A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Yuyu Kitamura
The Universal Asian is excited to introduce Yuyu Kitamura, a talented actress and poet. To see samples of her work, head to http://yuyukitt.com.
Tell us about yourself. I am a Japanese actress. I was raised in Hong Kong, and I started acting and doing youth theatre from the age of 10. It was always a passion and hobby of mine, and it was the lifelong dream that every young child sort of brings to mind. I was fortunate enough to go to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where I studied and trained and lived in New York for five years. I got to work professionally for a year after, and then COVID-19 hit, so everyone’s world got turned upside down. My long-term dream is to start a production company where I can help foster and create content and share stories for people; specifically stories that are underrepresented.
When did you know you wanted to act as a career and why? I think it was because I was a middle child and my parents were very busy with either the eldest or the youngest. And so, in a sense, it was a very uplifting way that they could come and support me. I also had a lot of creative energy as a child, so it was just kind of like BOOM!—there it is on the stage. I think when I was a child I was always sort of manifesting and telling myself that this was what I wanted to do, so I don’t have this “Aha!” moment—it was never like that. But, the pivotal moment was when I was applying for universities, and NYU was always sort of the ultimate goal. In a lot of Asian cultures, that moment where you think: “What do you want to put your time and your education and your money into?” I think it’s very easy, almost ingrained, to not think about the arts as a career. So, once I got into the school, it sort of affirmed everything I’d been telling myself when I was younger. Like, I can do this; I can do this as a career if I work hard.
What are the ups and downs of being an actress? I think, other than the obvious (everyone knows that it’s a lot of rejections, that it might not be immediate success), the sort of thing that I’ve been struggling with over the years is comparison. Comparison to the careers of my friends, the comparison to the careers of the actors and actresses that I aspire to, and also, in this day and age, you have to be multi-faceted. I think it’s not enough just to be an actor. I think with how quickly technology’s evolving you sort of need to be your own content creator, writer—you have to be able to film your own work, you have to be able understand and be with the evolution of filmmaking. You just have to do everything and be the best, and I think that’s something that I’m very excited about, and have also been struggling with.
You have quite an impressive resume. What was your favorite role and why? I would definitely say a project that I hold dearly to my heart is a project called “Electable” with Liann Kaye. The reason why I loved the role of Quinn Chinn and working with her specifically is she’s also an Asian creative. From the moment that I even sent my self-tape in and was in communication with her, she made me feel very seen and heard, and I think that is one of the greatest wonders of working with someone who is in your community and who is writing and advocating for stories that we can understand and relate to. It’s a coming-of-age story; so it was so fun. It was all shot in one day, and there were so many different people involved that really made being on set fun, which made the whole creative process a learning process.
Do you prefer drama or comedy? I love drama. When I’m sad, when I’m exhausted, I really just want to delve into the heavy stuff. A reason why I love creators and entertainment is that it serves such escapism. It’s a form of “I don’t want to focus on my stress, I want to be watching someone else’s stress.” Comedy is great for the light-hearted, silly moments with your friends, but when I’m alone I’m always picking drama. When I act, it sort of trickles in, that I do enjoy the heavy, raw, edgy, and gritty stuff. Comedy is definitely a beast of its own. It’s hard. It’s so nuanced, and they are so smart. Comedy actors, their timing is just impeccable. It’s a skill that I definitely need to keep crafting and honing.
Who is your dream director to work with and why? Recently, I’ve been rewatching Baran bo Odar’s work from "Dark" on Netflix. I remember watching it when it first came out and it was also close to the time when "Stranger Things" came out, and I kind of put it on the back end, but over quarantine I had a lot of time, so I went back and watched it. The colors that he used and the way that his direction is so specific because of how detailed the plot is, I would love to get a chance to one day do something like that, where you really have to take into account so many different elements and make it so cohesive and still manage to keep the tone, the plot, and everything else in mind. I admire his work, and he’s about to do another project that seems really interesting.
How would you want your work to be remembered in 50 years? At the moment, at the age I am, the sort of stories that I’m already pitching to myself are stories about very nuanced moments within Asian culture that we don’t normally see played out in film and TV. With my own upbringing, I would consider myself a third-culture kid, and so there are moments where I have a clash within my own cultures, within my own identity. A lot of stories that I’m leaning towards and wanting to write or star in are very family-centric. In 50 years, I want my work to showcase universal themes. I want it to be both universal, but also very culture-centric. I want to write and create stories where they are situationally-based and focused on something, but then these stories can be universal and impactful to a lot of people. I also feel like I want to create and star in things that are both in English and Japanese. There’s more to entertainment and media than just one language.
Have you faced any challenges, being a BIPOC actress? When I was in America, working in New York, I was able to get into a lot of rooms and meet people, and it was because the industry was writing for more people of color, and wanting to have more representation and diversity in media. And that is great, and something I’m very proud to see. But, then there was this whole other part of not being American, and the struggles I faced. I sound like I could have grown up anywhere in the states. But within the industry, once people knew of my immigration status, they wouldn’t treat me the same. The immediate switch that I felt of how they saw me was so apparent, and I understand immigration in the States is this whole other Pandora’s box, but to see it happen right in front of you is really traumatizing because you suddenly feel so small. They would make me feel so small. And the words they would use—they would say that I was a waste of time; that I was just more paperwork. I’m a person, I’m someone with aspirations, and I am legally able to work in the U.S. And it felt, in those moments, that diversity was just a trend, because of how I was being treated. It showcased how layered this problem is, that it’s not really just about people of color, but it’s political, and we haven’t even tackled and fully overcome those problems, so how do you go to the next level without actually figuring out how to properly treat people?
*For more on immigrant performers, see: https://www.asiancinevision.org/crossing-over-understanding-the-plight-of-immigrant-performers/
You’re also a poet, and you’ve published a book! Can you tell me a bit about that and the type of poetry you write? I would just call it free form. I don’t think it follows any specific structure. But it is often tied to the emotional experiences that I’ve had. I’ve been writing poetry for about five or six years. It first came out of the way that I was journaling. It was very personal, and, quite frankly, I never intended for it to be seen—I never intended to write a book. But a wonderful mentor of mine taught me all the steps of publishing, just as sort of a side passion project of ours, and it got to the point where I could press submit and I could press publish. This book, it’s called "Circles and Lines"; all the poems in there came out of a really dark mental health journey that I had been going through. I would like to say they go through the five stages of grief. When I put these poems together, it was almost cathartic for me to go through the process of rereading my words, knowing I’m in a better place.
Cover photo credit: THEGINGERB3ARDMEN