TV viewers in the Pacific Northwest tuning in to the Winter Olympics this week have been getting an unexpected, 30-second education in America’s wartime incarceration camps, thanks to a personal testimonial I gave for the importance of the work of KING-TV’s Lori Matsukawa.
Fabrication of the story of the Heart Mountain resisters is not high on the list of problems identified by critics of the musical Allegiance — although the most important of them did single out issues raised by our first critique and linked to this blog. No, foremost among their complaints is the other failing we pointed out: the derivative book, lacking in authentic sensibility, devoid of artistic merit, and wrapped around bombastic songs stuffed with platitudinous lyrics and generic melodies. The mostly tepid reviews could depress the show’s box office and dampen the length of its run on Broadway.
You won’t see blurbs from these reviews touted in any Facebook ads. So here is a highly selective look at the bad reviews that back up our take on the show. As rated by the trade journal Broadway World, they add up to a cumulative reception of just 6.8 on a scale of 10.
The most-watched reaction on Broadway remains the review in the New York Times. Critic Charles Isherwood asked for a copy of our DVD, and recognized there is a real story lurking here:
As we said before, the problem with Alleigiance is not one of inexactness but the fundamental fabrication of events that were impossible to occur in the real world and which cheapen the integrity of the Heart Mountain resistance. Nevertheless, it’s enough that the point is raised in the newspaper of record, leading more than a thousand curious readers to follow the link and discover this blog.
The problem with the new Broadway musical Allegiance is not just its historical inaccuracies, although it is riddled with them. It’s the fabrication of events that were impossible within the reality of America’s concentration camps. Unexpectedly, the one reality this show gets right is its portrayal of Mike Masaoka and the wartime Japanese American Citizens League — although making him the villain of the piece diverts attention from other, more uncomfortable truths.
Some background: In its tryout at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater in 2012, audiences reported their dismay at seeing Masaoka burlesqued as “sleazy” and a “scheming villain” who plotted for Nisei boys to die in suicide battalions as a means of proving Japanese American loyalty. This first-draft “Masaoka” joined in on an all-singing, all-dancing production number (“Better Americans in a Greater America”) that parodied his accommodationist stand with such lyrics as “It’s not too late / Come celebrate / America and assimilate!” The show climaxed with the Nisei vet Sammy, played by George Takei, in full dress uniform screaming at the spirit memory of Masaoka, “You had me lead them to their deaths, you son of a bitch!”
Flashback Friday: Thanks to JK Yamamoto, former editor of the Hokubei Mainichi, for reminding us that it was on this date 23 years ago that we staged the first ceremonial homecoming for the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.
Under the sponsorship of Prof. Wendy Ng at San Jose State University, the May 29, 1992 event was a special evening program for the national conference of the Association for Asian American Studies, held in the Studio Theater of Hugh Gillis Hall.
We called it “The Boys of Mountain View – San Jose,” and what lent it the ceremonial feel was the readers’ theater script compiled by writer Frank Chin that threaded together the original writings of the resisters, the editorials in support of the resisters by Rocky Shimpo editor James Omura, and a warm narration provided by poet Lawson Inada. Omura, Frank Emi, Mits Koshiyama, Dave Kawamoto, and Gloria Kubota read their own words from the time, from the scripts in the music stands in front of them. For a bit of dramatics we staged part of the interrogation of Frank Emi by camp director Guy Robertson, with Emi’s words read by the current editor of the Nichi Bei Weekly, Kenji Taguma.
We shot the event with three cameras, thinking that cutting between them would provide the framework for a documentary about the resisters. But once we got the tape into the editing bay, we immediately saw the problem: all the readers were looking down at their scripts in the music stands, and making no contact with the audience. It just wasn’t visually compelling.
That began an eight-year journey to shoot new interviews and gather archival film and stills for what would eventually become Conscience and the Constitution. The San Jose State homecoming was the first event we shot, and it turned out to provide the last shots in the finished film, with the applause from the audience and the recovery of their history providing an emotional lift to help cap our story.
While only a few moments from the evening survived in the final cut, you can get a feel for this first ceremonial homecoming for the Heart Mountain resisters in the DVD outtake, “The Return of the Fair Play Committee.”
The Densho online video archive is already a remarkable accomplishment: the filming, transcribing, archiving and posting of more than 1,600 hours of video interviews and over 12,000 historic photos, documents, and newspapers, all sharing the direct experience of incarceration in one of America’s concentration camps for Japanese Americans in World War II. The raw tapes of all 26 interviews we conducted for CONSCIENCE are archived there and available online, in what’s unavoidably dubbed the “Frank Abe Collection.”
Executive director Tom Ikeda and company have now taken their collection to the next level. After years of work they have synthesized the stories and images in their collection and organized them into a new online course, “Teaching WWII Japanese American Incarceration with Primary Sources.”
But there’s more. Among the benefits for completing the course and filling out an evaluation, teachers will receive a certification of completion to document professional development hours, and a copy of our new Two-Disc Collectors Edition DVD of CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, documenting the largest organized resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.
“The online course helps teachers create classroom activities to encourage students to closely examine and question what people say,” says Ikeda. “The men in Abe’s film questioned the government’s action to draft them from behind barbed wire, which led to their civil disobedience. We want teachers and students to see how thinking deeply about an issue can lead to action.”
Thanks to Densho for its longtime support of our project and for sharing our DVD with new teachers and students. The complete course takes about six hours to complete and it’s completely free, so sign up now.
A new project out of UCLA has an ambitious goal: to preserve the history of the entire range of dissidence and resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.
The full title is a mouthful: The Eji Suyama, 100th Battalion/442nd RCT Draftees, No-Nos, Draft Resisters and Renunciants Archival Collection Endowment. Eji himself was a Nisei vet who survived the rescue of the Lost Battalion, a chief of surgery in Maine, and a frequent voice in the vernacular press who would caution against the super-patriotism of the postwar JACL and many veterans’ groups while championing the principled stands of the draft resisters and others. We received several letters from him in support of our film while in production.
The Suyama Project has an interesting take in recognizing that even small acts of defiance, like stealing lumber to make furniture or sneaking out of camp to go fishing, could be considered acts of everyday resistance to government authority. The project’s mandate, however, is to collect archival material on all dissent, including the various riots and civil unrest, the military resisters, the Moab and Leupp Citizen Isolation Centers, and the focus of a community forum March 7 in San Francisco: the unique story of the men in Block 42 at Tule Lake.
A full house at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center turned out to hear the story of Block 42, where in February of 1943 military police illegally rounded up three dozen men for refusing to answer either a Selective Service questionnaire or an Application for Leave Clearance, both of which included a troubling loyalty oath.
Playwright Hiroshi Kashiwagi testified to what he witnessed: the ringing of the mess hall bells at 5pm sounding the alarm of the arrests, the military police hauling out the men from Block 42, the mothers and sisters screaming for the men not to be taken.
Mamoru “Mori” and James Tanimoto of Gridley told how they were sent to an outside jail and then held without charge at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp. There they were interrogated, rousted at night under bright lights, and made to hear the clicks of guards ominously loading their rifles as if ready to shoot, making the men believe they were going to be executed. Then from the darkness a voice shouted no one was going to escape under his watch, and the men were returned to their barrack.
From the audience, Ben Takeshita shared a similar story of mental torment, of how his brother Spencer had been taken to the CCC camp, put before a firing squad, offered a blindfold, and watched helplessly as the soldiers were given the commands “ready, aim … fire,” as blanks were fired.
After one month, the War Department and FBI told the Tule Lake camp director that he had no legal authority to arrest people for failing to sign an administrative form, and the men of Block 42 were returned to camp. Hiroshi joked that he always thanked the Block 42 boys for “taking the rap” for other no-no’s in camp, as he in Block 40 and others at Tule were never themselves arrested.
The Tanimoto’s have told their story before, at Tule Lake Pilgrimages past, but as Barbara Takei observed the story was not documented outside that circle. The Suyama Project is looking for more stories and materials of this kind for its archival collection, and we urge your support. Its website provides several links to this site and our film.
And thanks to project coordinator Martha Nakagawa for recognizing CONSCIENCE and RABBIT IN THE MOON in her remarks as “the two films that together led JACL to apologize” for its wartime suppression of camp resistance.
For the month of December, our Two-Disc Collectors Edition DVD is being offered as a premium gift for those of you who donate $125 or more to The Densho Project in Seattle. It’s our way of supporting Densho’s mission of using digital technology to preserve and make accessible primary source materials on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, and vice versa.
Not only that, but all donors get a gift of these cool custom first-class postage stamps with an image of Tule Lake.
And there’s more: for every dollar you donate, the National Park Service will contribute two dollars. Learn more about the Densho Online Giving Challenge Match for December.
Our film has enjoyed a long and productive partnership with Densho and executive director Tom Ikeda. Densho supported transfer of our analog Sony Betacam-SP interview tapes to the digital DVCAM format, which enabled us to produce all the featurettes, outtakes, and extended interviews for the DVD bonus disc. In return, all 26 of our interviews have been donated for permanent preservation in the Densho Digital Archive. Check out the Frank Abe Collection for hours of fascinating material we couldn’t even squeeze into the DVD extras.
Frank Abe Collection
The Frank Abe Collection consists of interviews conducted by filmmaker Frank Abe for his 2000 documentary, Conscience and the Constitution, about the World War II resisters of conscience at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. The interviews are with surviving Heart Mountain resisters, as well as others who were in some way connected to them or the controversy within the Japanese American community surrounding the resisters. The interviews are typically not life histories, instead primarily focusing on issues surrounding the resistance movement itself.
The legacies of journalist James Omura and the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee live on in two new museum exhibits opening this month in Washington, DC and Seattle.
On May 16, the Newseum, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, opened “One Nation With News for All,” an exhibition on the origins and influence of the ethnic media in the U.S. One section discusses free speech during WWII, specifically highlighting this photo of James Omura as the editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo, with this description:
Fighting for Free Speech During World War II
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into internment camps by the U.S. government. Despite this, the men in the camps were still called up for American military service. James Omura, editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo newspaper for Japanese Americans, risked jail by publishing stories about a draft resistance movement at a Wyoming internment camp. Charged with conspiracy to counsel draft evaders, Omura was acquitted on free speech grounds.
The Omura photo is also used on an interactive kiosk featuring 100 pioneering ethnic media outlets from Colonial America to today. Visitors can touch the map and find out more about those news organizations.
The mission of the Newseum in Washington, DC, is to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment through education, information and entertainment. It blends news history with technology and hands-on exhibits. “News for All” will be on display there through Jan. 4, 2015.
The mug shot of Frank Emi at Leavenworth is included in the program for a new exhibit in Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.” We uncovered the prison mug shot in time for inclusion on the menu animation for Disc Two of our DVD. The exhibit is on view through January 18, 2015.
Who knew that one of the unforeseen benefits of creating the first Day of Remembrance at the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1978 would be the creation of an annual platform for the screening of our film? So it is that this year we’ll have the privilege of showing CONSCIENCE at South Seattle Community College for the college’s Day of Remembrance program, and speaking afterwards with students, faculty, staff and the larger community. It’s free and open to the public, with this eye-catching flyer:
Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Kenji Taguma and the Nichi Bei Foundation will present the third annual Films of Remembrance on Sunday, Feb. 23rd, at New People Cinema, 1746 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. The program last year featured CONSCIENCE, and one film this year has a Fair Play Committee connection:
The film ““Hiro: A Japanese American Internment Story” by Keiko Wright, winner of a Student Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, covers how Keiko and her grandfather Hiro Hoshizaki rediscovered the painful memories of his wartime incarceration at Heart Mountain. The 30-minute film also includes a small portion on the resistance of Hiro Hoshizaki’s brother, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee resister Tak Hoshizaki.
“Hiro” won the Gold Medal in the Documentary category at the 39th Student Academy Awards. It screens at 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 23.
Here’s something new: a special program aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle, in which we’ll screen CONSCIENCE subtitled in Japanese. An original poster has been produced for the event.
This is the first event in a “Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, the new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. We’ll be using a version of our film with Japanese subtitles that were created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001.
The screening is coming up Saturday, November 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, at 519 6th Avenue South. Admission is free with a donation suggested. You can register for tickets through this Eventbrite registration. The series is presented by the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, the North American Post, and Soy Source.