Hello, ‘Farewell,’ AGAIN: Reflections on reintroducing ‘Farewell to Manzanar’ to the public

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CAMP LIFE — Misa Wakatsuki (Nobu McCarthy) sewing for Jeanne Wakatsuki (Dori Takeshita) in the film “Farewell to Manzanar”
courtesy of the Barbara P. Narita Collection / Densho

On March 11, 1976 the world television presentation of “Farewell to Manzanar” was broadcasted to a national audience. Then in February 2001, the film was reintroduced to the public in a number of private screenings to commemorate Day of Remembrance events in California. Now another 20 years later, the film is being presented Feb. 21 to a new generation.

In 2000, the Marin County chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League started planning a 2001 Day of Remembrance event led by Carole Hayashino and myself. We tossed around a few ideas before deciding to screen the film.

“Farewell to Manzanar” was an ideal choice because 2001 marked the 25th year since the original screening was seen on network television in 1976, and not many people had seen it since its original viewing. Additionally, the filmmaker John Korty was and is still a Marin County resident. Also many of the cast, crew, and extras lived and worked in the Bay Area, and many scenes were filmed in Northern California.

The “Farewell to Manzanar” authors, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston, lived in Santa Cruz. We thought IF we could find the film — others had tried but were not successful — we would have a very good program because we would have the film, hopefully the filmmaker, the authors, and cast and crew members who could join us for a reunion.

Since Akemi Kikumura Yano and Dori Takeshita Chan had agreed to join us, we were confident we could locate other crew and cast members. We would work on the others later using Visual Communications in Los Angeles, as well as other friends and family members, to assist us in contacting others and it paid off.

Finding the film was the major obstacle. It was not until I asked David Nakabayashi, my cousin who works at Industrial Light & Magic/Lucas Films in San Francisco for assistance. He reached out to friends and associates who work in the film industry in Los Angeles. And one of his friends, Vicki Ariyasu, asked her friend Dave Oakden, who worked at Universal Studios. He found a 35mm print in good condition in Universal’s vault.

The original plan was for a Marin (County) JACL Day of Remembrance program, then San Francisco’s Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California requested to join us. And subsequently the Sacramento JACL contacted us. The Sacramento screening was unexpected, but a very welcomed add-on.

The Marin program was held on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Marin Center Showcase Theater in San Rafael. As with the other event it was a sell-out. The Marin program included “Two Views of Manzanar,” an exhibit of photographs by Toyo Miyatake and Ansel Adams, on loan from the Fresno Museum, and a quilt display by the Japanese American Services of the East Bay. The quilt displayed former internees’ memories of camp in their quilt squares. And Toyo Miyatake’s homemade camera was on display.

The San Francisco event was held on Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Kabuki 8 Theater to another sell-out crowd.

The Sacramento JACL held its screening at the Crest Theater in Downtown Sacramento on Friday, Feb. 16, and we were overwhelmed when the theater had more than 1,000 persons in attendance.

At the three events, besides screening “Farewell to Manzanar,” members of the cast and crew along with Korty and the Houstons were in attendance and gave their thoughts on their participation in the film.

The following year in 2002, the Commission for One California co-sponsored the “Farewell to Manzanar Education Initiative,” which supported a statewide distribution of 10,000 educational kits to Californian’s public schools and libraries to provide California’s children with lessons of the Japanese American World War II experience. The kit consisted of a VHS tape, a copy of the book “Farewell to Manzanar” and a teaching guide. This presentation was a launching program that occurred during the 2002 Visual Communications Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Festival Day in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. The director, cast, and crew members were present.

On a more personal note, when “Farewell to Manzanar” was originally broadcasted on NBC, I went to my parents’ home in San Mateo to view it with my parents and sisters; it was a family event. I wanted to see and hear their reactions to the film. Although they did not say much about their time at the Heart Mountain, Wyo. concentration camp, they did open up a little more about their “camp” experience.

I want to remind everyone to please talk with your Nisei parents/grandparents because we are losing that part of our collective memory on the camp experience. And in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, it is imperative that we do our part to continue to promote unity and cross cultural dialogues with others.

Although the 2021 screening of “Farewell to Manzanar” is part of the Films of Remembrance series, I also view it as part of the celebrations for Day of Remembrance events. It continues to amaze me that we have been able to bring this film to different generations of the Japanese American community and to others. And for that I am extremely grateful.

I feel that besides the historic milestone of a film like “Farewell to Manzanar,” it opened the door to spread the opportunities to persons of color to work within the cinematic industry and to improve the educational experience of our students.

“Farewell to Manzanar” (1976, 107 minutes) will be screened Sunday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at the West Wind Capitol Drive-In at 3630 Hillcap Ave. in San Jose, Calif., with the cast reunion and video performances by San Jose Taiko. Tickets cost $40 per vehicle in advance, $45 at the gate. www.filmsofremembrance.org/2021.

Lewis Kawahara has taught in the ethnic studies program at the College of San Mateo and the Asian American studies program at San Francisco State University. He writes from Mill Valley, Calif. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

 

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45th anniversary screening of ‘Farewell to Manzanar’ and cast reunion at the drive-in

Tired of staying home all these months? Come join the Japanese American community as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of a landmark film that first taught much of the general U.S. population about the wartime incarceration of the Japanese American community during World War II — at a time when many Japanese American families themselves even refrained from talking about this dark chapter of American history.

“Farewell to Manzanar” is based upon the groundbreaking book by James D. and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, which continues to be required reading in American classrooms.

Gather with the community from the safe confines of your own car to watch this landmark 1976 film by John Korty. The special drive-in screening will include an exclusive on-screen reunion with cast, crew and extras, moderated by cast member Frank Abe. Featuring actors Clyde Kusatsu, Momo Yashima, Akemi Kikumura Yano and Dori Takeshita; and cinematographer Hiro Narita. Scholar Lewis Kawahara will discuss the impact of the film.

The drive-in presentation will also include video performances by San Jose Taiko.

Partial proceeds of the drive-in screening will benefit Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service.

DVDs of “Farewell to Manzanar” will also be for sale at the event.

For more information or tickets, visit: www.filmsofremembrance.org/2021

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