Yonsei filmmaker honors his grandfather in ‘Nisei’

A still from “Nisei,” in which men dressed as members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, are huddled outside.

DEDICATED TO GRANDFATHER ­— “Nisei,” a dramatic short narrative written and directed by Bay Area native Darren Haruo Rae, stars Jonathan Tanigaki as 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldier Minoru Miyasaki. photo courtesy of Roann Films

Describing it as a “love letter to my family,” Yonsei producer/director Darren Haruo Rae honors his grandfather and members of the 442nd Regimental Combat with “Nisei” (2023, 21 min.), a high-concept short film that is currently screening at film festivals across the country, including the Nichi Bei Foundation’s 13th annual Films of Remembrance.

Born in the East Bay and currently residing in Los Angeles, filmmaker Rae knew his Nisei veteran grandfather, Minoru Miyasaki, as a quiet, humble man. “He was never brash and always listening,” said Rae. “I admired how calm he was and carried himself with ease. He rarely spoke of the war and it only came out in small moments.”

Inspired by these stories and those told by other Nisei veterans, “Nisei” follows the journey of Minoru and John Miyasaki, two Japanese American brothers during World War II. The “Nisei” Website describes the film this way: “Stripped of their citizenship and placed in an American concentration camp, they volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei unit that sacrificed everything to prove their loyalty to a country that didn’t want them. Torn between country and family, they must face the enemy overseas along with adversity back home.”

Since moving to Los Angeles, Rae has co-founded the boutique production company, Roann Films, and has directed high-profile commercials and branded content for clients such as Western Digital, Airbnb and Cisco. With “Nisei,” it’s personal and it’s family and his goal is to introduce new audience members to the 442nd and the Japanese American camp story.

“I knew about the stories because my family lived it, but I didn’t realize how it is still uncommon knowledge to most people,” said Rae.

After seeing “Nisei,” Rae would like audience members to be inspired to do some research on their own. “Maybe stop at a WWII camp site and take in the gravity of what happened. To pay respect to the elders who went through one of the darkest times in modern history. To be grateful for the world we live in today, and to understand the sacrifices made to get us here.”

His ultimate goal is to expand “Nisei” into a feature film, and is currently using the 21-minute short to showcase the story, and what could be possible if he had the funding for a feature.

But for now, Rae believes educating people is key.

“I think many people have a skewed view of America in WWII. We are always seen as the defender of good versus evil. People don’t stop to think about our dark past as well. Understanding how the 442nd was formed puts into perspective the heroism and sacrifice good people were willing to make. I believe my grandfather’s generation earned the title ‘The Greatest Generation,’ but it came at a cost. These stories need to be told because we need to learn from our past and make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

“America is not perfect,” he continued, “But we are in a much better place because of our past. I am proud to have lineage in the 442nd and I hope this film makes people take a step back and be thankful.”

And so, in honor of his grandfather, he made “Nisei.” A veteran of the 442nd Battalion, G Company, he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Congressional Medal of Honor in 2012. But grandson, Darren, who used to watch movies with his grandfather as a kid, thinks Grandpa Minoru would’ve gotten an even bigger kick out of seeing himself portrayed on the big screen.

“I know he would be smiling seeing himself as a movie star!” said Rae.

WHAT: “Nisei” (2023, 21 min.) by Darren Haruo Rae
TIME: 11 a.m. in War on Citizenship program
WHEN & WHERE:

  • 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 lead actor and panelist Jonathan Tanigaki (bottom left)
    VIRTUAL OPTION: There will also be a virtual option to watch the film From Feb. 24 through March 10 (does not include panel).
    INFO/TICKETS: 2024.filmsofremembrance.org

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