SEATTLE — A 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 actor Mako singing the “Song of Cheyenne,” Masaoka delivering a public rebuttal to his critics, and a 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, Wyo., 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 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 Emi and Omura reading from their own bulletins and editorials, and footage of Emi and resister Mits Koshiyama venturing into the 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 Masaoka. In connection with the publication of his memoirs (“They Call Me Moses Masaoka”) in 1988, Masaoka spoke at length with the filmmaker, who was then a radio news reporter. Masaoka died in 1991.
“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 PBS in November 2000. It is produced by Abe for the Independent Television Service, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund.
About the Filmmaker
Abe, a Sansei, 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, 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 10-year journey to “Conscience and the Constitution.”
After interviewing as many of the surviving Heart Mountain resisters 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?”
Abe, a former reporter for KIRO Newsradio 71 in Seattle, won numerous awards during his journalism career. He was a founder of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as AAJA’s 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. NCJAR lobbied for a redress bill and later sued the government for reparations. With the American Friends Service Committee, Abe helped direct a series of symposiums, “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.”
With a B.A. in theater directing from UC 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 Asian American 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 Omura’s editorials appeared.
“Conscience and the Constitution” will be screened as part of the sixth annual Civil Liberties Symposium at the College of Southern Idaho, Fine Arts Theater, 315 Falls Ave., Twin Falls, on Friday, July 1, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. A discussion with Abe will follow. Presented by the Friends of Minidoka (www.minidoka.org), College of Southern Idaho (www.csi.edu), and Minidoka Internment National Monument (www.nps.gov/miin).