Deaths in family lead filmmaker on a journey of discovery

Photos of two people

“There were 1,862 people who died in camp. For all these families, mine included, there will never be any investigations. I want to give voice to every one of these lives, because they mattered.” — BARBARA KAGAWA SHORE, director, “Missing Pieces”

For the longest time, Sansei filmmaker Barbara Kagawa Shore was bothered by the fact that two of her family members died in camp, but no one would tell her how or why this happened.

“My parents never wanted to talk about anything camp related, so I stopped asking,” said Kagawa Shore.

But after her parents passed, she obtained the camp medical records for her Uncle Yasuo and her grandmother and was shocked and angered by what she found.

“This became a heavy burden,” she said.

In “Missing Pieces” (2023, 14 min.), a documentary short created in a Visual Communications Digital Histories class, Kagawa Shore unburdens herself as she reveals the truth about the deaths of her family members.

Her uncle, Yasuo Kamachi, was only 14 years old at the time. He loved reading, Boy Scout work and hiking, but suffered from kidney problems that required a special diet. However, when the special food was not provided at the Manzanar concentration camp in California, Yasuo became gravely ill and ended up in a sweltering barrack where he suffered for 28 days in sweltering 100-degree summer heat.

“There was a hospital 15 miles away, but they never took him there,” said Kagawa Shore. “He passed away eight days before the real camp hospital opened.”

Meanwhile, at the prison camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, her paternal grandmother, Asao Kagawa, had fainted, hit her head on the ground and ended up with a skull fracture.

Her pupils were dilated, blood was coming out of her mouth and she was nauseous and vomiting.

“She was not transferred to the local hospital,” said Kagawa Shore. “She had convulsions and died of hemorrhaging 10 days later at age 52.”

In her search for the truth, Kagawa Shore discovered that a total of 1,862 Japanese Americans had died in the 10 War Relocation Authority camps. That’s when it hit her: “Nobody would know or care about my uncle or the 1,861 others unless someone speaks out and stirs the pot.”

And so, after 40 years since receiving her degree in broadcasting/TV from Cal State Los Angeles, Kagawa Shore picked up her camera again and captured this story she felt needed to be told.

Using interviews with oral historian and Medical Anthropologist Gwenn Jensen, Ph.D., “Missing Pieces” asks questions that will never fully be answered: How many of these deaths could have been prevented? How did exposure to the harsh environments and dust storms affect the health of Japanese Americans? What were the results of the poor diet in camp? How many died due to lack of medical supplies? How did the stress of losing everything and being imprisoned affect their health and mental health?

In just 14 minutes, the film tackles these questions based on Jensen’s interviews with more than 90 former prisoners, many of whom were doctors and nurses in camp. She is one of just a few individuals who have done extensive research on this topic, and is currently writing a book on the impact of health on the camps.

“I am forever grateful to Dr. Jensen for documenting these oral histories,” said Kagawa Shore. “There were 1,862 people who died in camp. For all these families, mine included, there will never be any investigations. I want to give voice to every one of these lives, because they mattered. They suffered and died in scorching heat, unbearable cold, scared and in unfamiliar wastelands.

“Making this film has been a cathartic experience. Sometimes speaking the truth out into the world is like releasing trapped spirits from the past. 1,862. Remember them. Honor them. Do not let them be forgotten.”

WHAT: “Missing Pieces” (2023, 14 min.,) by Barbara Kagawa Shore
TIME: 4 p.m. in the Life and Death Behind Barbed Wire program

  • Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 at AMC Kabuki 8 theater in San Francisco’s Japantown
  • Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin in San Jose’s Japantown
    WHO: Featuring panelist oral historian and Medical Anthropologist Gwenn Jensen, Ph.D., from Colorado (left)
    VIRTUAL OPTION: There will also be a virtual option to watch the film From Feb. 24 through March 10 (does not include panel).

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