Filmmaker Regge Life honors American tsunami victim

By Sheila Burt

When American filmmaker Regge Life first learned of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated the northeast coast of Japan two years ago, he followed the news in shock as the country he had developed a close bond with suffered an unprecedented disaster.

Deeply saddened by the sudden loss of thousands of lives, Life was especially touched by news of the death of 24-year-old Taylor Anderson, who was the first known American casualty.

Anderson became fascinated with Japan as a child. After college graduation, she followed her passion for the country and culture to work for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) as an Assistant Language Teacher in the coastal town Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. After the earthquake struck, she stayed and comforted her elementary school students but was lost in the tsunami as she bicycled back to her apartment.

“It was one of those reoccurring stories that didn’t just come once,” Life recalls in a telephone interview from Tokyo, where he was visiting to promote recent screenings of the documentary "Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story," around the country. “I’m always thinking about projects, and I had just finished a project about the earthquake in Haiti, so earthquakes and things were very much on the radar.”

Life, a long-time filmmaker who has directed television shows and films, from "The Cosby Show" to documentaries detailing the experience of African-Americans living in Japan, reached out to a friend who was a former JET to learn more about Anderson and ways to contact her friends and family.

In October 2011, while working on a separate Japan-related project, Life spent a day in Ishinomaki, interviewing friends and colleagues who knew Anderson. “After that long and exhausting day, I said, ‘I think there is a really powerful story here,’ so I came back to the States and we made a plan.”

He began corresponding with Anderson’s father via e-mail and eventually drove to meet her parents in Virginia. Rather than focus on the tragedy of a young person swept away in an unfathomable natural disaster, Life wanted to produce a film that celebrated a young woman’s life — to tell a story that would also inspire others to follow their dreams.

“I didn’t want to pressure anyone, or be like local media,” he explains.

So on the first anniversary of 3/11, Life started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project. He and his team set out with the goal of raising $18,000 for the project, but five weeks later, the campaign closed with more than $25,000 raised.

“It was an unprecedented response,” Life says of the Kickstarter campaign. “It’s a testament to the Anderson family that we made this film like Taylor lived her life – full-speed ahead and letting nothing get in the way, just doing it. I think that’s why she inspired so many; she left no stoned unturned and lived 24/7.”

After months of completing interviews in both Japan and America, editing and completing the post-production process, he and his team premiered "Live Your Dream"in November 2012 at Anderson’s high school, St. Catherine’s, in front of 1,000 students, friends and family. Several Japanese exchange students who were visiting Virginia were also in attendance.

The title of the film reflects not only the impact Anderson made on the lives of people she met but also Life’s goal as a storyteller.

“Sometimes we don’t get started at all with our plans, and from what I’ve heard, Taylor Anderson was full, undaunted and unafraid,” he says. "It’s a positive and inspirational message not only for young people but for all of us to make every moment count. That’s why I made Live Your Dream.”

“This is my fourth film in Japan but probably the most rewarding in terms of seeing the immediate effect on friends, family, her mom, dad, sister and brother,” he continues. “We gave them something enduring to have and keep.”

Alongside telling Anderson’s story, Life also made an important effort to include memories of Monty Dickson, a 26-year-old JET from Alaska who was also killed in the tsunami. Dickson’s body was found nearly three weeks after the disaster in the coastal town Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, which was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami.

“It was harder to tell his story because Monty was in an area that was so removed, it’s really off the radar,” Life says. “I think it suited Monty. Monty wanted to have a life that was distanced from all of the big cities of Japan, but because Rikuzentakata was so wiped out, it was harder to find people to talk about Monty. The reality was that so many people perished,” Life says. “But I didn’t want Monty to be just forgotten. He had a very full life as well during his time in Japan. I personally felt the need to remember his time.”

Reflecting on his film after nearly two years of planning and non-stop working, Life describes the making of "Live Your Dream" as an emotional journey. While making the film, he remembered his own experience living abroad in West Africa as a young man recently out of college. One of Life’s friends recently recalled the letters he wrote to her then when he was about the same age as Taylor Anderson.

“My friend said, ‘You know, you wrote back to all of us in the States about how happy you were for the very first time. You didn’t say you were living your dream, but it was very clear to us that was what you were doing.’”

Life encourages educators to purchase a copy of "Live Your Dream" to show the movie to students who are in the process of making decisions about their futures and goals. After premiering the movie in Japan this month, he plans to hold several screenings in cities throughout America.

“There is a quote from a young student at Taylor’s school, at St Catherine’s. After watching the movie, he said, ‘You always tell me I can do anything and everything. Now I really believe you.’ Taylor’s story is an inspiration, much in the motto of our president, ‘Yes we can.’ I think that’s what Taylor proves. If you can dream it, if you can think it, you can do it. You can’t just keep thinking about. You’ve got to begin to move your feet.”

Despite the tragedy and sadness that comes with thinking about all that was lost in an instant two years ago, Life hopes his film shows the endurance of passion and dreams, even when life is lost.

“You can’t remember someone like Taylor sadly,” Life says. “She lived. She was about joy; she was about passion, about energy. That’s the movie you have to make.”

More information about "Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story" can be found at http://www.thetaylorandersonstory.com, and a copy of the film can be purchased at http://globalfilmnetwork.net/dream.html.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

very sad, but to single her out of the 20000 + who died, because she was American, when the majority were Japanese, is just wrong, in my opinion.

-17 ( +8 / -25 )

As an American I can see the single out side to a degree. An American filmmaker can easily research here life story. But, your point is on target. So many sad stories will never be told.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

There was a "Thank You" video done that included Ms Anderson in it, it was a powerful and heart wrenching reminder of the quake.


0 ( +1 / -1 )

kimuzukashiii, nothing wrong with it at all. On TV all they show are Japanese victims... that should make you feel better.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Kimuzukashiii and others, you are missing the point of the documentary. It's not about the tsunami and quake, it's about one young woman living her dream, even though it ended sadly, she lived it.

As I was reading this article I thought to myself, how many people are going to bitch about it being about an American, how many aren't going to see what this man is trying to tell with this story. Those who see it as "just another American way to get attention" are just negative people to begin with.

When stories were done about the foreigners who died in 911 by their own countries I don't recall negative remarks. But everytime an American does or says something it's often taken in the negative. That's sad. There are quite a few beautiful Americans too, they are not all "Ugly Americans".


10 ( +13 / -3 )

Carolee what the heck does 9/11 have to do with this?

There were ... what ... 2 Americans who died in the quake (as mentioned above) and because they are white Americans they get a documentary made about them. What about the Chinese? The Koreans? Filipinas? The Other "foreigners" who died? Why is it that only these 2 foreigners get a mention?

-14 ( +4 / -18 )

@kimuzukashiiiii Because it was made by Americans? no one stops the film-makers of the victims of other countries to make a film about them.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The movie will be ahown mainly to American audiences, so I see no harm in making the movie about an American victim. Japanese producers are sure to make many movies about the Japanese victims (and survivors) when the time is "appropriate".

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This is nice but we don't know if she really lived her dream. Maybe her dream was to get married and have kids one day...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Please refrain from posting rubbish like this. There is absolutely no reason to post negative comments on this thread.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

“It was one of those reoccurring stories that didn’t just come once,”

They generally don't.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is important to tell real stories. It doesn't matter if the central person of those stories is Japanese or otherwise. What is important is that the story brings attention to the lives lost that day.

I would not expect a Japanese film maker to focus on the American guy when telling a story of a disaster abroad that took the lives of Japanese. So why should we expect the opposite?

A film maker must find a story to tell that he connects with. Whether that story is about another person from your own country or of those living in Japan, the story is meaningful.

I have been to the north and I have seen that devastation. I have me survivors. I have walked through neighborhoods that are gone along with most of the people who lived there. People died, not Japanese, not Americans. Just human beings. They died tragically, suddenly and with great destruction and fear all around them. And the survivors continue to suffer and struggle.

If this brings attention to the people of that region, regardless of where they are from, then I applaud it. And if it means that just a few people will send donations, help in some way or be inspired to follow a dream, then that is good too. Let us find goodness in this instead of trying to force our ideas on this film maker.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Rest in peace to Ms. Anderson, Mr. Dickson and all the victims. Their lives are worthy of remembering and I will watch this film. I remember reading a sad piece in the Yomiuri last year how Montys students respected and remembered him.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't get the people complaining that the focus is on two Americans. The film maker is American and was interested in telling the stories of two American victims. It does not seem like a mysterious code to crack and it certainly does not seem like it lessens the suffering of any of the other victims.

Perhaps less complaining and more compassion are in order here.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

because they are white Americans they get a documentary made about them.

Hardly - the filmmaker is black and has made several films about the experiences black people have in Japan. He chose a story that would be of interest to his audience. If it raises interest about the quake and its aftermath, it can only create positive results for the survivors- wherever they are from originally

5 ( +5 / -1 )

I also agree, this was an American film maker who focused on American subjects rightfully. The film focuses more on the lives they lived than the disaster itself as well. I couldn't find it online, but I remember the article down here in a Florida paper talking of how the film's majority was spent on how they lived, and what they achieved, not the disaster itself. I also have a dream to make it over to Japan and live there as well, and I suspect that when I do get there in a year or so, there will already be plans for a documentary or film (if not already) by a Japanese director to focus on those who lost their lives there. I am aware of a few Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and British remembrance films on various video sites already focusing on the nationality victims of the disaster. It is a natural thing for artists of all mediums in times of great loss to focus more on those who were closer to them. It makes it easier to do the research, and also allows effective communication because people would connect better to a local piece.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The documentary helps us understand the human side of the tragedy BECAUSE it sheds light on a life, a family and story. Because it does that we get a fuller understanding of what happened on an individual/micro level. This isn't a case of the forest isn't getting lost for the trees, but rather of taking a moment to really appreciate a person's story. I mean, it is really difficult to process a huge death toll like that in a meaningful sense. Frankly, it tends becomes abstracted, tangled or superficial when you get information in bits and pieces. In this case the documentary tells us about a remarkable young woman and her family. Feeling this sense of loss on an individual level really doesn't let you get away with the abstraction any more. But more than that, it really is a moving story about someone living life to the fullest. Is Taylor's story more important than the thousands of other stories? Of course not. But it is important. It is worth listening to these personal stories and if hers helps some people understand what happened and live a meaningful life, so much the better.

For the record, I saw the movie and I was really moved and inspired by it. I think most people who watch it will feel the same way.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This guy Regge Life, I believe I saw two of his three documentaries made about blacks living in Japan, and "halfs" -mixed-race kids growing up in Japan. About ten years ago, they were very rare and hard-to-get then, dont know about now w/net. They were good for being rough- not over produced or polished, and for just showing the subject as it is, letting honesty come through. At my stage of acculturation living here at that time, I didn't find them insightful so much as (they were really about my everyday experiences, tho not Afro-Am), so much as helpful and hopeful, as I, like many, can get lost in my own gaijin-Japan world here. And seeing others' everyday experiences here in that way gave a real feeling of connection.

That said, I am confident that this guy will be able to tell a good story if he brings the same curiosity and honesty to his subject, no matter what story he decides to tell. I hope I get a chance to see this. Seeing as how his others faded into hard-to-gettedness, I recommend anyone interested in this to see it if they can.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Checked the screenings- several in Tokyo and one each in Sendai and Okinawa. Not in Kansai area. Ah well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@kimuzu, feel free to make your own film and include or excude as many people as you want.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I like the idea that it is not as important how long you live, as how you lived. I think this is very important. Too many people put off doing the things that they love and have rather boring lives. Others jump in and do it without making excuses. This is more common in our country with men rather than women so I think this sends a ver important message to our American girls.

Now if someone wants to do a documentary on some of the other people, go for it, there are a great many more interesting stories out there among people that are yet unknown to us. I would rather hear their stories than the so called famous people.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Hats off filmmaker ! Get on with the project! Inspire the entire!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Regge Life's previous films are worth checking out too. Here are more info and links about him for those interested...

Reel Life & Real Life -- Filmmaker Regge Life on intercultural identity

An interview by Stewart Wachs (from KJ#40, 1999)


Regge Life's bio



Struggle and Success: The African-American Experience in Japan (1993)


-- TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d0tgYzHzrM

Doubles: Japan and America's Intercultural Children (1995)


-- TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T0_BpCK0E0

After America . . . After Japan (1999)


-- TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHGlR0cNZIw

A Good Return: Making the most of coming home (2000)


-- TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eir4AMlcs7A

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites