In Memoriam: James A. Nakamoto, A Hui Hou Kākou
|October 15, 2013||Posted by Hitting the Stage under Features, News|
One of Honolulu’s most admired and beloved thespians and educators, James A. Nakamoto, passed away last Wednesday (10/9/13) at the age of 81. Following are some words to mark his passing from just a few of the many voices who can tell the story of a man.
Till Another Day
I was not a drama student while attending McKinley High School in the early 70s, and if the truth be known, I wasn’t a fan of drama either. It wasn’t until I was out of school that I had come into contact with the drama students who were a part of the McKinley Theater Group, and with their teacher, who would play a very large role in the lives of these young people, both then, and now—I was part of that roster.
James A. Nakamoto, or “Nak,” as he came to be called by his students, was not your normal, everyday “in by 7 out by 3″ educator. Sometimes he stayed in class or at the auditorium (his second home) till late in the evening; I mean really late! This man had a bounty of energy that would put any athlete to shame.
He also had a temperament that would make a sailor blush. Nak was not a shy person to say the least, nor was he someone who held his thoughts to himself. If he had something on his mind, it would probably come out of his mouth. He certainly knew how to handle himself if the less than ideal circumstances crossed him.
On the flip side, Nak would earnestly commend those who put forth effort, who worked hard, who gave it their all on behalf of the team. Teamwork was something that Jim Nakamoto tried to get all of his students and colleagues to aspire to. Remarkably, for many of us, he did just that. He taught us not to put up barriers but to knock them down. He helped us to dig down deep and find the best in ourselves so that we might be successful in all that we do. He especially instilled in all of us a passion for the arts and for the stage. He loved the theatre and he made it his life. He was a Director bar-none.
Jim Nakamoto was a friend for life to the many that knew him. He was my friend too…”Till another day,” Jim.
—Wayne K. Paakaula
I was at McKinley High School (1963-1965) and knew he taught drama but never really met him since drama was for “nerds.”
In 1991 I got a call from Jim asking if I would be interested in acting in a play entitled Pilgrimage (written by Ed Sakamoto) for Kumu Kahua Theatre (KKT). My acting experience at that time was in film, so I had no knowledge about stage acting. After meeting with Jim and the cast, I decided to take a shot at doing theatre. He guided me in the intricacies of stage acting, and thus began a long friendship with him. He later directed me in the revival of Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire at Blaisdell Concert Hall in 1998; See You in a Sakamoto Play, which was a reading at KKT in 1998; The Life of the Land at Aratani/Japan America Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, in 2002; Searching For Paradise at McKinley High School in 2005; and lastly, It’s All Relative at KKT in 2011. In all instances he was professional and genuine and passionate about honoring the playwrights’ words.
When KKT was having auditions for another of Ed Sakamoto’s plays, Stew Rice, a young man got up to audition. He had on shorts and tee shirt and had his hair in a ponytail. Watching him audition, I thought he was very good but had never seen him before. Then there was a buzz from the auditioners: “Jason Scott Lee.” During the break in auditions, I heard Jim’s assistant tell Jim the actor’s name. Jim said, “Who that?” She tells him that he starred in The Bruce Lee Story and The Jungle Book. I said, “Jim, if you cast him, you sell out!” He says, “Yeah no!” And he did, and KKT sold out a few days after tickets went on sale. It was a box office smash.
I always joked about Jim’s age since he never admitted how old he was. I used to tell people that Jim was so old that he taught King Kamehameha when he was a child.
He was always a lover of the theatre and, lately, movies, as he would take in obscure movies during the day. The last time I saw him before his hospitalization he was headed to Kahala Mall to see a movie he couldn’t remember the name of but he thought sounded interesting.
It was sad seeing him at Kaiser not being his normal happy self. My memories will always be of him as a Peter Pan…always young!
Rest in peace, Jim, my friend! I’m sure you’re giving God stage directions!
Aloha Jim Nakamoto
I met Jim after his time at McKinley High School. Listening to his former students speak of him, they seemed to put him into a category somewhere between a god and a friend—or maybe some kind of hybrid—to be feared, respected and loved, all at the same time.
By the time I met Jim and began my long friendship with him, he had mellowed quite a bit. Maybe the stresses of teaching had subsided by then. Every once in a while you would see flashes of the old “Mr. Nak”—if you weren’t living up to his expectations of you or fooling around too much at rehearsals.
I knew Jim Nakamoto as a director. He directed me in many plays, mostly Ed Sakamoto plays. Our association spanned over 20 years. We took a few shows to Los Angeles where we were able to fulfill his and our need to see professional theatre productions. He loved and looked forward to his trips to Ashland, New York, and Los Angeles to visit friends and see theatre productions. In fact, during our last visit with him in the hospital, he mentioned that he had had to cancel his travel plans to do just that because of his stay in the hospital.
When I last saw him, he looked frail and tired. That’s not the Jim that I will remember. The Jim in my mind is friendly—always greeting me with a smile and cheerful words. The Jim in my mind is passionate—always giving 110% to whatever he’s working on and expecting the same of you. The Jim in my mind is caring—always interested in what was going on in my life and with my family. The Jim in my mind is vigorous—even walking with a cane, he exuded vitality and youthfulness.
I will miss my friend, teacher, mentor, and advisor. Aloha Jim, A hui hou kākou.