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Edward Sakamoto (1940-2015) was born in Hawaiʻi, graduating from ʻIolani School, and earning his B.A. in English from UHM in 1962. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for many decades as a journalist, at the same time becoming a prolific playwright. Sakamoto’s plays were frequently produced in Hawaiʻi at Kumu Kahua Theatre and at UH Mānoa’s Kennedy Theatre, where he collaborated with the late director Glenn Cannon. Sakamoto plays have also been produced at prestigious regional theatres such as East West Players (Los Angeles) and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre (New York).
In 1997, the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and the Hawai‘i Literary Arts Council awarded Sakamoto the Hawaiʻi Award for Literature, considered the highest award for a writer in the state. In the words of playwright and journalist Lee Cataluna, “Sakamoto has been called Hawaiʻi’s most popular, most prolific and most beloved playwright, but even those superlatives don’t do justice to his impact and his skill.”
Sakamoto’s most popular plays include Aloha Las Vegas, about a widower contemplating a move off island, and Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire, a play about the all Nisei 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. His Hawaiʻi No Ka Oi trilogy (The Taste of Kona Coffee, Mānoa Valley, and The Life of the Land) follows a Japanese American family in Hawaiʻi for over a sixty-year period. According to Justina Mattos, although Sakamoto’s plays are “often warm and humorous family dramas, they are imbued with a bittersweet ambiguity as characters struggle with regret over past decisions [ . . . ] one can detect in many of his plays a preoccupation with the problematic and equivocal nature of leaving home.”
To honor Sakamoto, the Edward Sakamoto Fund has been established at UH Foundation to provide annual awards to UHM Theatre and Dance students who are focusing on playwriting, and to support departmental activities related to playwriting and Sakamoto’s legacy. Donate.
For summary of the plots of some of Sakamoto’s major plays, see Asian American Theatre Revue’s page.
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