DVD Release of Resisters Film at JANM on Saturday

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Mits Koshiyama (center, looking down) was 19 years old when this photo was taken on June 12, 1944, the first day of the trial of the Heart Mountain draft resisters in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Producer/director Frank Abe will speak at the California DVD release of “Conscience and the Constitution,” his film on the largest organized resistance to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. He will be joined by several of the people featured in the film, including one or more of the original resisters.

The film will screen on Saturday, May 12, at 11 a.m. at the Japanese American National Museum's Tateuchi Democracy Forum, First and Central in Little Tokyo. Admission to the screening and the museum is free as part of “Target Free Family Saturday,” in celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

Frank Abe

The screening will include the first California screening of Abe's new DVD featurette, “The JACL Apologizes,” which documents events that followed the initial broadcast of the film on PBS in 2000. Abe will answer questions and sign copies of the new two-disc collector's edition DVD, which contains two hours of new bonus features that include deleted scenes, extended interviews, and other featurettes.

“Conscience and the Constitution” reveals the long-untold story of the organized draft resistance at the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and the suppression of that resistance by the wartime Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

Under the banner of the Fair Play Committee, 85 young men declared they were ready to fight for their country, but not until the government restored their rights as citizens and released their families from camp. Through their eyes, audiences see into the heart of the Japanese American conscience and a debate that is still alive today.

“The film shows the price one pays for taking a principled stand,” said Abe. “The resisters broke the law to clarify the rights of all Japanese Americans in camp, yet they not only served two years in prison, they spent 50 years as pariahs in our own community. It's a classic example of civil disobedience in the American 20th century, and one that belongs in the classroom canon.”

The new DVD contains remastered outtakes from the film, and expansions of interviews with resistance leaders Frank Emi and Sam Horino, crusading journalist James Omura, wartime JACL leader Mike Masaoka, and others. The package features actor Mako singing the “Song of Cheyenne,” and Masaoka delivering a public rebuttal to his critics.

The DVD includes the first release of an in-depth audio interview with Masaoka conducted in connection with the publication of his memoirs in 1988. Masaoka, who died in 1991, spoke at length with the filmmaker, who was then a reporter at KIRO Newsradio in Seattle.

“Producing the second disc gave us a chance to release more material from the 60 hours of raw footage we shot,” added Abe. “Viewed as a whole, the bonus features amount to a second movie filled with stories that couldn't fit into the hour-long broadcast. I'm glad that audiences can see them now.”

The film has screened at scores of universities, high schools, and teacher workshops. It includes an updated viewer’s guide for students and teachers, and is supported by an extensive online database of primary documents at www.pbs.org/conscience.

Also new on the DVD are previously unseen photographs drawn from private and public collections, including those of the Caucasian friend who put the manifestos of the Fair Play Committee into the Omura's hands; photos of the Wyoming journalist and the FBI agent who quietly backed Omura in his federal conspiracy trial; and mug shots of the Fair Play Committee leaders in prison.

“The DVD format enables us to share some fascinating asides for which there wasn’t time in the original film,” said Abe. “For example, in the film, the Nisei war hero Ben Kuroki speaks of his regret at the way he denounced the resisters during their trial. With the DVD, we can hear what he feels about the resisters today.”

Other outtakes include anecdotes from the largest mass trial in Wyoming history, close-ups of Emi and Omura reading from their own bulletins and editorials, and footage of Emi and resister Mits Koshiyama speaking at the 1994 National JACL convention at Salt Lake City – a sequence originally intended as the finale for the film.

For nearly two decades, Abe has been instrumental in recovering the story of the Heart Mountain resisters. He helped produce the first Day of Remembrance media events that publicly dramatized the campaign for redress for America's wartime concentration camps. He was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco and the Asian American Journalists Association in Seattle, and was featured as a JACL-like camp leader in the 1976 NBC/Universal movie “Farewell to Manzanar.” He was for many years an award-winning reporter for the CBS Radio affiliate in Seattle, and is currently director of communications for the King County executive in Seattle.

The two-disc collector's edition DVD can be ordered online for home use for $29.95 plus shipping by visiting www.resisters.com. For institutional rates, schools and libraries may contact Transit Media at www.transitmedia.net or (800) 343-5540.

For more information on the film: www.resisters.com. For more information on the museum: www.janm.org.

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  1. Late-breaking news is that scheduled to attend this screening are resister Yosh Kuromiya with his wife Irene, resister Tak Hoshizaki, friend Paul Tsuneishi, and Prof. Art Hansen. Also the editor of the film, Lillian Benson, A.C.E.