually developing love between Riyo and Matsuji. International Examiner writer Chizu Omori also appreciated the "loving attention to detail … exhibited in every frame" of the film, and asserted that Picture Bride "represents a major breakthrough for Asian American cinema." Lisa Schwarzbaum, writing in Entertainment Weekly, declared the movie a "lyrical, elegantly composed drama."



Asian Week, May 4, 1998, Oliver Wang, "Getting Personal: Organizers Redefine Focus for the Asian American Film Fest," p. 12.

Entertainment Weekly, June 9, 1995, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Picture Bride, p. 37; October 13, 1995, Mary Makarushka, review of Picture Bride, p. 87.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 11, 1995, Glenn Lovell, "Director-Writer Resisted Hollywood Pressures to 'Whiten' Her 'Bride'"; May 19, 1995, Carrie Rickey, "How a Director Found the Money to Get Her 'Bride' to the Altar."

Northwest Asian Weekly, June 30, 1995, Mun-Ying Lau, interview with Hatta, p. 16.

Seattle Examiner, June 20, 1995, Chizu Omori, review of Picture Bride, p. 14, and interview with Hatta, p. 15.

Third Force, August 30, 1995, Elisa Lee, "Ordering Women," p. 20.*