Although many often distinguish the United States of America and Japan as incredibly different, they both share a passionate love for one thing: baseball. For esteemed filmmaker Yuriko Gamo Romer, the two countries are forever intertwined through this love, as she explores in her upcoming documentary film, “Diamond Diplomacy.”
Gamo Romer appeared on JapanBall’s “Chatter Up!” on July 9 to discuss the film and show what she had made so far, including three never-before-seen clips from the film. Originally beginning as a mini project detailing the San Francisco Seals’ 1949 Japan tour, Gamo Romer said the more she delved into the project, the more interesting things about the topic she found:
“Anybody who knows anything about documentary filmmaking, you realize that you start with an idea, but then it doesn’t always go in the direction that you think it’s gonna go. So, in my case, the whole 1949 tour was a great idea; I thought I could make a little film about it, I started doing all this research, and I realized that Japan was introduced to baseball in 1872… And I thought that [was] amazing, because it’s been in Japan almost as long as it was really popular in the United States, because it was after the Civil War that it started becoming very popular in [the USA]. So that [opened] Pandora’s Box and then all of a sudden… I started just learning more and more bits and pieces.”
The clips Gamo Romer showed featured photos and videos focused on three topics primarily: American baseball in Japan before World War II, featuring Babe Ruth’s famous 1934 tour of the country, the first Japanese-born MLB player, Masanori “Mashi” Murakami (who debuted with the San Francisco Giants in 1964), and more contemporary players to cross the Pacific, including the famous Hideo Nomo. Gamo Romer said the selection of topics, and the exclusion of others, was in effort to attract a wide audience to her piece:
“The hard part about making a documentary … is staying enough focused so that someone could actually sit through it for a couple hours… I started having to just look into stuff, [which] meant trying to meet current players that were coming. I do have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever done a film that involves celebrities, and I’ll be happy never to have to do that again, because [of] dealing with agents, trying to get interviews and trying to get to see people, but people actually have been pretty helpful.”
Gamo Romer also talked about her process in making the film, which required dozens of interviews and connections, including Babe Ruth’s daughter (Julia Ruth Stevens), Murakami, Japanese-American baseball executive Cappy Harada, and former “Chatter Up!” guest Rob Fitts. Some clips, like the Ruth interview, were shot professionally, while others, like the Harada clips, were home movies and tape recordings found in storage:
“Kerry Yo Nakagawa… has this Nisei Baseball Research Project… and he’s like the number one expert on baseball during the internment camps during the war, and he knew Cappy. So we’re closely in touch and one day he called me up and he said, ‘I found these tapes in a drawer. I’m not really sure what they are, but I don’t even have any way of playing them. Can I just send them to you?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, he has something original and there’s no copy anywhere…’ Cappy passed away years ago. So it was just just a lovely find to have that interview that Kerry had captured of Cappy.”
Although she’s already put a lot of work into capturing and writing the documentary, Gamo Romer currently does not have a release date for the project. The film still requires funding and further production, as film Producer Marc Smolowitz detailed to “Chatter Up!” attendees. More information on how to support the film via tax-deductible donations can be found on Diamond Diplomacy’s website.
In her musings, Gamo Romer also discussed other interesting stories such as how Julia Ruth Stevens dated two of the ballplayers’ during her father’s 1934 tour, Murakami’s choice to spend his food money on a cowboy hat, and being mere inches away from Madison Bumgarner and Bryce Harper. For these stories and more, the full transcript can be found here, and the full “Chatter Up!” episode can be watched on JapanBall’s YouTube channel.
The USA and Japan are intersecting in their love for baseball, and Gamo Romer, along with the rest of JapanBall, loves to tread those crosswalks.