There’s an embarrassingly small library of fiction books and feature films, about the Japanese internment during World War II. The humiliating experience of 110,000 people of Japanese descent carted away from the West Coast and into hastily built concentration camps is still under-represented in American pop culture.
Classics like “Farewell to Manzanar” (in both book and film form) can be hard to find, and better-known Hollywood productions such as “Snow Falling on Cedars” (again, on both the page and screen) can be hits but are fleeting. One of my favorite indie feature films about the era, “Come See the Paradise” starring Tamlyn Tomita and Dennis Quaid, is little-remembered and deserves much wider acclaim.
There are still many stories left to tell about Japanese Americans and their time in concentration camps during WWII.
So it’s cool to see a young filmmaker using the contemporary tools of social media and “crowdfunding” (asking the public to donate money) to bring his original JA story to life. And, it’s even cooler to see that Chris K.T. Bright’s project, “Tsuru” has caught the attention and gained the support of enough people that its Kickstarter fundraising campaign reached its initial goal of $15,000 in a mere three-and-a-half-days. Kickstarter gives the money to a project only if it meets its goal; if the campaign fails, every donor gets her money back.
Now, Bright and his crew are hoping to keep raising money to reach their “Stretch Goals” in the month remaining in the campaign.
Evan Jackson Leong, the director of the entertaining and inspiring documentary “Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story,” tells interviewers that Lin’s story “transcends sports, race and culture.” That’s true enough, because Jeremy Lin‘s story — a determined young man loves basketball above all else but is ignored by colleges and the NBA despite his talent, and perseveres in the end by sheer determination and religious faith — is universal.
But as an Asian American, Lin’s story is inspirational for me precisely because he’s Asian American. His ethnicity was the main reason he was dismissed by colleges and the NBA, even though he was an all-star leader in high school.
I hope everyone watches “Linsanity,” which went on sales on DVD this week, and is inspired by his universal story, or his incredible accomplishment as an Asian American.
I know many Asian Americans watched it at film festivals, or during one of many special fundraising screenings for Asian and Asian American nonprofit organizations across the country. In Colorado it was screened by an Asian American fraternity at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a Japanese American history group in Denver. If Asians didn’t watch the documentary in a theater, they probably watched it on cable TV — Comcast featured it in its Asian American channel for months.
But it’s great to revisit “Linsanity” on DVD (wish there were some extras added, though).
I’ve watched in awe and appreciation for the past week as a Twitter hashtag created by writer and activist Suey Park, “#NotYourAsianSidekick, has achieved the impressive feat of trending on the social network, sparking a global discussion about Asian stereotypes, Asian American identity and especially, the challenges faced by Asian American women.
Park first used the hashtag on Sunday, December 15 to promote a Twitter conversation the next day about how feminism had minimized and marginalized Asian American women. “Be warned,” the tweet announced. “Tomorrow morning we will be have a convo about Asian American Feminism with hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. Spread the word!!!!!!!”
The conversation couldn’t wait ’til the next morning. It began right away, and led to a torrent of posts from Asian American women who aired their frustration and anger, inspiring others to add their voices to the chorus.
We’re fans of the CBS series “Hawaii Five-0” for lots of reasons, including the fact that it’s a showcase for Asian and Pacific Islander actors such as Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, and the entertaining “bromance” relationship between Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan).
I always loved the original series that ran from 1968-1980, and think it’s great that this reboot uses pretty much the same arrangement for the theme song, and even uses quick-cut images that evoke the look and feel of the intro sequence from the earlier Five-0.
And finally, who can’t love a show that celebrates the coolest and best-looking of all the United States, with loving b-roll shots of both its glistening city life and its incredibly beautiful natural scenery?
This week, we get a whole new reason to appreciate “Hawaii Five-0” and tune in regularly. The producers are focusing on an aspect of American history that still remains under the radar of most mainstream American pop culture: The American imprisonment of people of Japanese ancestry in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many Japanese Americans who’ve grown up since World War II — myself included — dreaded December 7 every year. As kids (and sometimes as adults) we’ve been taunted with hateful calls to “Go home, Jap!,” “Go back where you cam from!” and the classic, “Remember Pearl Harbor!”
As if we could forget.
The war happened decades ago, and as Japanese Americans we had nothing to do with the attack on the U.S. military on Hawaii that sparked America’s entry into WWII. Hell, today, most people in Japan had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Yet, I still feel wary when I go out on Dec. 7. Although I haven’t faced a dumb remark in years now, I know that feeling is always there, just beneath the surface of civility.
The ugliness comes out, perversely, when a tragedy occurs in Japan, like the “It’s God’s revenge for Pearl Harbor!” comments that were tweeted out after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan.
So we decided this year, we’d face our trepidation directly. We bought tickets for “Snow Falling on Cedars,” the stage version of David Guterson’s award-winning 1994 novel about the after-effects of post-war racial hatred against Japanese Americans in a small Pacific northwest community. The book was made into an atmospheric film in 1999 starring Ethan Hawke that was nominated for a cinematography Oscar.
Seeing the play at the Vintage Theatre in Aurora would help exorcise the Pearl Harbor demons, we figured, even as it reminded us of the hysteria that the bombing caused. That hysteria led just a few months later to the imprisonment of almost 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry — half American citizens, born in the U.S. — in concentration camps away from the West Coast.