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‘No No Girl’ Is a Double Win for Goodman

Completing two independent full-length feature films by the age of 30 is in itself an impressive achievement.


But, while Paul Daisuke Goodman was dealing with writing scripts, planning scenes and casting actors, he was also battling cancer — twice.


The Orange County Buddhist Church member sandwiched making “Evergreen” and “No No Girl” with his cancer treatments. At one point, Goodman convinced his doctors to allow him to begin one round of chemotherapy a little ahead of schedule and slightly delay the following round so he could go on the road for 28 days to shoot his first movie.


“Just the fact he’s sitting here is a miracle,” said Chris Tashima, one of the stars of “No No Girl,” during a panel discussion after a Jan. 28 screening at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin that drew 165 people.


Before the San Jose screening, Goodman — now in remission for the second time — reflected on the scary, challenging and fulfilling last seven years. He expressed gratitude to his family, the Japanese American and Asian American communities, and the Shin Buddhist Sangha for supporting him.


“It’s always been overwhelming still to this day,” Goodman said. “Right now I’m at a Buddhist temple I’ve never been to and everyone is so welcoming and inviting and so excited that the movie is here and I’m here.”


The 6-foot-5 former high school basketball player looked like he can still lace it up and hit the court, but Goodman said he still has to be careful. His immune system, the doctors say, is like that of a young child.


Series of Screenings


Goodman, now 31, took “No No Girl” to a series of screenings in February and March, including the Sacramento Betsuin and film festivals in Eugene, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C. He anticipates it will debut on a streaming service within a year or so.


The 150-minute movie revolves around a 20-year-old Yonsei woman and her family — a Buddhist family — as they grapple with a family mystery tied to their sometimes tense relationships with one another and the World War II mass incarceration of Japanese Americans.


The support for Goodman and the movie from the community mirrors what happened when he was searching for a bone marrow match. His sister Laurie was a 50% match, but there was hope someone who was a 75% match could be found, a search more difficult because Goodman is biracial — Japanese American and European. Buddhist temples, including the BCA, and Asian American community groups throughout the West Coast and Hawaii organized bone marrow drives.


(See Wheel of Dharma articles: “OCBC Member Needs Bone Marrow Match,” January 2021; “‘Team Paul’ Goes on Offense in Bone Marrow Drive for OCBC Member,” March 2021; and “Gardena Sets Marrow Drive for Goodman,” April 2021.)


Ultimately, someone with a greater match was not found and Laurie was his donor, but the drives in the community and publicity about them drew more attention for finding bone marrow donors who are biracial.


“It’s beyond heartwarming,” said his mother, Bonnie Goodman, who was selling movie merchandise at the San Jose showing. “We’re so grateful just for the compassion of everyday people we don’t know.”


Goodman grew up attending the Orange County Buddhist Church, where his family has been members since the 1960s and where he shot some scenes for “No No Girl.” He participated in church activities from elementary school through high school, and for years volunteered at the Los Angeles Buddhist Coordinating Council summer camp for children. He continues to regularly edit videos for OCBC.


“I’m a very proud Buddhist,” Goodman said. “So much about Buddhism is always affecting my life.”

Buddhism, he said, “means my community,” his temple family and friends who are a big part of his life. As he gritted through the painful cancer treatments, he said he would think about the lessons in church about suffering and he talked to OCBC leaders such as Rev. Marvin Harada, currently the BCA bishop.


“He has maintained a positive attitude despite the challenges of cancer that he has had to face in recent years,” said Rev. Harada, who watched Goodman grow up from his toddler years.


Interest in Filmmaking


Goodman’s interest in filmmaking began while he was a student at UC Santa Barbara. Some of the people he met at the university have acted in the two movies or been part of the film crew. He worked as a camera operator for the Discovery Channel series “Whale Wars,” spending months at sea filming environmentalists working to stop the killing of whales.


In 2016, Goodman, who had always been healthy, began feeling sick and was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which people in their 20s rarely get. As he began a three-year-long regimen of chemotherapy treatment, Goodman reassessed his career. He decided he would begin making his own movies, partly to tell his own stories and partly so he could control his schedule. One of his dreams is to make a movie of his childhood favorite book, “Baseball Saved Us,” about baseball in the Japanese American incarceration camps.


During the first two years of treatment, he made two short films. By the third year, he had written the script for a full-length film. “Evergreen” is about two acquaintances drawn closer as they drive up the Pacific coast.


Goodman said he was doing well enough toward the end of his treatments that the doctors approved adjusting the treatment schedule so he could go on the road to film the movie.


He was informed he was in remission before the final treatment. Then came the double high of finishing “Evergreen” and his final chemotherapy session within days of each other. “Evergreen” is available on Amazon Prime Video.


Goodman moved to Las Vegas, got engaged, resumed living an active life and continued planning “No No Girl.” But in late 2020, he noticed a lump on his neck. The cancer had come back in his brain and spinal fluid.


He would need chemotherapy again, but this time, also radiation, and he would need a bone marrow transplant. And all this occurred at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


He decided that neither the recurrence of cancer nor the pandemic would stop him from making “No No Girl.”


“I told cancer, ‘It’s my turn,’” Goodman said. Once again, Goodman balanced his strength-sapping cancer treatments with making a movie. “No No Girl” took 18 months to make, a fast turnaround for a movie.


Goodman is proud that the Japanese American family members at the center of the movie were all played by Japanese American actors, and that 65% of the crew was Asian American.


“No No Girl” premiered in August 2022 before a sold-out audience at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. The following month, the movie was shown for a week at a Glendale theater, where it drew about 1,000 customers, outdoing some other bigger budget Hollywood films for a similar time frame. The movie received the Online Audience Award of the Silicon Valley Pacific Fanfest.


Positive Response


The reception was so positive and enthusiastic that a two-month schedule of screenings was arranged.


Joining Goodman and Tashima at the San Jose showing was Mika Dyo, who played Sue Hasegawa, the young woman at the center of the movie. Tashima thanked Goodman for making the film.


“It’s an important experience that needs to be shared with everyone and not be forgotten,” said Tashima, who won an Academy Award for live action short film in 1998 for “Visas and Virtues,” about the Japanese equivalent of Oskar Schindler, diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who saved thousands of Lithuanian Jews during World War II by granting them visas.


Todd Tsudama, who organized the San Jose screening of “No No Girl,” praised the movie, which is about a family chest buried days before evacuation.


“It all seemed so familiar, as my uncles would say the same things during some controversial Thanksgiving dinners, when we were talking about the disposition of my Obachan's property,” Tsudama said. “I know it may sound dumb, but it was good to see similar faces, like mine, on the screen. Way too many times non-Asians play our parts.

“I also enjoyed the Q&A with Paul and the cast,” Tsudama continued. “I am so thrilled that a Yonsei is out there producing movies like this and he absolutely understands the mindset of the Nisei."


Different Experience


Devon Matsumoto, who along with other members of Young Buddhist Editorial helped at the showing, had seen the movie during an online Asian American Film Festival. But he said it was a different experience with an audience of community members of different generations.


“I think it really speaks to the importance of the film that brought together the different JA generations to dig up parts of our history we have left buried in the ground,” Matsumoto said.


Those reactions aren’t unusual, according to Goodman. He said people come up to him to tell him an incident shown in the movie happened to themselves or their family.


“More than just validating the movie, it validates me as a person because I wrote these moments in this movie to reflect my life and what I’ve experienced and to just feel the reciprocation from everyone, that this is my truth, too,” he said. “I think that everyone whoever makes a piece of art — I think that’s all they hope for.”


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