New York City, New York | Film Short


Yousuke Kiname and Adam Weissman

1 Campaigns | New York, United States

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This campaign raised $15,716 for post-production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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Manji asks a central question: How can we embrace the swastika as a positive symbol without ignoring the hate, pain, and violence associated with it? And what can we do to reconcile viewpoints that seem diametrically opposed but equally valid?

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

With hate crimes against the Asian-American community and Anti-Semitism on the rise, now is the time to examine where a polarizing symbol like the swastika fits in modern America. Beyond the symbol, MANJI seeks to spark conversation about intolerance and misunderstanding in a multicultural society.

The Story


MANJI, Japanese for ‘swastika’, is a documentary project following Reverend T.K. Nakagaki, or “T.K.”, through Japan and New York as he promotes his recently published book, “The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross”. The culmination of ten years of work, the book is T.K.’s attempt to rehabilitate the swastika by educating Westerners on the positive meaning so many Asian cultures ascribe to it.

Using T.K.’s mission as a jumping off point, the film explores how hate, anti-Semitism, and cultural differences can be addressed in an increasingly global society. The film joins T.K. at debates, ceremonies, and rallies as he educates and preaches and also tries to sell a few books. The film also captures roughly three dozen interviews with rabbis, professors, priests, monks, government officials and subject-matter experts to discuss the history of the swastika and its relevance today.

As of April 2021, we have completed filming and are starting the post-production process. Our goal with this campaign is to raise enough funds to complete a short-version of the film. Once completed, we will submit the short to film festivals, with the long-term goal of creating a feature-length film with all of the footage captured to date.

T.K.'s Story

Representing auspiciousness and peace, the swastika is ubiquitous throughout Japan. Popular as both a religious and secular symbol, it can be found on temples, street-maps, storefronts, and children’s toys. In Buddhist tradition the swastika symbol represents the ultimate achievement of enlightenment. In some ways it is as emblematic of Buddhism as the cross is to Christianity.

In 1985, a newly ordained Buddhist priest, T.K. was sent to America, placed in a temple in Seattle, Washington. One day shortly after his arrival, T.K. was put in charge of decorating the temple with the traditional flower arrangements for the Buddha’s birthday. Towards the end of a full day of decorating, T.K. turned towards the centerpiece of the arrangement: a giant swastika. Just as he was about to put the finishing touches on the swastika, another priest ran out frantically, yelling at him to stop what he was doing. T.K. was in America now, the priest explained, and he could no longer use the swastika.

In Western society, few symbols elicit as guttural a reaction and sense of taboo as the swastika. Indelibly tied to Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and modern white supremacy, the swastika is a symbol that many people would simply like to see disappear. Yet growing up in Japan, T.K. never learned any of this. After his incident at the temple, T.K. educated himself on the swastika’s sordid history and for nearly two and a half decades essentially omitted the symbol from his own Buddhist practices.

In 2009, at an interfaith conference in New York, T.K. sat in a lecture where a hate-crimes expert expounded how the swastika was a ‘universal’ symbol of hate. When T.K. asked him how he could characterize the swastika as a ‘universal’ symbol of hate when it had only positive connotations in Japan, the expert was at a loss. Despite being an ‘expert’, he had no knowledge of its meaning outside of Nazi Germany. Since that conference, TK has made it his mission to educate both Americans and Japanese on the history and significance of the swastika that they both seem to be crucially missing.

Our Film

Manji is split evenly between filming in Japan and New York, taking place roughly over the span of a year. The film will start with a short history of the symbol in both Western and Eastern contexts, providing viewers with a preliminary understanding of both interpretations of the swastika. The film will then move between different events and interviews captured in Japan and New York, focusing on the obstacles faced by T.K. in both countries and the experts we interviewed, whose positions become increasingly more nuanced as the film progresses.

In Japan, T.K. is generally met with open arms and receptive audiences. The following are just some highlights of the footage captured: We meet with Rabbi David Kunin, one of three practicing Rabbis in Tokyo, to hear how he explains to his congregation why they should not be offended by the swastikas decorating the city. We interview the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tarō Kōno, to get a sense of the Japanese government’s understanding of the swastika as a symbol on a global scale. We interview government officials responsible for ensuring that the city maps all use swastikas to indicate the locations of Buddhist temples. We spend an afternoon at ‘Manriki’, a swastika-themed ramen shop that is covered in swastikas (there is even one on the toilet). We film at various temples and museums filled with swastikas, interviewing both resident priests and educators, as well as Western tourists to get their reactions.

In the multicultural melting pot of New York, T.K. is met with much more resistance as we meet with a series Rabbis and Jewish scholars. The following are just some highlights of the footage captured: We meet with the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, an old friend of T.K., to gain the perspective of a religious leader in a country that was one of the worst affected by the Nazis. We attend the Jewish Solidarity march that took place in Brooklyn in early January 2020 in response to the recent surge of anti-semitic hate crimes. We interview Stephen Heller, an expert in graphic design at the New York School of Visual Arts and son of a Holocaust survivor, who discusses his recently republished book explicitly stating that the swastika should not be saved. We film a debate between T.K., a rabbi, and a nun, which resulted in the rabbi leaving out of frustration attempting to reason with T.K. We interview the dean of Union Theological Seminary, Professor Mary Boys, a Catholic nun and leading scholar in Christian-Jewish history.

Finally, the film will return back to T.K., alone in a Buddhist temple in Queens, where we do a final interview for a short reflection on the whirlwind of the year that passed.

Why Manji Matters

America is no longer as Christian and homogenous as it once was. The American Census Bureau found that the Asian-American population has been by far the fastest growing group in the US since 2000. The swastika exists in many Asian countries as an auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Jainism, and other religions going back millennia. Moreover, it is a common sight in secular contexts all over the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Asian culture is becoming increasingly more mainstream in America and it seems only natural that the swastika will follow.

At the same time, the last few years in the United States have seen a resurgence of white nationalism and neo-Nazism and a sharp increase in Asian-American hate crimes. It seems people are becoming more comfortable openly expressing their hatred and bigoted views towards immigrants and non-whites. The swastika appears to be coming back into fashion for certain groups, touted as a symbol of ‘white-pride’ and relic from Nazi Germany. It can be found on flags on houses and armbands at rallies across the US, and too-often graffitied onto synagogues, mosques, and other minority groups’ community buildings in an attempt to foster fear and hatred.

By educating Easterners on the trauma and grief that so many in the West associate with the swastika, the hope is to provide them with the tools required to approach this contentious issue in a sensitive and understanding way. By educating Westerners on how the other half of the world views the swastika, the hope is to remove some of the fear-inspiring power that the swastika symbol has when used as a symbol of hate.

Ultimately, the swastika, like all symbols, has no inherent meaning. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to what the swastika stands for; it only has the meaning we ascribe it. As we have found with so many of the subjects we interviewed, discussing the swastika reveals larger underlying tensions between ethnicities, citizens of different countries, and religions. Our hope is that the film extends beyond merely being an educational piece on the swastika, but can be used as starting point to gap divides between groups where there are not necessarily any right or wrong answers.

The crux of so many issues in our society today extends from opposing groups not being able to communicate with each other. Tribalism and taking sides are increasingly valuable commodities, whereas compassion and understanding seem to be falling to the wayside. The film hopes to be a tool to help break down walls of hate. Now, more than ever, is time to examine whether, as TK puts it, we can “rescue this symbol of peace from the forces of hate”.

Sharing our campaign on your social media is as helpful as a donation. And doing BOTH will go a long way to help us finish and release MANJI

Thank you for taking interest in our film and providing the support needed to see it through to completion! 

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Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0


Costs $3,000

Instead of using royalty-free music, we want to hire a composer for the sound track of the film.

Narration Recording

Costs $1,500

To hire talent as well as equipment/space rental for narration recording.

News Footage

Costs $4,000

News footage licensing fee to insert in the film.

Stock/Archival Footage

Costs $2,000

Licensing fee for stock and archival footage to use as B-roll through out the film.

Film Festival Entry Fees

Costs $1,500

To submit the film into as many film festivals as we can so that the film can get more exposure.

Sound Editing/Mastering

Costs $1,000

To hire a sound editor to clean up and polish the sound after picture lock.

Color Grading

Costs $1,000

To hire a colorist to give the film a cinematic and beautiful look.

About This Team

Yousuke Kiname and Adam Weissman, Manji's co-producers, as a team, are uniquely positioned to create this film with the nuance and sensitivity such a contentious topic demands. Yousuke and Adam have completely different backgrounds that mirror the dichotomy between the meaning of the swastika in the East and West.

Yousuke grew up in a Japanese household with a Buddhist parent, and, like T.K., originally saw the swastika as a completely benign symbol. As a teenager, Yousuke moved to America to live with his aunt and uncle, eager to go to film school and live out his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker. While he never had an experience quite as jarring as T.K.’s first American encounter with the swastika in Seattle in 1985, he similarly understands what it means to be a Japanese citizen thrust into America with little knowledge beforehand.

Born in California, raised in Dallas, Texas and Yokohama, Japan, at the age of sixteen Yousuke moved by himself from Japan to New York after deciding he would dedicate his life to becoming a filmmaker. There, Yousuke attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, completing his BFA in 2010.

Yousuke has since directed several short films, one of which, “The Agony of Napolitan” was awarded a special mention at the Innuendo International Film Festival in Milan. He has done camera work for a wide range of commercials, music videos, live events and fashion films. He shot his first independent feature film, “Lovetooth”, in 2017. 

Adam was raised in a Jewish community and attended Hebrew school until college, and was literally taught to fear the swastika as a symbol that could only be associated with the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. A philosophy major in college, Adam first encountered the Buddhist interpretation of the swastika in an Eastern philosophy class. Shocked, and later intrigued, Adam spent a significant amount of time studying the topic. Later, practicing as a lawyer in New York, Adam met T.K. and realized his story needed to be told.

Adam and Yousuke’s experiences gained through researching for and shooting this film will, in many ways, match what they hope Eastern and Western audiences feel and learn while watching the film.

Current Team