SANTA MONICA — The Nov. 4 performance of “Heart Mountain,” a play about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, was followed by a panel discussion featuring five individuals who lived in the camps.
Presented by the Santa Monica College Theatre Arts Department, the play opened Nov. 2 and closes Nov. 11 with shows at 2 and 8 p.m. The Sunday evening show was added due to popular demand.
The story focuses on the Nakashima family — an Issei couple, Hotaka (Isaac Che) and Katsumi (Yilin Hsu-Wentlandt), and their Nisei children, George (Kelvin Chiang) and Sayuri (Clara Sao). The cast also includes Casey Masamitsu as Shizuka, an Issei neighbor; Alex Cooper as Ken, George’s best friend; and Alex Valdivia as the ghost of Katsumi’s grandfather, Takeo. Shiori Ideta played Katsumi on opening night.
The drama — which explores such issues as responding “yes-yes” or “no-no” to the loyalty questionnaire and joining the Army or resisting the draft — is interspersed with dance sequences, incorporating elements of butoh and martial arts, by a 10-member ensemble. Archival photos of the camps provide a backdrop.
The post-performance program was introduced by Perviz Sawoski, chair of the Theatre Arts Department, who directed the play, and by the playwright, G. Bruce Smith, SMC’s public information officer.
Panelist Noboru Kamibayashi was born in Washington in 1930, moved to Venice with his family at the age of 1, and was interned at Manzanar and Tule Lake. As “no-nos,” the family was sent to Japan at the end of the war. After living there for two years, he returned to the U.S., served as an interpreter during the Korean War, and worked in the aerospace industry until his retirement.
A 58-year resident of Santa Monica, he has shared his oral history with the Naitonal Park Service at Manzanar and various high schools, and is included in the book “Children of Manzanar.” An interview with Kamibayashi and his wife Lily, who was interned at Poston, was part of the research for “Heart Mountain.”
Panelist Arnold Maeda was born in the farmlands of Santa Monica in 1926. His parents later started the Santa Monica Nursery on 28th Street and Colorado Avenue. He graduated from McKinley Elementary School and Lincoln Junior High School, and attended Samohi (Santa Monica High School) for almost two semesters. The balance of high school was spent at Manzanar, where he received a diploma from Manzanar High School in 1944.
The recipient of an honorary diploma issued by Samohi in 2001, he is currently a member of the group organizing the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker at Lincoln and Venice boulevards.
Panelist Brian Maeda, Arnold’s younger brother, was born in Manzanar in 1945 and attended film school at UCLA, where he was one of the founding members of Ethno Communications, the first Third World film group in the nation. A member of IATSE, the union of professional stagehands, motion picture technicians, and allied crafts, since 1971, he was one of the first Asian Americans to be accepted into the International Cinematographers Guild.
He worked on such films as “Bound for Glory” and “Uncommon Valor” before segueing into writing and directing films about Japanese and Japanese Americans. His current project is a documentary entitled “We Said ‘No-No,’” funded by a 2011 National Park Service grant.
Panelist Joyce Masamitsu (nee Tsuchida) was born in Boyle Heights in 1924, the oldest of seven children. Interned at Poston I from 1942 to 1944, she has lived all around the U.S. and has been a resident of Mission Hills since the 1970s. She has five children and nine grandchildren, including cast member Casey Masamitsu.
Panelist Kanji Sahara was born on small island in Hiroshima-ken and moved to Los Angeles with his family as an infant. Though he was very young at the time, he remembers being incarcerated at the Santa Anita Assembly Center and the two War Relocation Authority camps in Arkansas, Rohwer and Jerome. His family relocated to Chicago, where he attended public schools.
Now a resident of Torrance, Sahara serves as civil rights chair for the JACL’s Pacific Southwest District.
Members of the audience who participated in the discussion included Tak Hoshizaki, a Heart Mountain draft resister and a board member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.
Cast members presented the panelists with gifts at the conclusion of the program. A reception followed.
For ticket information, go to www.smc.edu/eventsinfo.