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Award-winning “Conscience and the Constitution” returns as Two-Disc Collectors Edition DVD

Two hours of bonus features reveal new stories of collaboration and resistance
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DVD coverA decade after its national debut on public television, the award-winning Conscience and the Constitution has returned as a Two-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD with two hours of bonus features on the largest organized resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“Producing the second disc gave us a chance to release more material from the 60 hours of raw footage we shot,” said producer/director Frank Abe. “Viewed as a whole, the bonus features amount to a second movie filled with stories that couldn’t fit into the hour-long broadcast. I’m glad that audiences can see them now.”

The new DVD contains remastered outtakes from the film, and expansions of interviews with resistance leaders Frank Emi and Sam Horino, crusading journalist James Omura, wartime JACL leader Mike Masaoka, and others. The package also features the actor Mako singing the “Song of Cheyenne,” Masaoka delivering a public rebuttal to his critics, and an original featurette, “The JACL Apologizes.”

Conscience and the Constitution reveals the long-untold story of the organized draft resistance at the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and the suppression of that resistance by Japanese American leaders.

Under the banner of the Fair Play Committee, 85 young men declared they were ready to fight for their country, but not until the government restored their rights as citizens and released their families from camp. Through their eyes audiences see into the heart of the Japanese American conscience and a debate that is still alive today.

“The film shows the price one pays for taking a principled stand,” said Abe. “It’s also about two responses to injustice: collaboration or resistance. The resisters broke the law to clarify the rights of all Japanese Americans in camp, yet they not only served two years in prison, they spent 50 years as pariahs in our own community. It’s a classic example of civil disobedience in the American 20th century, and one that belongs in the classroom canon.”

The film has screened at scores of universities, high schools, and teacher workshops. The DVD includes an updated Viewer’s Guide for students and teachers, and is supported by an extensive online database of primary documents at www.pbs.org/conscience.

New on the DVD are previously unseen photographs drawn from private and public collections, including those of the Caucasian friend who put the manifestoes of the Fair Play Committee into the hands of journalist James Omura; photos of the Wyoming journalist and the FBI agent who quietly backed Omura in his federal conspiracy trial; and mug shots of the Fair Play Committee leaders in prison.

“The DVD enables us to share some fascinating asides for which there wasn’t time in the original film,” said Abe. “For example, in the film the Nisei war hero, Ben Kuroki, speaks of his regret at the vehemence with which he denounced the resisters during their trial. With the DVD, we can hear what he feels about the resisters today.”

Other outtakes include anecdotes from the largest mass trial in Wyoming history, close-ups of Frank Emi and James Omura reading from their own bulletins and editorials, and footage of Emi and resister Mits Koshiyama venturing into a national convention of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) at Salt Lake City– a sequence originally intended as the finale for the film.

The new material also digs more deeply into the story of Japanese American cooperation with incarceration, including expanded interviews with professors Roger Daniels and Art Hansen analyzing JACL collaboration, and highlights from the JACL’s 2002 ceremony offering a public apology for its suppression of wartime resistance.

The DVD includes the first release of an in-depth audio interview with the late Mike Masaoka. Conducted in connection with the publication of his memoirs in 1988, Masaoka spoke at length with the filmmaker, who was then a radio news reporter.

“I asked him the direct questions we all had about his strategy of collaboration, as laid out in the documents he left behind,” said Abe. “Mike speaks candidly on the subject of government informants inside the JACL, the cultural indoctrination promoted in his memos to the government, his position on legal test cases, and his legacy.”

Conscience and the Constitution debuted on national PBS in November, 2000. It is produced by Frank Abe for the Independent Television Service, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. Digital preservation of the film was made possible by support from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

The Two-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD can be ordered online for home use for $29.95 plus shipping by visiting www.resisters.com. Institutional rates for schools and libraries are also available.


For nearly two decades Frank Abe has been instrumental in recovering the story of the Heart Mountain resisters. Abe helped produce the first “Day of Remembrance” media events that publicly dramatized the campaign for redress for America’s wartime concentration camps. He was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco and the Asian American Journalists Association in Seattle, and was featured as a JACL-like camp leader in the NBC/Universal movie, Farewell to Manzanar. He was for many years an award-winning reporter for KIRO Newsradio, the CBS Radio affiliate in Seattle, and is currently Director of Communications for the King County Executive in Seattle.


“The doc is a thoroughly watchable piece of untold history which should find a well-deserved home in educational distribution.
– Greg Pak, Asian American Film

“Well-written, artfully photographed (by Phil Sturholm) and beautifully narrated (by the poet Lawson Fusao Inada), Conscience and the Constitution is a worthy addendum to any American-history lesson.”
– John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The eyewitnesses in this hour-long film are eloquent, wry and level-headed as they make their case about the constitutional principles at stake. Abe has done an admirable job of illuminating the issues behind the divisiveness.”
– Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times

“An emotionally charged documentary … will probably have a major impact on the Japanese American community’s current debate over this hot button issue.”
– Robert Ito, Independent Film and Video Monthly

“Director Frank Abe rejected the traditional internment camp film narrative — with the US government as sole villains, and the Japanese Americans as victims/sheep — in favor of a critical look at the actions of the Japanese American community itself. … Considering the Japanese American community’s histor¬ical tendency to fund more positive, “uplift the race” types of projects, Abe’s documentary, seven years in the making, took a great deal of courage both to create and present.”
– Robert Ito, International Documentary Magazine

“Incendiary… There’s no pulling at heartstrings or brow-beating here. There’s no need to, the material speaks for itself…. Guaranteed to raise controversy, this documentary really is a case of conscience and constitution no longer being swept under the carpet.”
– Allan deSouza, VC FilmFest

– John Hartl, The Seattle Times


Frank Abe, a third-generation Japanese American, grew up being told that his parents’ generation had passively submitted to the wholesale denial of their rights during World War II in order to prove their loyalty.

The early question of his generation, “Why didn’t you resist?,” was usually answered by a pat on the head and an admonition against applying the values of today to events of the past.

Later as a journalist, Abe was astonished to learn that the area where he grew up, the Santa Clara Valley in Northern California, was once the home of many who later resisted the draft at Heart Mountain. Any mention of an organized resistance had been left out of the books he had read by the unofficial keepers of Japanese American history.

Feeling he had been misled, Abe sought out stories of the resisters and felt compelled to share them. He wrote an article for a community paper reclaiming the resistance as part of his heritage. Thus began the ten-year journey to the film Conscience and the Constitution.

After interviewing as many of the survivors of the resistance at Heart Mountain as he could, and investigating their stories, Abe feels the question for Japanese Americans is not “Why didn’t you resist,” but “Why did you turn your backs on those who resisted?”

As a reporter for KIRO Newsradio in Seattle, Washington, Abe won numerous awards during his broadcasting career. He was honored as a founder of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as a National Vice-President for Broadcast. He is currently Director of Communications for the King County Executive in Seattle.

For the campaign to redress the wrongs of the camps, Abe helped create and produce the first “Days of Remembrance” in Seattle and Portland in 1978 and 1979. To continue the campaign, he was instrumental in creation of the National Council for Japanese American Redress in Seattle in 1979, which lobbied for a redress bill and later sued the government for reparations. With the American Friends Service Committee, he helped direct a series of symposiums, “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.”

With a B.A. in theater directing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and training as an actor with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Abe was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop (now Theater Company) in San Francisco. He was featured as a concentration camp leader in John Korty’s 1976 NBC-TV movie, Farewell to Manzanar.

Abe’s own father was incarcerated at Heart Mountain. Only after making this film did he learn that his father donated $2 to the Fair Play Committee and subscribed to the Rocky Shimpo newspaper where James Omura’s editorials appeared.

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

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