Western Oregon University professor receives recognition for film

Written by Maureen Brakke

MONMOUTH, Ore. – Western Oregon University’s Professor of Theatre and Dance, Leslie Watanabe, has received several prestigious awards for his film Bonsai released this year. It was showcased at various film festivals this year.

Bonsai is a captivating film that intertwines the technical creation of a beautiful bonsai tree with the life story of the filmmaker’s mother. The film’s unique concept and execution have resonated with audiences and critics, leading to its success.

“My mother shared with me that my father made her life a Bonsai. This phrase haunted me for years. When I finally made Bonsai, it was done from my mother’s viewpoint. I gathered all her letters and began the heart-rending process of writing the script,” shared Watanabe. “Now that it’s done and has received recognition throughout the world, I can finally say to her, ‘Rest in peace, Mom the world knows your story.’”

In 2023, Bonsai received numerous awards and recognition:

1.  Best Experimental Film, Best Art House Short Film, Best Cinematography, and Dance Film – 8 Halfilm Awards, Rome 

2.  Best Experimental Film – Frida Film Festival, Paris 

3.  Best Experimental Film – Florence Film Awards, Florence 

4.  Best Experimental Film – International Gold Awards

5.  Gold Award: Best Screenplay – Paris Film Awards 

6.  Best Screenplay – New York Movie Awards

7.  Best Editing – Florence Film Awards, Florence

Looking ahead to 2024, Bonsai has been nominated for awards and will be featured at several  festivals:

1.  Best Screen Play – Winter Leopard International Film Festival, Stockholm 

2.  Best Dance Video – Art Giraffe International Film Festival, Nice 

3.  Best Short Film – Red Fox International Film Festival 

4.  Best Short Film and Best Sound Design – Portuguese Lemur International Film Festival, Lisbon 

5.  Best Original Screenplay –  Liber Films International Film Festival, Greece 

Watanabe’s Bonsai is a testament to the power of storytelling and the art of filmmaking. Its success in the form of awards and recognition speaks volumes to the film’s quality and the talent behind its creation.


About Western Oregon UniversityWestern Oregon University, established in Monmouth in 1856, proudly stands as Oregon’s oldest public university. Hosting around 4,000 students, Western embodies a mid-sized, NCAA Division II institution, with approximately 80% of its students hailing from within the state. Notably, its diverse student body comprises individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, veterans, and non-traditional learners. Western stands as the preferred campus in Oregon for those pursuing an enriching education within a nurturing, student-focused environment, characterized by faculty-led instruction.  Together we succeed.

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