‘Kintsukuroi,’ feature film about JA experience, coming to Sacramento June 30

Kealani Kitaura (L) as Wendy Ito

Of all the films Nikkei writer/director Kerwin Berk has made, he says his latest film, “Kintsukuroi,” is by far his most rewarding due to the participation of an almost all-Nikkei cast and crew, and the support from the Japanese American community.

“Because the cast was almost all Nikkei, they knew the story and understood its importance,” said Berk. “One of the actors asked me how I kept things moving so smoothly. I told him it’s not so hard when everyone is rowing in the same direction.”

Kintsukuroi is the Japanese art of repairing ceramics using lacquer and gold, creating a certain strength and beauty to each piece. Berk uses the title as a metaphor for the Japanese American experience in this feature film, which follows the lives of the Ito family from pre-war San Francisco to the concentration camps of the American West to the battlefields of Europe.

“It’s a narrative depiction of one of the most shameful periods in this country’s history — the unjust imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” said Berk.

The 138-minute film had its world premiere in San Francisco’s Japantown in April, and will be screening again June 30 from 1 to 5 p.m. at The Sofia Theatre in Sacramento, Calif.

Featuring Ryan Takemiya, Kealani Kitaura, Ken Takeda, Ron Munekawa, Kiyomi Koide and Chizu Omori in the lead roles, “Kintsukuroi” was inspired by events in the lives of the many Nisei Berk has known. “I drew inspiration from Nisei like Hiroshi Kashiwagi, ‘Mitzi’ Takeshita, the Okamuras and my teacher Jane Ikeda,” he said.

Ken Takeda as Ken Ito

In the film, several real-life incidents are dramatized in scenes before, during and after the war as Japanese Americans deal with discrimination and hatred of “the Japs” both inside and outside of camp. The controversy over two ill-conceived “loyalty questions” is also played out as the Itos’ son, Ken, signs up for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, while his friend, Shig, answers “no” to the questions and becomes stigmatized as a “No-No Boy.”

Familiar places are seen throughout the film as well as many familiar faces who served as extras. Community folks like Jack Dairiki, Max Nihei and Kiyomi Takeda are among several seen in the film. The “Nichi Bei Café’s” Greg Viloria also served as a cameraman.

Berk said a small arts grant made the production feasible, but the true reason he was able to make this film was because everyone volunteered their time and talent.

“Japanese Americans will always support Japanese American history and art,” said Berk. “Once we got the word out about the project we didn’t have trouble getting folks to participate — including our small army of extras. People would also bring in more people. Our crew doubled in size as the production went on.”

Audience reaction to the film thus far has been positive, said Berk. “The film has resonated strongly with the Japanese Americans in the audience,“ he said. “I’ve been told that the scenes remind them of their parents or grandparents, which means we’ve done our job as filmmakers. What’s been interesting is the reaction of the white people, who knew very little about what happened. They have asked questions during the Q&A literally in tears.”

This reaction is especially rewarding for Berk, who said the film is uniquely about JAs, but carries a broader message as well. “It’s also a cautionary tale about how anyone can be singled out or scapegoated because they are somehow different — a lesson this country still hasn’t learned.”

But since it’s a film about Japanese Americans made by Japanese Americans, Berk pays tribute to the Nisei family members of his cast and crew by running photos of them in camp during the closing credits. In this way, Berk not only includes them in his film, but allows his cast and crew to honor and remember them as well.

It’s a nice touch, in a film full of nice touches.

The Sofia Theatre is located at 2700 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, 95816. Doors open at noon, followed by a discussion on the Wakasa Memorial at Topaz, Utah at 1 p.m. Nancy Ukai and Chizu Omori will discuss the murder of James Wakasa at the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp, and the stone memorial in his honor that was recently uncovered. At 2:10 p.m. the screening of “Kintsukuroi” will begin, followed by a Q&A at 4:25 p.m. and a meet and greet at 5 p.m. For tickets, go to: https://events.humanitix.com/kintsukuroi-film-screening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *