Private Project

George Nakashima, Woodworker

If you've ever wondered what woodworker began the use of slabs of "imperfect" wood, full of natural holes, it was George Nakashima. His grandfather was the family’s last samurai, but things change quickly. George was a nisei, the first generation born in the U.S. During the Great Depression he set out on an around-the-world seeker’s journey to a reason for his existence. On his journey, he used his training as a Modern architect in the East. In Japan. he quickly absorbed the aesthetic of Zen and the spirituality Shintos find in nature. But he found the key to creativity in a Yogi's ashram in French India. The seeker returned to America and was impelled to become a woodworker - to use of all that he learned. His distinctive ways of woodworking, his designs, the way he retains the naturalness of wood continues to inspire people who love the finely crafted and woodworkers thirty-one years after his death.

  • John Nakashima
    Mountaineer, First 1000 Days, Clifftop, Your Public Servant, A. James Manchin
  • John Nakashima, Peter Frumkin
  • John Nakashima
    Mountaineer, First 1000 Days, Clifftop, Mountain Stage HDYour Public Servant, A. James Manchin
  • Geroge Nakashima
    Key Cast
  • Mira Nakashima
    Key Cast
  • Bob Aibel
    Key Cast
  • Tom Hucker
    Key Cast
  • Chip Hitchcock
    Directors of Photography
    The Man Who Stole the Moon (2013), Head Over Heels (1998) and The Last Mission: Establishing the Rule of Law in Iraq (2011)
  • Larry Dowling
    Directors of Photography
    Feast of the Seven Fishes, Mountain Stage, First 1000 Days
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 58 minutes 42 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 2, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    180,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    India, Japan, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Super 16, Digital, Legacy Video
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Architecture and Design Film Festival
    Virtural (normally in NYC, Chicago, LA, Canada
    United States
    November 13, 2020
    Official selection
  • New Zealand Architecture + Design Film Festival
    Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch
    New Zealand
    May 6, 2021
    Official selection
  • Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival
    United States
    November 4, 2021
  • Tokyo Lift-Off Film Festival Tokyo Lift-Off Film Festival
    August 6, 2022
Distribution Information
  • Self Distributing
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - John Nakashima

John Nakashima, Senior Producer/Director, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Independent Filmmaker
John Nakashima has produced, directed, shot, edited documentaries and music programs for West Virginia Public Television since 1977. His work explores West Virginia culture in the widest sense – including visual & performing arts, traditional & modern culture, historical documentaries and contemporary issues. The First 1,000 Days: Investing in WV Children When It Counts (2015) is his latest full-length documentary. It received a regional Emmy and for that documentary he was awarded the Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers in West Virginia. In 2013, he was awarded the West Virginia Filmmaker of the Year award by the WV Filmmakers Festival. Nakashima has edited five documentaries that have won regional Emmys in a variety of documentary categories, including Frank Kearns: American Correspondent, the story of a CBS foreign correspondent, later accused of working for the CIA during the Cold War. He edited West Virginia: Road to Statehood a history of the only state created during the Civil War. He produced/directed/edited many traditional music documentaries including Cifftop, The Vandalia Gathering, and Blind Alfred Reed who was one of the artists recorded at the Bristol Sessions. He produced many music performance programs including a series of early HD programs for the NPR
Americana music program Mountain Stage. He collaborated extensively with the late Irene McKinney, poet laureate of West Virginia, producing dozens of radio essays with her, a video documentary and a theater performance piece. A FEW GREEN LEAVES (1999) explored the diversity of thought among 17-18 year-olds. MOUNTAINEER,1995 is a lyrical look at the culture of West Virginia and the persistent hillbilly stereotype, exploring the strength and mystery of the ancient mountains of West Virginia. Nakashima's DIFFERENT DRUMMER documentaries; YOUR PUBLIC SERVANT, 1989 (A. James Manchin), DREAMS OF GESUNDHEIT, 1990 (Patch Adams), and THE FINAL ACCOUNTING, 1991 were distributed nationally, on BBC2 and in a number of European countries. He was instrumental in this PBS's station's early conversion from local news and public affairs, to a focus on the development of local documentaries. He is producing independently a major documentary about the seminal woodworker, George Nakashima, his late uncle.

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Director Statement

I had an uncle in Pennsylvania who has been well-known for his work since the 1940s. He was a woodworker, and we had several pieces of his furniture throughout our house. Our coffee table was a solid slab of walnut, with a big hole on the right side that years of the harshness of nature had created. My uncle's approach froze those years of growing and decay, allowing people to live with that moment in nature. Both long sides of the table were the layer of wood just under the bark, irregular and anything but flat. We were warned never to set a glass on top of the table since for kids it was inevitable that you'd misjudge where it was flat and where was not.

On top of the table was always a stack of the most recent magazines about my uncle, featuring long articles with several photos of him and his work, including Life, Look, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, and his most recent handmade catalog.

He was my father's oldest brother. George Nakashima was the only famous person I had ever gotten to meet and listen to growing up. Every few years we would go to his large compound of several buildings that were showrooms, the office, some mysterious places, woodworking shops, and places to hold his growing collection of wood. Each trip I would discover more.

It was more than twenty years ago after I had become a documentary-maker with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, that I realize no one had made a full-length documentary about my uncle. The definitive documentary had somehow never been made. I remember when National Geographic made a "short" they used in the first season of their new show, Explorer. This indicated to me that the major documentary was on its way. George created and built many incredible objects and buildings over the next several years. But as far as an in-depth documentary, nothing happened.

It became apparent to me that I had a good chance to make Uncle George's documentary. I was making it for my extended family, my parents who were now gone, for Japanese Americans, for people who love nature and natural beauty, and for those fascinated by the countless forms of creativity.

When I began to research, I gradually discovered that Uncle George's story was largely untold. It was the story of a seeker, who actually found his answers on the other side of the world to life's deep questions. He returned home armed with an entirely new perspective and new understandings. He brought to America, and in fact the world, a new approach to creating with nature through his own synthesis of his unique knowledge and beliefs.