SENIOR MOMENTS: Farewell to Manzanar

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

“Farewell” has several definitions, according to Google. I like the one that goes, “goodbye, until we meet again in happier times.”

On March 31, our San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter sponsored a showing of “Farewell to Manzanar,” based on the novel by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. There were about 150 in attendance. Indeed, those who endured Manzanar and other camps have come to be able to look back at Manzanar in happier times, although after 70 years some of us  realize that in a broader sense, we can never leave.

The original film came out in 1976. Due to extensive effort by Maria Kwong, the bookstore manager at JANM, it has been made available to the public at the museum in DVD form. I understand the museum staff who were at the showing sold all the copies they had brought.

The making of the film was a triumph for director John Korty, who — completely out of character for the time — used only Japanese Americans in the cast. Korty faced strong opposition in making this bold move. He rejected a suggestion that the story be told through the eyes of a white person.

Korty, along with cast members Akemi Kikumura Yano and Clyde Kusatsu, were on hand at the conclusion of the film to provide their recollections and insights. Akemi bemoaned the fact that the two of them were about all that remained of the original cast.

Leading the question-and-answer session was chapter president Brian Moriguchi, and in the audience was his dad, Bob, who read off to us many of Korty’s accomplishments. His most notable achievement was his Emmy Award for the 1974 film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

Korty said that casting “Manzanar” was quite challenging, but that the choice of Clyde and Akemi was easy. They were perfectly cast for their parts: Clyde as a 442nd volunteer and Akemi, his pregnant wife. Akemi, years ago, remembered telling me and her sister, my wife, Marion, about how the entire cast cried (off camera) in the scene when the father, played by the late Yuki Shimoda, arrived at Manzanar after spending years at a detention center. In this powerful scene he slowly steps off the bus, a broken man.

Another scene later in the film has the late Nobu Mc Carthy weeping inconsolably upon reading a telegram telling of the death of her son (Kusatsu) in Europe. This too resulted in the cast crying without any prompting.

Included in the audience of 150, I noted a large number who appeared to be older Sansei. Last Sunday, I attended a showing of “Manzanar Fishing Club,” which played to a capacity crowd. There, again, I noted a large number of older Sansei.

I have recently come across a booklet published by a group calling themselves the Sansei Legacy Project. The title of the booklet is “Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp.” It is the result of a study in 1978 by Nobu Miyoshi who, at the time, was director of family therapy, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Miyoshi was given a grant to do the study by a  national mental health organization.

The finding of her study seemed to indicate that because there was little communication between the Nisei and their children concerning their camp experience, the Sansei suffered identity issues: How were they to completely come to terms with their American and Japanese identities given the camp experiences that their parents would not talk about?

Perhaps the good showing on the part of Sansei at our showing of “Farewell to Manzanar,” as well as at the showing of “Manzanar Fishing Club,” is an indication of Sansei still seeking insights into their parents’ camp experience.

Phil Shigekuni can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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