Just like westerns, comedies, musicals, science fiction, romantic pics, buddy pics, chick flicks or cops vs. criminals, World War II should be a movie genre unto itself, and not just a subgenre of the war movie category.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that out of all the movies taking place in a war-related setting, the number of movies set just before, during or just after the end of WWII would be way more than the number of movies set during any other war.
WWII was so overwhelmingly and impactfully big that right now, almost 75 years since it ended, you can at this time see “Hacksaw Ridge” — a dramatized WWII movie — in a theater.
Since 2010, there have also been “Fury,” “Emperor,” “Unbroken,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “The Monuments Men,” “The Imitation Game,” “Oba: The Last Samurai,” “Red Tails,” “Persona Non Grata” — and before that but after the turn of the century, “Inglorious Basterds,” “The Pianist,” “Downfall,” “Stalingrad,” the two HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” “Enemy at the Gates,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Windtalkers,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” and “Miracle at St. Anna.”
The two aforementioned lists are not complete and I make no judgments to the quality of any of those movies — I just want to illustrate the volume of stories from WWII. It’s overwhelming. (It’s also sad that since WWII ended, the U.S. has also fought in the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm and continuing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.)
Just like WWII still today has a ripple effect on American society overall, there are still reverberations from that war felt by today’s Japanese American community — after all, this month marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 arriving on the heels of the new American president issuing his own chaos-causing executive orders.
And what of movies about the WWII era and this community? Excluding documentaries, there have been since 2001 the following independently financed (not from the big Hollywood studios) movies: “American Pastime” and “Day of Independence” (both “internment”-related with baseball backstories) and “Only the Brave,” about Japanese American soldiers of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. None could be realistically construed as having moved the needle with the greater American community about the Japanese American experience during WWII, sad to say.
With no big studio interested presently in making a movie about the 442 (or the “internment,” for that matter), going the indie route has been and continues to be the only way to tell those stories, despite the astonishing achievements of the mostly Japanese American soldiers of the 100th/442nd.
Stacey Hayashi with an illustration from her comic book “Journey of Heroes.”
There has only been one such movie from a Hollywood studio, and that was MGM’s 1951 “Go for Broke!,” which starred the late Van Johnson, and as such, was really more about his journey from bigotry to brotherhood, with the Japanese American soldiers of 100th/442nd fighting the good fight in WWII while serving as his character’s vehicle for personal enlightenment.
Now, however, there is cause for cautious celebration with another “Go for Broke” (note the lack of exclamation mark) in the works, and just from its pedigree, it’s more likely to focus on Japanese Americans, who of course should be the focus.
The big part of this new “Go for Broke’s” aforementioned pedigree is Hawaii’s Stacey Hayashi, who has dedicated the past 16 of her 41 years pushing to make a movie about the 100th/442nd, having made friends with many of its vets and, sadly, seeing many of them pass away over the years.
In last week’s column (http://tinyurl.com/jybkwoc), I spoke with director-actor Chris Tashima, who appears in this “GFB,” and he kindly connected Hayashi with me. She and I chatted about her incredible odyssey in trying to convey the 100th/442nd story to the masses.
Even in high school, Hayashi realized how much the 100th/442nd helped raise the social status of Japanese Americans in Hawaii after the war, having written a paper on that topic. (Incidentally, her parents are Sharon and Stanley Hayashi, and she has a younger brother, Stuart Hayashi.)
In addition to writing the screenplay and executive-producing this new “GFB,” Hayashi in 2013 also scripted and published a comic book, illustrated by Damon Wong, titled “Journey of Heroes: The Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team.” (See The Rafu Shimpo’s story at http://tinyurl.com/jhg6c7a) The comic is available at the Japanese American Museum Gift Shop (http://tinyurl.com/gs747m3) for $12.
“This movie and the comic book, this past five years, has pretty much taken over my life,” Hayashi said. While she has an Internet-based business, it’s been back-burnered as she has focused her energy and attention on the media-related projects. Realizing that she couldn’t put the lives of her veteran friends on hold, she prioritized producing these projects so at least some of her vet buddies could see them before the inevitable occurred.
That this new “GFB” has come this far is a story unto itself. In 2007, Hayashi applied through the 442nd Foundation for a “grants-in-aid” from the state of Hawaii for the movie project, which was approved, a rarity since “they never fund films,” she said. “It’s usually social service stuff.” It was for an amount less than what she eventually would receive, which would be about half a million dollars, a figure the expert on all things 442 felt was quite generous.
So while the first grant did get approved, Gov. Linda Lingle (who served 2002-10), according to Hayashi “just sat on it and she let it lapse. I was so disappointed.”
So, she tried again after speaking with legislator friends who also attended Sen. Daniel Inouye’s funeral in 2012 at the National Memo