14 July 2022

Taidama - What Happened when Japanese Americans were Freed from Internment?

There had been a number of laws in the USA which had prevented American Asians from being able, among other things, to own land, vote or even testify against white people in court.  When it came to the Second World War, one might think common sense would dictate an assumption that people of Japanese origin had decided to make their homes in the US for something other than subversion: there was no hiatus when it came to discriminatory law-making, however.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942.  It paved the way for 120,000 people of Japanese origin, two thirds of them American citizens, to be interned for the duration of the war.  This happened despite the Munson Report of 1940, commissioned by the President, which stated that “There will be no armed uprising of Japanese” in the USA.  So why did this happen?

Perhaps this extract from an extraordinary editorial in the Los Angeles Times might go some way to explain it.  I will let you join the dots – it is hardly a challenge and may ring a few more recent rhetorical bells than comfort might allow. “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched... So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere...notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American... Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion...that such treatment...should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race.”

TADAIMA - Japanese American WWII short film from Robin Takao D'Oench on Vimeo.

So we come to Taidama – which literally translates as “I'm home”.  It takes place after the war.  A Japanese American family has been released from an internment camp and its members make their way back to their Californian farm.  They do not find it as they left it.  (Full film here).

Taidama is a film of few words.  Yet its exposition of events is profound and it tells its story without sentimentality or Walton's Mountain style romanticisation. There is some gorgeous golden hour photography by Mingjue Hu, juxtaposing the natural beauty of the Californian countryside with the dread in the heart of the returnees, giving the cast a certain luminosity This is particularly true of Mackenyu Maeda who plays the son and who also serves as a symbol of the future of Japanese American citizenry.  We’ll be seeing a lot more of Mackenyu in 2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising but I suspect that Taidama has revealed much more of his acting talents than the monster movie will (perhaps I’m too much of a snob to comment honestly there).

His character’s love of America in Taidama is represented through his baseball obsession and it is left to the viewer to decide whether or not he will ever play again.  His retrieval of the long-buried baseball cards he hid before the family were removed from their home might suggest that, but the beautifully shot closing sequence is a little more ambivalent (although we can perhaps dare to be optimistic).

This may not necessarily provide perfect closure for the audience but it surely reflects the way that many of the 120,000 must have felt on their release.  Re-integration must have been tentative, with the caution that accompanies disappointment and betrayal an everyday feeling for many years afterwards.

Although Mackenyu is the beating heart of the film he receives excellent support from Toshi Toda (who you may remember for his portrayal of Colonel Adachi in Letters from Iwo Jima), Vivian Umino who is mostly known as a producer and director, with work including Captured (2002) and newcomer Jordyn Kanaya.

Haidama was written and directed by Robin Takao D'Oench whose grandfather was one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during the war.  He dedicates it to all of them.  Try and catch it on Vimeo now before it goes to OnDemand (ie you have to pay to watch it) in March.