By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Ann Kaneko and Sharon Yamato’s documentary “A Flicker in Eternity” had its premiere on Saturday at the Japanese American National Museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy.
The film tells the brief life story of Stanley Hayami (1925-1945), a Nisei from San Gabriel who documented his thoughts in writing and pictures while interned at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming and while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. He was killed in action at the age of 19.
Speaking for the presenting organizations, Abe Ferrer of Visual Communications and Chris Komai of JANM agreed that the day after Veterans Day was an appropriate time to show the documentary. Members of Hayami’s family attended.
John Esaki of JANM noted, “Stanley’s material, thanks to the Hayami family, has been a part of our permanent collection here at the museum … One of the hidden treasures of the museum is our collection, which has been gathered over 20 years from families who have donated their precious belongings … like the diary of Stanley Hayami and many of the artifacts related to the Hayami family history.”
A book based on those materials, “Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son,” was edited by Joanne Oppenheim, who also produced the film but was unable to attend the screening.
The film’s title comes from a passage in which Hayami pondered the vastness of space and time. He also speculated about future advances in technology, not knowing that he would never live to see them.
Yamato, who previously did a documentary about “Years of Infamy” author Michi Weglyn, confessed after the screening, “I’m a little nervous because this is actually the first time the Hayami family has seen this film. It’s very scary.”
Oppenheim brought the project to the filmmakers, “and we somehow decided we both wanted to work on it,” Yamato recalled. “I was attracted to the story because of, frankly, the way Stanley looked. When you look at that face, you know there’s a lot going on, and how could anybody not just love him from the start? …
“Then I read his letters. He was just a young boy who had such promise, such incredible talent and just a joy of life. It was hard to resist doing something to share him with the world.”
Kaneko’s previous films include “Overstay,” a documentary about immigrant workers in Japan, and “Against the Grain,” a documentary about the dilemmas facing artists in Latin America.
“It’s really a pleasure to work on this film and a real privilege,” said Kaneko, whose family was interned. “… I’ve made a lot of films, but I’ve never made a film about this experience. Most of my work has been international … but for me this story felt really fresh and felt very different because it was a first-person perspective of what I had heard from my parents all these years. So I think for me it was the opportunity to tell a story that was part of my own history and to share it in a way that I felt was really unique.”
She added, “Everyone’s been working really long hours because it was a real crunch to get this film done in these last few weeks … This film was really an arduous process in terms of trying to create the script and create the arc of the story, so it went through many, many iterations.”
Hayami’s voice was provided by actor Aaron Yoo, whose credits include the movies “21,” “Disturbia” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and the TV shows “The Closer,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “ER.” He also starred in “American Pastime,” Desmond Nakano’s film about baseball in camp.
Yoo commented, “Just from an acting standpoint it was a really interesting challenge because it’s like, how do you voice-over someone’s letter? … When you write something down, it’s more like thoughts floating in your head, so you don’t ever imagine that in 70 years someone’s going to be projecting it on screen …
“The beautiful surprise is how powerful just visual images are … You could feel it in the room, everyone responded so much to just his cartoons. They’re so well done and there’s so much of his emotion and humor and personality captured in his drawings.”
The animated sequences were created by local artists Jose Acosta, Daisy Lin and Hedy Yudaw.
The other cast member was actress Amy Hill, a stage and screen veteran who recently appeared in the HBO series “Enlightened” and performed a live show, “Lost and Found,” at JANM with her daughter, Penelope. In “A Flicker in Eternity,” she provides the voice of Hayami’s sister, Sach (Grace Koide).
“Any time I see anything about the 442nd, I want to just cry,” Hill said. “It always moves me … the idea that these soldiers were fighting while their families were interned, it just breaks my heart … I feel very privileged that I was given the opportunity to be a part of this film.”
Although she has played Issei and Nisei women in plays about camp, she said, “my difficulty was that my character (in the film) was going to be doing a lot of exposition. So I knew that there was … a very delicate balance of emotional and emotionless, having to distance herself from the subject matter … It was a really difficult job, but I think we did okay.”
Speaking on behalf of the Hayami family was Dawn Hayami of Lake Oswego, Ore., the daughter of Frank Hayami, Stanley’s older brother, who also served in the 442nd.
Her reaction to the film: “For my aunt and uncles, it might have felt different, but for me, my exposure to him is mostly through his diary, and now through the letters and the war diary that were found through the course of Joanne working on the book. My cousin Lisa, who couldn’t be here today, was going through some of her folks’ things and found his Army diary and letters he had sent to my Aunt Grace …
“Did it capture his essence? I would say yes, from the sense that I get from his writings.”
Frank Hayami has also written about his wartime experiences, but from a different perspective, his daughter said. “It was really clear from reading what he had written that he was really angry about what had happened. We didn’t talk about it a lot, but when redress came up, he started talking about it more … the internment, being deprived of rights, having a bunch of innocent people rounded up and uprooted from their homes and having their lives turned upside down … for no cause.”
Miwako Hayami, the wife of Stanley’s other brother, Walt, also gave the film a thumbs-up: “I would like to thank everybody who worked on this project. It’s beautiful, it’s very meaningful and I hope it’s successful enough to go public.”
While the film is “pretty much done,” Yamato told the audience, “If anybody has any comments, we really welcome them because it’s always good to get feedback … You’re the first ones who have seen it.”
The filmmakers also “would love it if any of you felt it was good enough that you might want to help fund its completion,” she said.
Kaneko said that additional funding would make it possible to build a website and “get the message out there.”
Yamato said that the DVD will not be ready in time for the holidays, but should be available “soon after the first of the year.”