In memoriam: Sumi Iwakiri

Aiko Herzig brings us the sad news of the passing of Sumi Iwakiri of Burbank, herself the widow of Brooks Iwakiri. Their names are familiar to viewers as the only individuals named in the funding credits for our film.

Brooks and Sumi, along with Michi and Walter Weglyn, were our first financial angels who provided the crucial seed money to get this film off the ground back in 1992. With their support we were able to capture the interviews that later made up the key eyewitness testimony for our story of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.

Sumi was a delightful woman who I remember always having a bemused smile on her face, and it was always my impression that it was she who persuaded Brooks to help us. She will be missed. Frank Chin was with us back then, and now, within hours of receiving the news, writes this online eulogy:


Sumi Iwakiri persuaded her husband Brooks Iwakiri to pony up a thousand dollars to support Bill Hohri’s NCJAR lawsuit against the gov for redress for the wrongs done to Constitution and the JA people by the Evacuation and Internment. She persuaded the fast talking fast moving Brooks to attend a reading of papers of the organized draft resistance at Heart Mountain at East West Players, when it was an Asian American Theater, and a meeting with James Omura the editor of the WWII Rocky Shimpo and the man who wrote the words that got the leaders of the Fair Play Committee, targeted by the JACL, arrested by the FBI.

Frank Emi. Emi told of taking the testimony of a JACL-FBI stooge lying through his teeth giving evidence that guaranteed all seven of the leaders would be convicted. He did his time at Leavenworth. As if Emi weren’t real enough there was Yosh Kuromiya, a resister who did his time at McNeil Island.

The meeting between the real men of history and the actors of East West Players resulted in a shrinkage of AA theater’s sphincter and a separation of theater art and AA activism. This contagion has spread to Chicago and New York. Coast to coast AA theater is cute ornamental Oriental.

Some good did come from the meeting of resisters and actors. It was open to the public and among the public that came because of Sumi, were her husband the property liquidator, and Bill Hohri and his wife Yuriko.

Suddenly Brooks was a champion of James Omura and Frank Emi, and Yosh Kuromiya and the resisters’ story. He grabbed all the real people up and took them to a tiki restaurant on a hill and bought everyone steaks. He seemed happiest taking these straight taking Nisei Sumi had discovered out to steak dinners and basking in the conversation of people Sumi had discovered. They didn’t talk like any JA he’d ever known. Talk about rights, dodging the JACL, and fighting for their rights then and sadly, now. Brooks had liquidated the houses of Harold Lloyd and the estate of some western star that would have impressed me if Brooks weren’t interested in hearing Frank Emi’s story of being interrogated by the Camp Director, or Jimmie Omura leading us down Denver’s streets of danger, and romance more than telling us of the thousands he pocketed on the deal for William S. Hart ‘s ranch or was it Tom Mix’s?

Brooks showed off his newly enlarged room and wall sized tv and said “I offered to get Sumi a woman to help clean and keep the place up, but Sumi says she won’t hear of it.” Brooks says, and Sumi is shaking her head. It’s her house.

Her wildman passed four years ago. I was at his funeral and spoke as the chronicler of the resisters. I was and am still cracking my way into the right side I used to have, a nerve at a time. I was attempting to say how generously he supported the resisters when I started to laugh for the first time since my stroke four years ago. I laughed uncontrollably and didn’t know how to turn it off. The echoes of his booming voice have gone into the void Japanese American history. Now Sumi Iwakiri is gone. Lung cancer was detected in July. She passed this week. Vince Iwakiri the only son, is alone in his mom’s Burbank house says his mom wanted to depart the scene with no bugles, no flowers, no ceremony. Cards, of course.

— Frank Chin

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