1. Near the end of the war, Shindo was enlisted as a translator in the Military Intelligence Service. He continued his correspondence courses and took piano lessons when off duty while “most of the guys were out raising hell.” At Fort Snelling, Minnesota, Shindo served as an arranger for the Nisei Eager Beavers band.14 George Yoshida, a member of that band, remembers Shindo arranging the 1938 Japanese hit song “China Nights.” However, the band refused to play the song as it fell outside the mainstream American big band music they were devoted to and would have served as an unwanted marker of otherness.15 Apparently, this initial attempt at exotica by Shindo was premature. Shindo had more success in composing a musical show for the camp and it was this experience that encouraged him to pursue a career in music. Initially, his internalization of mainstream racial prejudice (against both Asian and African Americans) almost forestalled his attempts at a musical career. As Shindo put it: “I always thought that the Caucasians are the best—they could write music, they’re outstanding in jazz … that I didn’t have a chance. Because during that time there was so much prejudice going on, why should they hire me when they could hire a Caucasian?”16 The success of this show made him change his mind: “I couldn’t go up and play the instrument and direct an all-Caucasian band, but I think I could write professionally and stay in back of the curtain.” During his tour of duty at the Counterintelligence Corps in Baltimore, Shindo made multiple trips to New York City to hear Latin jazz, particularly as performed by Tito Puente. After his discharge, he returned to college, this time for music studies. He simultaneously took courses in jazz writing at the American Operatic Laboratory school and formed his own dance band in 1947. In addition, he worked with Latin dance bands in Los Angeles—sitting in with bands on Olvera Street, traveling with them to Mexico, and releasing an album of his Latin-style compositions and arrangements in 1949.

  2. Shindo’s racial identity was at issue from the inception of his professional career: “I joined the musicians’ union [in 1947], which at that time was a very strange situation. There was no Japanese American in the union. You had the black union and the white union … I could have probably joined either one. … I joined the white one.”17 Shindo’s band performed primarily for Japanese American audiences at high school and returnee club dances and in smaller combos at Chinatown restaurants. However, the band itself was racially diverse. As Shindo explained in a May 9, 1947 interview: “As long as a player can produce good music, that’s all I’m interested in. My band is supposed to be Japanese-American. But besides the four Nisei on it, I have Jewish, Negro, Russian, Irish, and Mexican-American boys on it. And we have a swell time together” (qtd. in Keats).18 This article continued by paraphrasing Shindo: “Tak says musicians speak a common language. And that the question of minority groups would be settled in a hurry, if we could all get together through music.” Throughout his life, however, music proved just as likely to reinscribe racial boundaries as to transcend them. While leading his multiracial band, Shindo also pursued educational goals that would ultimately shape the rest of his career. He enrolled in graduate school at the University of Southern California in order to study composition with the famed film composer Miklós Rózsa and to pursue a Masters degree in Musicology and Asian Studies.

    Figure 2. Tak Shindo and his band (c. 1949)19

    Representing the Authentic in Hollywood

  3. From the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952 through the early 1960s, Hollywood repeatedly presented America’s new Cold War exotic ally on the screen. Authentic representation of Japanese culture was a persistently professed goal in the creation of these films. However, as is often true of orientalist exploits, the actual exotic rarely lived up to Hollywood’s ideal. Although devoted to Latin jazz, Shindo was repeatedly called upon to “represent the authentic” during the postwar years by serving as the “Japanese musical advisor” for such films as Sayonara, Stopover Tokyo, Escapade in Japan, Cry for Happy, and A Majority of One. Shindo had come to the attention of the studios through his earlier work on Tokyo Joe and, perhaps, through a brief article on Japanese music that he had published in 1952.20 Shindo provided Japanese instruments for recording sessions, hired Japanese and Japanese American performers, arranged Japanese folk tunes, and decided what Japanese material to use and where it should appear in a film. In addition, my research reveals that some of the orientalist music that appears to have been created by white composers such as Franz Waxman and Max Steiner was actually composed by Shindo. (This fact is not always evident from the cue sheets, but is clear in the signed pages of the manuscript score.) Although much of Shindo’s music in these films bears little resemblance to traditional Japanese styles, apparently his mere participation offered an aura of authenticity. For example, at the moment of arrival in Japan in the 1962 Warner Bros. film A Majority of One, we see and hear the following: [View video] Searching through the manuscript score in the Max Steiner collection at Brigham Young University reveals that this music featuring gong, xylophone, piccolo, glockenspiel, sleigh bells, wood blocks, and shamisen was composed by Shindo. This hustle-and-bustle music of offbeat accentuation and staccato eighths and sixteenths is quite similar to that composed for analogous moments in other films by white composers—cf. Franz Waxman’s cue for landing in Japan in the 1962 My Geisha. Shindo’s contributions to these films repeatedly centered on sequences celebrating the ideal nature of Japanese women, as is evident in the following excerpt from Cry for Happy. [View video] To some extent recapitulating the position of Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and Josephine Baker in Parisian primitivism, we discover a Japanese American orientalist at the heart of Hollywood’s musical japonisme.

  4. Sayonara proved to be the crucial film in Shindo’s career. As he put it, after the striking success of this film “the whole thing just lined up one after the other … it just rode and rode to the point I couldn’t keep up with it anymore.” The compositional history of the Sayonara soundtrack offers some lessons in the mechanics of Hollywood’s musical orientalism.21 The film’s composer, Franz Waxman, professed a desire to achieve authentic exotic representation. However, the exotic other was repeatedly rejected. For example, Waxman initially refused Shindo’s proposal to employ Japanese instrumentalists on the soundtrack. In a memo, Waxman wrote:
    I would also suggest that our property department try to rent three of the Japanese harps (Lotos) [sic] so that we can assign three of our musicians to practice on them between now and the recording. They are comparatively easy to play and I am sure that our people will have no trouble studying their parts. The players recommended by Tak Shindo do not read Western style notation and it would make the recording exceedingly difficult. (Waxman)
    A compromise solution for achieving sonic authenticity was reached when Waxman had his harpist insert paper between the strings and this adapted western instrument doubled the Japanese kotoist. Although hired to help insure authenticity, Shindo ironically played a large role in displacing Japanese music in the film. He successfully argued that the recordings made in Japan were of poor quality and that the Japanese folk songs should be arranged for western orchestra and chorus and rerecorded in Hollywood. Shindo ultimately devoted much of his career to westernizing Japanese music and Japanning jazz standards.

  5. Shindo was extraordinarily active in film, television, and radio in the late 1950s and early 1960s. For example, he composed and conducted the music accompanying the 1957 CBS Radio Workshop episode “The Japanese Drama.” Shindo’s score for this broadcast employed several gagaku instruments, the gagaku piece “Etenraku,” and the shamisen, and was more clearly influenced by Japanese traditional music than were his other works of this period. The announcer introducing this “free adaptation of a noh play” referred to him as “the noted Japanese composer”—a moment Shindo marked with a brassy fanfare in sharp contrast to the prevailing “Japanese” style. Early in the 1957 film Escapade in Japan we see a group of geisha playing koto and shamisen and then hear a white American woman declare: “It’s charming. Now I can really believe that I am in the Far East.” Although Shindo remained uncredited, apparently his musical contribution at such moments in the film was deemed essential for creating credible “atmosphere” on a soundtrack otherwise composed by Steiner. For the 1961 film Cry for Happy, Shindo was paid $273.70 by Columbia Pictures to transcribe and arrange one Japanese folk song, to arrange two other pieces composed by George Duning (the film’s credited composer) for koto and European instruments, and to compose a solo for shamisen.

  6. By far the most bizarre of Shindo’s Hollywood assignments was his score for the 1958 Wagon Train episode “The Sakae Ito Story.” In this episode of the popular television series, the samurai Sakae Ito (played by Sessue Hayakawa)
    Figure 3. Publicity still for “The Sakae Ito Story” Wagon Train (1958)
    is attempting to return to Japan in c. 1860 with the ashes of his recently deceased master. As he crosses the Wild West he decides to join the wagon train of Major Seth Adams (Ward Bond). Shindo employed the shamisen and koto and pentatonic melodies moving in stacked fourths and fifths, punctuated by gong and timpani strokes, to represent Ito throughout the episode and hired Kaoru Matsuda and Kazue Kudo (a famous Los Angeles based koto performer and teacher) to perform on the soundtrack. In one scene, Shindo approximates the timbres and style of gagaku as we watch Ito and his servant at prayer in their covered wagon. As the Time magazine reviewer noted, “The samisen sounded across the plains eerier than any coyote’s howl” (“Westward”).

  7. Some members of the wagon train come to imagine that this exotic man must be carrying precious jewels and they decide to rob him. Upon breaking open the urn they had stolen from Ito’s wagon, they are disgusted to find it filled with nothing more than ashes, which they toss to the ground. Ito tracks the thieves down and then challenges them to fight, armed only with his samurai sword against their pistols. At this very moment, Sharp Knife the Indian (played in red face) arrives with a band of braves and forces the three white men to drop their guns. Ito’s mysterious ethnicity has puzzled and fascinated the white wagon train men from the start. At the climactic moment of armed confrontation, Ito’s identity is fully revealed as he is defined through a process of racial triangulation with the white and red characters. The camera cuts pointedly between shots of the “red,” “yellow,” and “white” faces, prompting the viewer to make racial comparisons. Shindo’s music in this sequence helps us locate the position of yellow on the spectrum between white and red. Sharp Knife is accompanied by a blunt timpani tattoo. He proceeds to study Ito’s face in great detail as the samurai stands fearlessly with sword bared. Sharp Knife’s timpani line alternates and then overlaps and joins with Ito’s koto, which plays “Rokudan,” one of the instrument’s most famous pieces. Through the resultant parallel motion in racial musical counterpoint, Shindo signals a fundamental connection between these two exotic warriors.22 Although puzzled by Ito’s facial features—particularly his eyes—Sharp Knife apparently recognizes him as a fellow “noble savage” and announces “Not white man.” [View video] He then decides to level the playing field by forcing the three white men to fight this exotic warrior with tomahawks. Ito cuts the men down offscreen. As Major Adams arrives upon the grisly scene, he stares at Ito and asks “What are you, savage?” Ito gestures to Sharp Knife and replies that perhaps he is “savage like him.” The gagaku style returns as Ito prepares to commit hara-kiri in order to join his master in death and declares: “Perhaps Indian understand Ito much more than you could. I think Ito and Indian are more alike.” [View video] A little more than a decade after Hiroshima, the Japanese warrior can now join the ranks of the Red Man as an exotic conquered figure in the white romantic imagination.

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Works Cited Appendix


14. For a photograph of this band with Shindo standing in the back, see Yoshida, 206.

15. Telephone interview with Yoshida in August 2003. This song was featured in the 1940 Japanese propaganda film China Nights starring Shirley Yamaguchi with a score by the famous Japanese popular song composer Hattori Ryoichi. Hattori and Yamaguchi appeared with Shindo’s band in their American debut in Los Angeles c. 1950.

16. It is striking that in the 1940s Shindo placed a higher value on writing jazz music rather than on improvisation and that he apparently considered jazz composition and arranging the domain of white musicians. Clearly, these are not the values and skills normally celebrated today in discussions of jazz of this period.

17. Quoted from Shindo’s videotaped Go For Broke Educational Foundation Hanashi Oral History Program interview on February 6, 2000.

18. This clipping is found in Shindo’s papers and contains no other information for citation.

19. The caption in Shindo’s hand on the reverse side of this photograph reads: “Taxco Rec Session, Recording Murray Wilson (Beach Boys) Enamorado di Ti TamBarin.”

20. This article touches on the music employed in Japanese films and introduces the koto, shakuhachi, and shamisen.

21. I have discussed the music of Sayonara in detail in my forthcoming “Singing Sayonara: Musical Representations of Japan in 1950s Hollywood Film.” A preliminary report of this research was delivered at the 1998 meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston.

22. Hollywood had indirectly drawn a similar parallel by representing the Japanese in World War II films with visual and musical stereotypes that had been employed for Native Americans in 1930s westerns. See my “An Exotic Enemy: Anti-Japanese Musical Propaganda in World War II Hollywood,” 327–328.

















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