CHICAGO — Pictures taken in a secret underground darkroom under a barrack apartment in a World War II concentration camp inspired the production of “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” a documentary to be shown at the 2016 Chicago Japan Festival at the Forest View Educational Center Theatre in Arlington Heights on June 11 at 4:45 p.m. and June 12 at 4 p.m.
The photos taken in Heart Mountain, Wyo., are among more than 2,000 taken by George Hirahara and his high school-aged son Frank between 1943 and 1945. Comprising the largest private collection of photos taken at Heart Mountain, they tell personal family stories of life behind barbed wire, as well as documenting some of the many events held at the camp.
One of those stories is of the founder of Buddhist Temple of Chicago, Rev. Gyomay Kubose, who after being released from Heart Mountain started his own temple in Chicago in 1944. The Hiraharas took pictures of Kubose and one of the Buddhist altars in Heart Mountain that was later brought to the Chicago temple. Kubose spoke fluent English and lived in Los Angeles prior to his family’s incarceration.
“Many from Heart Mountain moved to Chicago after World War II, so these photos bring a unique history to a community over 70 years later,” said Patti Hirahara, Frank’s daughter.
In 2010, Hirahara donated the photo collection to her father’s alma mater, Washington State University. A resident of Anaheim, she will attend the festival to introduce the documentary.
In 1984, she was the only American member and mission communications coordinator of JETRO’s (Japan External Trade Organization) first all Japanese women’s buying mission to the U.S. from Japan, looking to find suitable American products to sell in the Japanese market. The 33-member delegation began its 15-day mission in Chicago at the National Housewares Show.
“I’m happy to return to the Windy City to introduce this documentary, which has also been shown at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History,” Hirahara said. “It will be the first time the documentary is shown in the Chicago area.”