Hollywood and Howard

“Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back in”
- Micheal Cordelone, Godfather III.

Howard Kakudo, left Seattle immediately after meeting Yamamoto on Yamamoto’s wedding day. He knew he had no choice but to accept Kimpachi’s offer of help and return to Los Angeles. A driver, two of Yamamoto’s men, and car met Howard at the Toyo Club immediately as he left his meeting with Yamamoto. They took him to his small apartment where he collected as many of his belongings into a single suitcase and then they whisked him away to SeaTac airport. His flight to LA was 5 hours. He was returning to Los Angeles where he had no home, no job, and no money. However, being out of the physical grasp of Yamamoto, he felt relief, even though he was still frightened and uncertain. What would he do when he landed? Where would he go?

When he landed at Los Angeles airport, it’s well past midnight. It was perhaps the last flight in for the night. Howard knew not where to go. However, much to his surprise, but maybe should not have been surprised, he was met at the gate by a Japanese man he did not know.

“Welcome to Los Angeles. We’ve been waiting for you,” said the man. As usual, he was wearing a black suit, with a pistol hidden away in his holster behind his jacket. “Please come with me.”

Howard followed him to a car that was waiting for them. They are whisked away, destination unknown. They car made its way north and then east, away from the coast. It’s been a long day for Howard. He was barely able to stay awake. His escort was aware of this and says, “Tonight, you will rest tomorrow, Mr. Yamatoda will meet with you for breakfast. Please wait for his call.” Howard does not know a Mr. Yamatoda. However, he realizes he has little options. In an hour they reach their destination. The Beverly Hills Hotel.

Howard’s escort helped him check in and turned him over to the bell hop. “Sleep well. We’ll see you in the morning.” Howard walked to his room, unlocked the door, and fell on the bed exhausted. “What awaits me in the morning?” he pondered.

Bzzzz! Bzzzz! Bzzzz!

It was 7am. It took Howard a few minutes to wake up. He was groggy, disoriented, and a little uncertain where he was. Ah. LA he remembered. He smelled of sweat from the long previous day of travel and no bath or shower.

Bzzzz! Bzz! Bzz! The room buzzer continued to buzz. He made his way to the door. Unsure of who it was, he clasped the security chain before opening it. Cracking it open, he peered out with one eye to see who it was. Just a hotel staff boy.

“Mr. Kakudo?” the boy asked.


“A Mr. Yamatoda has called and asked that you meet him for breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 8, in an hour,” the staff boy stated.

“Anything else?”


“Thank you,” replied Howard as he shuts the door.

Howard composed himself. He took inventory of what he packed – at least a clean set of clothes, a toothbrush and a shaver. He took a quick bath, shaved, and dressed. By 7:30, he was ready for his meeting. With the unkown Mr. Yamatoda. He made his way to the hotel lobby and then to the restaurant. He scanned all the tables, and found only one Asian man in the room. He made his approach, and Yamatoda stood to greet Howard with an hand extended for a handshake.

“Mr. Kakudo, I presume?” said Mr Yamatoda.


“Thank you for joining me. Please sit and have some breakfast.”

Howard, remembering that he has not eaten for almost a day, realized how hungry he is. He was grateful for the opportunity.

“Mr. Yamamoto has informed me that you seek more opportunities here in Hollywood. You are an animator, yes?”

It was just yesterday that Yamatoda had received notification from his boss, M. Sera, head of the Little Tokyo Club, that Howard was coming to Los Angelese and that he should place him in a studio to work as an animator. Yamatoda, also ran the Japanese Film Exchange and was well connected in Hollywood.

Howard just listened. He seized up Yamatoda as best as he could. He was obviously connected to Yamamoto, but he did not know how. All he could conclude that he was somehow affiliated with the Japanese gang business in Los Angeles. He feared that while he had narrowly escaped the embrace of Yamamoto, he found himself in the arms of another relationship that he would not be able to refuse or escape.

“On Tuesday, we will take you to the Disney Studios. A Mr. Salzmann will meet with you. He will help you find ample work in the studio. I’m sure it will be a rewarding experience,” said Yamatoda.

Yamatoda had also considered how to exploit this opportunity with Kakudo. First, could he use the relationship to get closer to Yamamoto and gather more power for himself in Los Angeles? He was aware of Yamamoto’s transition from gambling and drugs to espionage. Could he leverage Yamamoto against Sera for personal gain? He decided that using and befriending Kakudo would be a tactical step for yet to be determined gained later.
“Perhaps you can do some work for me as well. I run the Japanese Film Society. We produce independent films for both audiences here and in Japan. It’s mostly documentaries about life here. Maybe there was work on the side for you,” continued Yamatoda.

By “documentaries,” he really meant but does not say explicitly, propaganda pieces. The films were shorts and distributed in Japan to promote Japan’s nationalistic agenda. He was sponsored, covertly, by the Japanese Imperial Navy and government. He also had plans to spread his pro-Japan propaganda to Japanese in America. Hence, using film as the vehicle, his goals were well aligned with Yamamoto’s. Yamatoda’s “day job” was in distribution of Hollywood films in America – physically transporting film from the studios to the theaters. Realize that in the 1930’s distribution was no simple logistics tasks – digital distribution via the Internet was not even in the glean of anyone’s eyes. Planes, trains, and automobiles were the “work horses” of the distribution network. Yamatoda hidden agenda was to leverage this network to distribute his propaganda far and wide across America. But, he has yet to synthesize this idea to reality.


Howard reported to Disney as arranged by Yamatoda. True to his word, a job had been made available to him. Howard went to Disney on Tuesday and he was eventually met by Mr. Salzman. He was portly man, unkempt in his dress, and a bit rough in his demeanor. He looked Howard up and down and, with a cigar dangling from his mouth, he motioned with his arm that Howard should follow him downstairs. He was led to the proverbial mail room. While his talent was in animation and the job was largely beneath his talent, Howard was grateful. Yamamoto and Yamatoda have done him a solid. He found solid work and an opportunity. It was a place to land after a potentially disastrous conflict with Yamamoto resulting from Kinuko Nakatani’s refusal to marry Kimpachi. Howard was resourceful and talented – he knew he would work his way out of the mail room.

In his spare time, he continued to work on his craft as an animator. He befriended other animators at Disney and was well liked. He kept quiet and perfected his art and trade, while he plotted how he would advanced.

In the mean time, Yamatoda had summoned him. Knowing that Howard was a talented artist, he realized he could put to good use. In addition to being a prominent member of the Little Tokyo Club, he too was an aspiring artist and Japanese nationalist. Through film, he pulled together these diverse interests. He was a prolific producer of Japanese propaganda film. He distributed through the guise of the Japanese Film Society. Most of it was destined for Japan but some was for local distribution to the Japanese American communities. He produced dozens of pro-Japan, anti-America propaganda pieces, largely supporting Japan’s entry into China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Yamatoda needed production help. And, he wanted to produce animated content in addition to movies. Howard was the perfect person to help him.

A meeting was arranged at the Japanese Film Society in Los Angeles. While he spends most of time working at the Little Tokyo Club, this was where his office was located. Howard was differential to Yamatoda. First, he was thankful for his help to find meaningful employment. Second, being involved with the Little Tokyo Club appropriately frightens him. His experience with the Toyo Club had educated him of the downsides of being even marginally involved with Japanese gangs. It’s as though, even if he wanted, he could not escape.

“I’m pleased things are going well for you at Disney,” said Yamatoda. It’s a lie – he knew that a mailroom job wasted his true talent. But he knew he has the upperhand with Howard. “Your talents are well utilized at Disney. However, I implore you to join me on some new projects. Of my own. For your country,” he continued. I want you to help me produce my movies and be the lead animator on some new projects.” The job will be part time, so he could keep his job at Disney and work nights and weekends.

I’ll make it worth your while,” said Yamatoda.

It’s an offer he can’t refuse.

“That is all. See you next Saturday at the studio?” asked Yamatoda, but it was more of a statement.

Howard keft the meeting. He realized he didn’t say a single word.

Happiness and Dismay: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Howard, indeed, joined Yamatoda at his studio.
It was well funded, used state of the art technology, and was a highly productive operation. However, it was completely hidden from view. Few knew of its existence. None of the films made any money. They run almost exclusively in Japan in plain sight, but they were all most unheard of in America. Some of the movies did leak to Japanese in America, mostly through the Film Society and cultural exchange centers.

The money behind the operations? The Little Tokyo Club. And, likely the Toyo Club, indirectly through the Little Tokyo Club. As both clubs embarked on an mission of Japanese Nationalism, espionage and propaganda take a front seat in America. Film, it was reasoned, was the way to the heart of Japanese. As a “hot medium,” in the language of Marshall McLuhan, movies appealed to viewers at an emotional level to bring them to the cause. Both clubs recognized this. So, the money flowed in large quantities, much to Howard’s benefit. He was making over $2000/month (roughly $40,000/month in 2017 dollars) for only part time work. Much more than the menial work he was doing at Disney.

When Howard went to Yamatoda’s studio that following Saturday, he was put to work immediately. First, on film production – everything from pre-production to post production. And, soon after, he was engaging where his heart really was – hands on animation. It was Yamatoda’s first foray into this genre. It was wildly successful. In terms of form, it was much more like modern day Japanese Anime than Disney’s Steamboat Willie. After all these were cartoons for adults with a dark but patriotic message. Not the stuff for children.

Howard was deeply satisfied with his work. He was working on his craft and given an opportunity that would be available to only a few, in the parallel world of Hollywood. He was given much free reign creatively with only high-level directive of what the content should be. So, he expanded not only his technical skills but creative ones as well.

That said, it was also deeply disturbing work. He was not a Japanese Nationalist. He had no allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. He was a hard working American. An animator. An artist. He had no aspirations for the Empire of Japan. Deep down, he knew the agenda he was propagating through his work. He knew it was connected to the Japanese underworld and Japan itself. It was a compromise we all make, he rationalized. But, still, as the money piled up, he felt pangs of guilt. Actually, a guilt that consumed much of him. A pit in his stomach grew. A trip to the doctor revealed ulcers. He did not spend the money he had earned. Instead it piled up in a bank account. He lived of the meager earnings from Disney.

By mid-1934, Howard was doing quite well with the underground Japanese film studio. He was flush with cash. His worries from the previous year, seemed to be in the distant past. Yet, his heart still yearned for Kinuko. He wondered much about her. And, at Disney he was still stuck in the mailroom. He had not made much progress. He knew no animators of Asian descent – maybe his dreams were impossible because he was a member of the club colored White. His mind drifted to the Japanese Nationalist anti-White agenda. Was the real world manifestation of the abstract belief system?

But, before he could explore (radicalize in 2017 terminology?), a dramatic change occurred; overnight, he was promoted to a position of animator, without much visible reason. One day he was in the mailroom, the next he was working on the greatest animation project ever – “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” “Snow White” was huge and risky undertaking by Disney. It was a “bet the company” gamble. Howard found him involved in the earliest stages of what would go on to be one of the greatest films, animation or otherwise, of all time.

Of course, this was not a random fortuitous circumstance. While Yamamoto was at Hearst Castle, he struck up conversation with a Metro Goldwyn Meyer studio executive. Through Hearst, he had cultivated a relationship which led him to Disney executives, possibly Walt Disney himself. Yamamoto realized the power of film as propaganda, hence his interest. In the social situation of Hearst Castle, Yamamoto was unassuming and not dominant. It was his meetings later, outside the gossipy ears of high society, that Yamamoto wielded power and influence. His innate understand of the power of film impressed many. Using Hearst to leak information to studio executives, he was a man of intrigue and possibly fear. Many believed that it was Yamamoto himself that orchestrated the potential murder and then saving of Charlie Chaplain when the Prime Minister of Japan was assassinated while Chaplain visited him in Japan. Through these connections, he found a way to help Howard, who he never forgot after the difficult circumstances with Kinuko. It was unclear whether Howard knew explicitly that it was Kimpachi that he owed his successes. But, he was a smart man, suspected as much, and decided there was no reason to poke into the true reasons for his success. As much as he wanted to get away from Yamamoto, it appeared that he could never escape.

“One If By Land, Two If By Sea…” — Spreading the Word

Two men hurried their way down the street. Out of breathe, they approached the theater box office, and bought two tickets to the afternoon matinee. Tickets in hand, they caught their breath and composure. They now entered the building, and slowly and deliberately, walked passed the snack bar and immediately head into the theater. They spot two seats, on the aisle, three rows from the back and hustle to them. Amid a few hundred screaming and out of control children with few parents, the settle into their seats. The breath a sigh of relief, look at each other, and calm themselves.

The well-dressed Japanese men, probably no more than 25 in age, scrambling to get to the beginning of a kiddie matinee in Dubuque, Iowa were probably an odd sight. There were few Asians in this city, and few adults, without children, ever attended an afternoon showing. The probably would draw attention in broad day light, but as the lights dimmed for the beginning of the movies, the darkness provided cover for any curious eyes.

Their eyes adjusted to the darkness just as the first of a few trailers began. The two men watched intently. Their attention was focused not only on the trailers but especially at the end of one and the beginning of another. Curiously they watched intently the upper right region of the short segments, paying little attention to the actual action of the trailers. The first of the double feature serial movies begins after the trailers end. After less than fifteen minutes into the serial, the men look to each other, nodded as in confirmation, and got up and leave the theater into the daylight.

Two weeks later, the men arrive in Sacremento, CA. Their destination was the Little Tokyo Club of Sacramento. There, they meet a few dozen other Japanese men, all similarly dressed. They were hard to tell apart – they all basically looked alike; dark suits, early to mid twenties, and Japanese. And, they were all spies.

A meeting was about to begin. It was a few minutes before 1PM. The men milled about a room configured as an auditorium. The men began to find their seats. However, our two friends from Dubuque were summoned out from the crowd. A senior member of the Club approached them, and led them upstairs to the private office of the manager of the Club. The man knocks at the door, and led the two men into the office.

Much to their surprise, behind the desk were two men. Yamamoto and Yamatoda.

The two men sat in the chairs in front of the desk. Yamatoda rose from his chair to speak; Yamamoto remained silent.

“You were late to the movies when you picked up your messages. We care not why. Your lack of discipline was unbecoming. You jeopardize us all. Don’t let it happen again. If it happens again, it won’t happen again,” said Yamatoda. He sat down, and the two men were escorted out.

The two men were frightened but relieved. They head back down to the make shift auditorium. They realized there were spies spying on them at the theater. They were being watched to make sure they stayed in line.

Yamatoda looked to Yamamoto. With seeming confidence he said, “Regardless, this should still work.” Internally, he still was not sure. Yamamoto gave a nod of approval. Not a nod of confidence but one that they should proceed.

What transpired you ask? As Yamamoto’s espionage network grew, it became increasingly necessary to communicate with all men in the field. And they obviously needed to do so in secrecy. Many techniques were deployed to facilitate peer-to-peer communications, such as coordinating messages through innocent proprietors, such as tailors and stationary stores. However, wide-scale, secure, multi-cast messaging was another beast all together. With the help of Yamatoda, Yamamoto devised a plan.

Serial films, basically short series like “Game of Thrones” but in the 1930’s, were tremendously popular. People would flock to the theaters. The studios quickly produced the series, with a dozen or so episodes every year. While production was challenging, distribution was even more so. The episodes needed to get to hundreds if not thousands of theaters every week. And of course, this was the business of Yamatoda. Here, Yamatoda intermediated production and distribution.

Here was where Howard played a critical role. He’d create short segments that could be interspersed between the trailers. The segments contained codes that were barely visible. Or he’d add the codes to the trailers themselves. The doctored film reels would go out to all America, the hinterlands as well as the big cities. Spies from across the country would go to watch the serial films and pick up messages. Typically, the messages contained meta-communication – merely notification of where and when meetings would be held. However, it was designed to coordinate large scale efforts of espionage or destruction. It was a system to wake up the “sleeper cells” of the network, if a wide scale distributed attack was ever necessary.

It was ingenious. Howard dutifully did his job. He was paid handsomely. However, he knew he was deeply embedded into a secret plot of the Japanese government and Yamamoto. It was all most too sinister to believe. And, an affront to the country that he called home.

Of course, Howard’s legitimate work continued to thrive. Certainly, his success was aided in the background by the influence of Yamamoto and Yamatoda. His work on “Snow White” was a contribution to what became one of the greatest movies ever. He later went on to do significant work on “Pinocchio” and, years later, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Howard’s work was widely acclaimed. I’m sure he wondered what forces lurked in the shadows that helped him along, regardless of the acclaim of the actual artistic work that he had done.

Post Script

Decades later, in the 1980’s, he was re-united with his beloved Kinuko. She lived in Detroit and then Seattle while he was still in Los Angeles. They saw each other often but sporadically. Until this writing, I’m sure only a few people knew this. This continued to be a secret for now nearly a century.

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