Boston Asian American Film Festival Opens at Emerson with Alumnus Hashiguchi’s “Good Luck Soup”

by Blake Campbell

On October 18, Emerson College MFA graduate Matthew Hashiguchi screened his powerful new documentary Good Luck Soup to a full house at the Paramount Center’s Bright Family Screening Room. Presented by the Bright Lights Screening Series and the Boston Asian American Film Festival, the film uses Hashiguchi’s experiences and those of his family to explore the modern history of Japanese heritage in the United States.

Born to a Japanese American father and an Italian American mother in Cleveland, Ohio, Hashiguchi opens his film with home footage and personal anecdotes about growing up in a multiracial family. In interviews, Hashiguchi’s parents, siblings, and extended family reveal the difficulties of navigating racial prejudice in Middle America. But while detailing his own childhood struggle to come to terms with his identity, Hashiguchi concedes that no one in his family has dealt with more oppression than his grandmother.

A second-generation Japanese immigrant with a sense of humor as strong as her sense of tradition, Eva (Yoshida) Hashiguchi is the documentary’s focal point. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hashiguchi’s grandmother and her family were removed from their home in northern California to spend three years in internment camps in the Midwest, part of a wartime effort that detained over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the West Coast. Shedding some light on this often overlooked chapter of American history is one of Hashiguchi’s aims in telling his family’s story.

Like her grandson, Eva Hashiguchi is a storyteller: early on in the film, we see her presenting items from her internment to a mostly white audience at a local women’s club. The experience cost her father all of his property and assets, and left the family all but penniless. But when asked, she says that she no longer harbors bitterness toward the US government because life is too short to hold a grudge, even over an injustice as substantial as the one she underwent.

Eva Hashiguchi’s optimism is evident throughout her grandson’s family portrait, from the smiling young woman in black-and-white photographs to the witty octogenarian working in her garden or cooking the traditional Japanese dish for New Year’s Day that gives Good Luck Soup its title. Her remarks had the audience in stitches several times over, and her bright voice provided an effective contrast to her grandson’s more deadpan narration.

In a question-and-answer session after the film with Anna Feder, the director of programming for Emerson’s Visual and Media Arts Department, Hashiguchi spoke to his grandmother’s crucial role in coming to terms with his own sense of identity. A self-described “pessimist,” Hashiguchi said that his grandmother’s positive attitude has motivated him throughout his life, and that her sense of tradition has reinforced his own.

New Year’s Day remains “the most important experience for me as a Japanese American,” Hashiguchi said, and the scenes depicting the family gathered at his grandmother’s to celebrate with traditional foods are some of the film’s most moving and visually appealing. The holiday is also the occasion for cooking the soup that lends its name to the documentary. A hodgepodge of ingredients, the soup is consumed at the beginning of each year to bring good fortune. Hashiguchi described good luck soup as “what you make of it,” and found in it a metaphor for the formation of identity and the persistence of tradition in the face of adversity.

Hashiguchi, who described his film as being in a “near-finished state” after 70 hours of filming and several years of work, hopes that it will eventually screen on PBS. He has also received a grant from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival to turn his work into an exhibition. Readers interested in Good Luck Soup are encouraged to visit, which Hashiguchi has turned into a “community storytelling project” for Japanese Americans, focusing on internment and its aftermath.

Blake Campbell graduated from Emerson’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program in 2015 and has contributed to The Luminary since 2012.