By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
An upcoming episode of “Hawaii Five-0” dealing with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is receiving praise from community leaders who have seen it.
Titled “Ho’onani Makuakane” (Honor Thy Father), the episode will air on Friday, Dec. 13, at 9 p.m. on CBS.
The episode begins with a flashback to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, followed by a present-day memorial service for those who died. Actual World War II veterans were extras in scenes shot at the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
After the service, Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) stops an elderly man who is carrying a gun and walking toward one of the Pearl Harbor survivors. Taken into custody by Five-0, David Toriyama (James Saito), a Korean War veteran, claims that his father was murdered in the Honouliuli Internment Camp 70 years ago and that Ezra Clark (Jack Axelrod), who was a camp guard, is the killer. The alleged motive: to steal a katana (sword) that had belonged to the Toriyama family for generations.
This leads to a cold-case investigation that reveals a little-known fact — while the majority of Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not interned, some 2,000 community leaders, including Buddhist priests, Japanese language school teachers, newspaper editors and businessmen, were rounded up and held at such sites as Sand Island and Honouliuli.
The Toriyama family’s story is told in flashback, with Luke Hagi as young David, Conrad Keola’ikaika Pratt as his older brother Kenji (who later joins the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and is killed in action), Hira Ambrosino as his mother Martha, and Arnold Chun as his father James.
The episode also features series regulars Scott Caan as Danny Williams, Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly, Masi Oka as Dr. Max Bergman, and Michelle Borth as Catherine Rollins. Grace Park (Kono Kalakaua) does not appear.
Guest star Saito, who is much younger than the character he played, has screen credits going back to the 1976 made-for-TV movie “Farewell to Manzanar.” He was a regular on the TV series “Eli Stone,” had a recurring role on “One Life to Live,” and appeared in Ang Lee’s movie “Life of Pi.”
The “Hawaii Five-0” producers built an internment camp set in Honouliuli Gulch on central Oahu. Among those who visited the set during filming were Carole Hayashino, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, which is seeking to raise awareness of the state’s 13 confinement sites; and Jane Kurahara, a staff associate at JCCH and retired school librarian, who has compiled information on the internees’ experiences for high school students.
“I want to thank and commend Executive Producer Peter Lenkov, writer Ken Solarz, director Larry Teng, the cast and crew, especially Daniel Dae Kim, Alex O’Loughlin, and James Saito, for their respectful and sensitive treatment of the Japanese American internment experience at Honouliuli,” Hayashino said. “Jane Kurahara and I were honored to represent the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii on the recreated set of Honoluliuli.
“Unlike the camps on the continental U.S. like Manzanar or Topaz, we have very few photos of the Honouliuli Internment Camp, so it was very powerful to see a recreated Honouliuli. The attention to detail — barrack tents, dress, guard towers, barbed-wire fence — brought the historic photos to life. JCCH has worked years to bring the Hawaii internment experience to the public. The ‘Hawaii 5-0’ episode helps us reach a new audience around the world. I urge everyone to watch ‘Hawaii 5-0’ on Dec. 13 and join with JCCH to preserve Honouliuli.”
JCCH recently produced a documentary titled “The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawaii.”
Lenkov told The Star-Advertiser that he had wanted to address the internment even before the series went into production, and was recently reminded of the topic when he saw “Hold These Truths,” a one-man play about civil rights icon Gordon Hirabayashi. Kim is friends with Joel de la Fuente, the actor who played Hirabayashi, and produced the Honolulu performances.
In a message to reporters, Kim wrote, “Networks often talk about ‘very special episodes,’ but episode 410 of ‘Hawaii Five-0′ is deserving of that description. Rarely do police dramas delve into subjects like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, but this small and shameful chapter in our history is one that reminds us all of a valuable lesson: that we can never measure an American’s patriotism solely by their appearance or ancestry.
“I’ve never been prouder of ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ and I applaud our producers for tackling a topic that goes beyond a crime of the week. It is my sincere hope that you find this episode, highlighted by some remarkable performances, as special as we do.”
The episode was screened for community representatives on Dec. 2 at CBS Studio Center in Studio City. Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, told the group, “It’s an amazing script, done with tremendous reverence and honor. It’s a great story, brilliantly acted … Our guest star is outstanding. It’s visually very compelling, very exciting, very emotional.”
Noting that the visual effects and some of the soundtrack had not yet been added, Tassler said, “There is music in here, big-band era swing music from the ’40s … We actually commissioned a big band in a recording studio to go ahead and have the music professionally scored and then mixed … Very rarely do we have the time and/or money to do this with our episodes, but this was such an important episode for us, and we felt it was very important to treat it with that kind of respect.”
Tiffany N. Smith-Anoa’i, CBS vice president for diversity and communications, said the episode found the right balance between entertainment and education. “It’s not the History Channel, it’s not a documentary, but everything came together very nicely. We’ve got 42 minutes to get this (story) wrapped up. It’s still a television show, we have to remember that … but I do think that the quality and the respect was given.”
“I am very gratified that CBS and the producers of ‘Hawaii 5-0’ created this episode,” commented Greg Kimura, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum. “I was very pleased with how it turned out and how it registered emotionally with folks. This show will reach many people and will be the first time they learn about the sad history of the incarceration of Japanese Americans, not only on the mainland, but in Hawaii.”
The JACL was represented at the screening by Amy Watanabe, who is in charge of corporate relations and special programs at the Washington, D.C. office. She remarked, “‘Hawaii 5-0’ did a beautiful job in sharing the stories of strength, perseverance and loyalty of the Issei and Nisei generations that I’ve always heard growing up as a Yonsei. It was done in a way that not only tells our history as Japanese Americans, but promotes a better understanding of American patriotism and human connectedness that goes beyond our color of skin and race.”
Three cast members from East West Players’ “The Nisei Widows Club: How Tomi Got Her Groove Back” had these responses:
Emily Kuroda: “Kudos to CBS and ‘Hawaii Five-0’ for treating this time in history with the care and respect that it deserves. The creators and actor James Saito captured the quiet dignity and passion of the Japanese Americans of that generation.”
Takayo Fischer: “I had no idea I would be so emotionally moved in watching some of the scenes. Memories of my being interned in Jerome and Rohwer camps in Arkansas came flooding back and when the show ended, I was ‘wiped out.’ I thank the producers for writing this piece. The actors were terrific. Everyone involved should feel proud to have been involved in this production.”
Jeanne Sakata: “I am thrilled that the producers of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ have decided to devote an episode to this important story, and gratified that Gordon Hirabayashi’s story and ‘Hold These Truths’ could have helped inspire them to do so. I like to think that Gordon himself would have been so pleased by this, as he cared so deeply about educating people about the Japanese American community’s experiences of World War II, and believed education was the key to making sure something like this never happened again.
“The episode is carefully researched and beautifully executed, a milestone in terms of portraying the Japanese American World War II experience on prime-time television. Everyone involved — writers, actors, director and community advisors — has done terrific work.”
Sakata wrote “Hold These Truths” (originally titled “Dawn’s Light”), which has been performed across the country.
Also at the screening were “Nisei Widows Club” actress June Kyoko Lu; Daniel Mayeda, co-chair of Asian Pacific American Media Coalition; Guy Aoki and Henry Cho of Media Action Network for Asian Americans; Cynthia Villasenor, JANM vice president of external relations; Helen Ota, JANM external relations officer and outgoing artistic director of Cold Tofu; Yet Lock, co-founder of East West Players and former executive vice president of City News Service; actor/director Alberto Isaac; and Academy Award-winning filmmaker and actor Chris Tashima.
The episode can be viewed online at www.cbs.com.