Film examines little-known origins of famed 442nd unit

For Yonsei Stacey Hayashi, the effort to preserve the story of the famed all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team is not only a labor of love, but it’s also a part of her family legacy. With a great uncle in the original 100th Battalion, and another in the 442nd — which the 100th morphed into — the Honolulu native could perhaps be seen as an ideal steward of a new film on the origins of the famed combat group, which would become the most decorated military unit of its size and length of service in U.S. history.

GOING FOR BROKE — A scene in “Go For Broke: An Origin Story” depicts an aloha ceremony for new recruits at Iolani Palace, March 28, 1943. photo courtesy ‘Go For Broke’

But “Go For Broke: An Origin Story” — a full-length feature that will be screened at the upcoming CAAMFest in May — had some seeds planted in an earlier project, a 2012 comic book titled “Journey of Heroes: The Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.” Hayashi explains that the live-action movie is essentially the first 10 pages of the comic, “but expanded.”

The Nichi Bei Weekly conducted an e-mail interview with Hayashi — the writer, producer and executive producer of “Go For Broke: An Origin Story” (2017, 104 min.) — discussing the 16-year journey of the film awarded Best Hawaiian Film of 2017 by the Hawaii Film Critics Society and the Hawaii International Film Festival’s inaugural Hawaii Movie Maker award.

Nichi Bei Weekly: What is the origin of this origin story? In other words, what inspired you to undertake this film and when did that happen?
Stacey Hayashi: In 2001, I was a software engineer and Hawai‘i created a bunch of tax credits for IP (intellectual property) industries, including film. I thought hey, that’s a great idea — Hawai‘i has so many stories the world should hear, the Nisei vets topping that list, but, from their perspective. Being young and naive and having absolutely no idea how impossible it is to make a film of this scope and tell this story correctly, I set out to make it happen.

NBW: You decidedly narrowed the focus to be an origin story, thus limiting the film to the 442nd’s roots in Hawai‘i. What did you hope to accomplish by narrowing the scope, and how have mainlanders responded?
SH: Well, it’s not just the roots of the 442 in Hawai‘i, it’s also roots of the 100th Battalion and Military Intelligence Service, too — both those groups preceded the 442. The stories of these vets are so sweeping and epic, it’s impossible to tell them all in two or three hours. Also, I realized when talking to mainlanders that they really didn’t know about how the 100th/442/MIS came to be, and that’s a story of ordinary people working together to help each other, in a scary and uncertain time. Mainlanders have responded well; most had no idea these people existed or these things in the movie happened, but that goes for people in Hawai‘i, too.

NBW: How have the Nisei veterans responded to the film in general?
SH: They’re pretty happy in general, which is what makes it all worth it for me. They feel comforted they won’t be forgotten (the VVV [Varsity Victory Volunteers] is especially unknown, which we’re trying to fix), and they know their sacrifices are appreciated. And, for the vets who are in the film (their stories, as well as actually being in the movie, in cameos), it was fun to update them along the way, especially during shooting. It was wonderful having them on set, and our crew really enjoyed meeting them, the real-life heroes whose stories we were telling. Introducing the actors to the vets they were portraying and their families was also very special to me. I’m very grateful we were able to get the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka in the film, too… he was always very supportive, and that meant the world to me.

I tried to make this film a story about the vets in their own words as much as possible, so the smallest details were what brought the most joy …

NBW: Do you have any plans to revisit the rest of the story of the famed combat team, including the dilemma to serve or not from inside America’s concentration camps?
SH: Would absolutely love to do this — “Go For Broke: An Origin Story” is supposed to be a pilot, really. The dream is a 10-part limited series, and one of those episodes would be about that dilemma. It was an incredibly difficult time, and people did what they thought was best and what was right for them. It was very complex and heartbreaking, and I don’t think anyone should say what some chose to do was right or wrong.

NBW: What is the difference between the general knowledge and perception of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Hawai‘i vs. the mainland?
SH: In Hawai‘i they’re more well known, of course, since there were more of them from Hawai‘i, and there’s a much higher chance that a person would know or be related to a vet in Hawai‘i vs. the mainland, but, that’s why films are important — they educate people and keep stories alive, or bring previously unknown or forgotten stories to light.

NBW: You’ve devoted so much of your life to this film, and we have undoubtedly lost many veterans since the time you started. When you think about how your work has helped to preserve their story, what kind of thoughts and emotions run through your mind?
SH: Oh, that’s a rough one, right now. Eddie Yamasaki (442 vet) helped me with this movie all these long (16) years, and he passed away a year ago … (4/26/17), so that is on my mind. He had a stroke, and lost his ability to speak (March 2017), but he could still understand things and would try to communicate, so I got on the first flight I could (he had moved to Japan and lived with his daughter and her family) and showed him the clips of “himself” or references to his family and he clapped his approval. His daughter found his original garrison cap, and I brought it back to Hawai‘i and put it on Luka Masuda (the actor who plays Eddie) and he marched down King Street in it (the end scene was shot on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017). I really miss him. He was my pal … one of my best friends in the world.

It was and is my privilege to have gotten to know these men so well and to call them my friends.

NBW: What do you hope that people take away from the film?
SH: In difficult times, there are always choices we can make about how we conduct ourselves, and how we treat others. In Hawai‘i, we were fortunate to have supporters and people in charge who had saner thoughts than those on the West Coast or in Washington. It probably sounds corny, but I truly believe this — when we can treat each other with respect and understanding, aloha can change the world.

NBW: What is your next film project?
SH: We have to make sure everyone sees this one first, that’s job No. 1. But, after that, if the 100th/442/MIS limited series remains a pipe dream, I’d like to do something about Robert Walker Irwin, who negotiated the Kanyaku Imin (sugar contract for contract laborers from Japan to immigrate to Hawai‘i) for King Kalakaua. He’s another amazing guy with a fascinating story that most people don’t know about. If anyone wants to fund telling that story, they should hit me up. 🙂

For more information on “Go For Broke: An Origin Story,” visit www.goforbrokemovie.com. The film screens as part of CAAMFest Sunday, May 13 at 12:30 p.m. and Monday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the AMC Kabuki 8 in San Francisco’s Japantown. For tickets, visit: https://caamfest.com/2018/films/go-for-broke-an-origin-story/.

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