Japanese Film Crew Charts the Course of 19th Century Boatman at El Presidio SHP

By Anne Petersen

On June 8, 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) hosted a Japanese film crew from NHK Broadcasting Center in Tokyo at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. The crew is making a documentary film about Jukichi Oguri, a Japanese boatman who was lost at sea for 484 days before being picked up by the British ship Forester and brought to Rancho Refugio to convalesce. Oguri’s drift, according to the filmmakers, remains the longest in history to be survived. You can read more about this incredible story here

NHK film crew members, including Production Coordinator Michi Murayama (front left);  Director Yasuyuki Kuwata (third from the right); Actor Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (second from the right); with Debby Aceves (center) and Anne Petersen (far right).  Photo courtesy SBTHP.

The filmmakers brought in Japanese actor Hiroyuki Ikeuchi to narrate the film and help the audience imagine Oguri’s experiences. We met the crew in the Presidio Research Center for an interview with Executive Director Anne Petersen about life in the Santa Barbara area around 1815.  The team asked questions about the Spanish colonization of California, restrictions on trade and foreign vessels, and Rancho Refugio.

After the historical interview, the crew met with SBTHP Board President Debby Aceves, a descendant of José Francisco Ortega, first comandante of El Presidio de Santa Barbara and the founding owner of Rancho Refugio. During Oguri’s visit, José Francisco’s son José María Ortega was likely in residence and in control, as José Francisco died in 1798. Aceves and Ikeuchi had an informative conversation during which Aceves showed the actor her genealogy chart, and her descent from Ortega. She described the ranching economy that supported the Ortega family and others during the mid-nineteenth century. At the end of their conversation, Ikeuchi noted that it is interesting that Jukicki found Ortega 200 years ago, and now here he was talking with a descendant today, also in Santa Barbara. Aceves remarked that even though he and his crew today live an ocean away, maybe we aren’t really all that far apart because they were able to find connection today through this amazing story.

Debby Aceves show the crew her genealogy chart, tracing her family back many generations to José Francisco Ortega. Photo by Anne Petersen.

At SBTHP we believe that the knowledge and practice of history is vital to sustaining healthy individuals, communities and the nation.  Our experience with this film crew and exploration of the incredible story of Jukichi Oguri demonstrate that connecting with each other and exploring our own past can produce a sense of common ground across geographic and language barriers, and across time itself.  After their visit in Santa Barbara, the crew planned to travel to Sitka Alaska, to film at locations where Jikichi was taken on an otter trading vessel, before being brought back home to Japan. Adrift Across the Pacific will air in September 2019 on NHK Broadcasting.

Anne Petersen is the executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

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