Special presentation of 45th anniversary of “Farewell to Manzanar” at the drive-in to feature reunion of cast and crew, with partial proceeds benefitting Yu-Ai Kai senior service
The 10th annual Films of Remembrance, a showcase of films commemorating the wartime forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans in American concentration camps during World War II, will be held Saturday, Feb. 20 and Sunday, Feb. 21, featuring a record 40 films — including a retrospective of past selections (available from Feb. 20-28), a few new films, and a special 45th anniversary screening of the landmark 1976 John Korty film based upon John and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s landmark book, “Farewell to Manzanar.”
“Given the global coronavirus pandemic, there were not as many new productions this past year,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation. “Thus, our committee thought it was a great opportunity to present a virtual retrospective of some of our best films over our first decade, while still presenting what few new films were available, and adding a special and exciting old-school twist to celebrate the 45th anniversary of a groundbreaking film which had not been seen for the most part by up to two generations.”
“Farewell to Manzanar,” which was broadcast once on NBC TV in 1976, was an early telling of the wartime incarceration experience, giving much of America its first glimpse into this dark chapter of American history. The film was aired at a time when Nisei parents did not readily share their wartime experiences with their younger Sansei children.
After being rediscovered at the Universal Studios archives, a series of 25th anniversary screenings were held in Sacramento, Marin County, San Francisco and Southern California in 2001.
“As there wasn’t a community screening in San Jose in 2001 to commemorate its 25th anniversary, it’s only fitting that we present this groundbreaking film to the West Wind Capitol Drive-In in San Jose,” Taguma said. “After months of isolation, we feel this is a great opportunity to gather safely in ‘community’ while honoring Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her efforts to bring our story to the masses through the film and her book, which has become required reading for many.”
The special drive-in screening of “Farewell to Manzanar” will be held Sunday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at the West Wind Capitol Drive-In, at 3630 Hillcap Ave. It will be preceded by an exclusive virtual reunion of cast and crew including actors Clyde Kusatsu, Akemi Kikumura Yano, Momo Yashima, Gretchen Corbett, Dori Takeshita; cinematographer Hiro Narita; crowd scene extras from the community; and hosted by cast member Frank Abe. The drive-in is just minutes away from San Jose’s Japantown, and to support Japantown restaurants, a special opportunity drawing will be held for those who purchase take-out meals from select eateries in the ethnic enclave.
After presenting Films of Remembrance in San Jose’s Japantown for the first time last year, the Nichi Bei Foundation is proud to collaborate this year with Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service in San Jose’s Japantown, to whom the Foundation will donate partial proceeds from the drive-in screening.
“Senior centers have been working hard to serve our beloved seniors over the year-long pandemic,” said Taguma. “So we are proud to be able to do a small part to support those efforts.”
Given the pandemic, production on new films had been generally halted, and while Films of Remembrance had presented about 10 to 11 new films annually in recent years, this year there were relatively few fresh offerings.
There will be two “live” programs with post-film discussions this year, starting with the Saturday, Feb. 20, 1 p.m., screening of Janice Tanaka’s film “Rebel With A Cause: The Life Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga” (2016, 90 min.). The film presents an endearing portrait of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, a noted researcher and activist whose discovery of governmental misconduct during World War II was crucial to efforts for Japanese American redress. Her expertise and findings provided much of the documentary evidence that formed the basis of the landmark 1987 coram nobis cases of
Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Minoru Yasui; and the National Council for Japanese Americans Redress (NCJAR) lawsuit of 1983.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, 1 p.m., there will be a screening of “Bearing the Unbearable” (2019, 29 min.) by Rory Banyard, examining the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their home on Bainbridge Island during World War II and their subsequent incarceration in the Manzanar and Minidoka concentration camps. This will be followed by a discussion involving Lilly Kodama, a former incarceree from Bainbridge Island, and Clarence Moriwaki of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the first group of Japanese Americans evicted from their homes during the War. Two shorts will accompany the screening, “A Hero’s Hero” (2020, 11 min.) by Robert Shoji, which examines Heart Mountain draft resister Yosh Kuromiya and his nephew Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a pioneering civil rights activist in the African American and gay communities; and “Within Their Gates” (2019, 10 min.) by Matthew Goriachkovsky, on concentration camp survivor Yukio Shimomura.
Retrospective of Past Films
Since 2012, the Films of Remembrance Committee has curated an annual offering of films, providing a much-needed venue for filmmakers to showcase their work on the wartime experience and shed light on little-known stories from the era. Through the years, new films have included untold stories about incarceration of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, Alaska and Canada; little-known stories of resistance behind barbed wire; the cultural and musical arts that were practiced in the camps; the movements to right a wrong; and even what happened to the barracks that once housed the wartime inmates.
“The wealth of films being shown at this year’s Films of Remembrance clearly reveal how much more we know about our community’s incarceration during World War II, and how motivated many filmmakers are to tell the stories,” said Chizu Omori, co-producer of the 1999 award-winning documentary “Rabbit in the Moon” and Films of Remembrance Committee member. “It is heartening to see the wide range and richness of the offerings that we can see today.”
Films of Remembrance also helped to present a series of short dramatic narratives created by descendants of concentration camp survivors, which helped to touch younger audiences.
“The narrative shorts allow us to step back in time — creating a visceral experience of the sparse living quarters and barren desert, capturing the camaraderie and fractures that develop, and drawing us into the emotions of the characters,” said Jill Shiraki, part of the curation team of Films of Remembrance. “It is encouraging to see younger filmmakers remain connected to the stories of their ancestors. More avenues seem to open up with each generation in the retelling.”
“Programs like Films of Remembrance are so important because they make this history accessible to the public,” said University of California, San Diego Ethnic Studies Professor Christen Sasaki, who is on the Films of Remembrance Committee. “It’s also such a great educational resource for students — this quarter I’m teaching one of the only classes on Japanese American history at UCSD and the students are so excited about seeing this history come to life. FoR also opens up space for artistic interaction and dialogue around histories of incarceration.”
Films of Remembrance is presented by the Nichi Bei Foundation, with presenting sponsor UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Aratani C.A.R.E. Award.
Tickets are $10 for each video-on-demand program rental, $15 each for the two live programs with post-film discussions, and $40 in advance for the special drive-in presentation of “Farewell to Manzanar.” All-Event Passes (not including drive-in) are $50, and free tickets to individual programs are available to students with ID.
Proceeds benefit the Nichi Bei Foundation’s Wayne Maeda Educational Fund.