On Feb. 19, 1942, less than two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, empowering the secretary of war to designate military areas from which “any or all persons” could be excluded. This action cleared the way for 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry (more than two-thirds of whom were American citizens) to be interned in remote camps in isolated parts of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming until after the war had ended. Communities in Latin America and the Caribbean met a similar fate.
As a young girl, Omori was incarcerated with her family at the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona. Her new 14-minute video poem about the camp experience, marking the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, will be on view exclusively at the museum for one week only.
Omori draws on some of the archival images used in her award-winning 1999 documentary memoir “Rabbit in the Moon.” The video opens with vintage family photos and home movies of joyful picnics and seaside leisure. These images soon give way to those of an uprooted community: hastily packed suitcases and trunks; men, women and children loaded onto railcars and buses; and vacated storefronts.
Contemporary footage of a journey into a harsh landscape is interspersed as the story of life in the camps unfolds through images and excerpts of official documents. Without names, dates or locations, this collage provokes many open-ended questions.
“This film is an homage to the generation of my parents, the Issei, to the vibrant prewar American Japanese community that never recovered from that violation, to the hopes and dreams that were torn away, and to the legacy of suffering that haunts us,” Omori says. “Sorting this out has taken me a long time — almost 75 years. ‘When Rabbit Left the Moon’ is as close as I have come.”
Omori’s other films include “Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World,” “Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm,” “7,500 Miles to Redemption,” “Skin Stories,” and “Hot Summer Winds.” She has also served as a cinematographer for other directors’ films.
The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin St. in San Francisco’s Civic Center and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Monday). For information on exhibitions and admission, visit www.asianart.org.