By BRETT FUJIOKA
I’ve read and heard so many tales of the 442nd Regiment/100th Battalion that I’ve stopped paying attention. There’s no way that anyone could offer a new perspective on the division consisting mostly of Japanese Americans. At least that’s what I thought before seeing Junichi Suzuki’s documentary, “442: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity.”
What immediately stood out upon entering the theater was that its attendants consisted primarily of Japanese expatriates. A lot of its viewers discussed the film with each other in Japanese, and the people promoting Suzuki’s other work were clearly from Japan. There have been numerous accounts of the 442nd from Anglo-Americans and Japanese Americans alike, but this is the first undertaken by a Japanese national that I’ve seen.
This is part of the reason why I was prepared to disagree with his narrative. My acquaintances relayed reviews of how the movie was anti-American and I’ve grown wary of those views over the years.
There wasn’t an anti-American slant from what I saw. If there was, it was well-veiled because I saw mostly honest accounts from the people Suzuki interviewed.
Yes, those imprisoned felt robbed. Yes, the soldiers felt cheated and underrepresented by the press. And yes, General Dahlquist’s poor commandership led to the high casualty rate in the regiment. Does it necessarily represent an anti-American slant? Only if the director allows his creative voice to smother the voices of his interviewees. Thankfully, Suzuki is no Michael Moore and it was more of a history documentary rather than a piece of propaganda.
As far as the content of the movie is concerned, don’t expect anything informatively new. I grew up with stories of my relatives’ exploits and sorrows as lullabies so the documentary didn’t offer anything I didn’t already know.
In fact, Suzuki seemed consciously aware that he was catering to an audience with a minimal insight into Japanese American history, which was its shortcoming. For one, he devoted a lot of time to the internment and other events surrounding it. He could have easily focused more on the story of the 442nd as the title demanded rather than cramming every key event of Japanese American history into the documentary. Finally, while it’s nice acknowledging the No-no boys and Dahlquist’s incompetence, mentioning them briefly doesn’t do them justice.
Furthermore, there are problems with what Suzuki excludes from the film. He focused more on today’s celebratory ceremonies for the regiment’s achievement in France and Italy. According to this, he would make it seem as if they weren’t revered in the States. In addition to that, there could have been more attention given to the 442nd’s White officers and Col. Young Oak-Kim given that both contributed greatly to the regiment’s success
In spite of this, Suzuki’s documentary was still exceptional for one sole reason: he was effectively trying to convey Nisei history to a Japanese audience as evidenced by the subtitles along the screen. This is profound mostly because there’s a disconnect between newer Nikkei immigrants and scores of Yonsei and Gosei.
Let’s not fool ourselves. There’s a world of difference between recently inducted Nisei and the Japanese Americans whose ancestors arrived here during the early 1900s. They may share the same land of origin, but their hardships are of separate concern.
This is all the more reason why I appreciated Suzuki’s ambitions. I’ve encountered numerous Nisei of my generation who attempt to understand Japan, but rarely have I seen these efforts reciprocated.
With that in mind, perhaps this film will pique a higher interest in Japanese American history when it’s screened in Suzuki’s native Japan. I doubt that it will be a runaway success, but if it strikes any where near its mark it may help bridge the divide between newer generations of Nisei and their immigrant cousins.
“442: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity” will screen this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 7-8, at the Star Plex Cinemas, 4626 Barranca Parkway in Irvine. Showtimes are 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Call (949) 733-3795 for more information. Tickets can also be purchased at Asahiya, Book-Off, Kinokuniya, Sanseido, Book Value of America, or by calling All American Tickets at (888) 507-3287.