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Where EAST meets the Northwest

COMBAT READY. Director Lane Nishikawa’s World War II drama tells the story of the U.S. Army’s 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. (Photo/Shane Sato)

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #7 (February 14, 2006), page 10.

A teller up to the tale

Lane Nishikawa and Only the Brave

Only the Brave
By Lane Nishikawa
Produced by Karen Criswell,
Eric Hayashi, and Jay Koiwai

Starring Lane Nishikawa, Pat Morita, Tamlyn Tomita, Jason Scott Lee,

Mark Dacascos, Yuji Okumoto, and others

By Polo

Heartfelt congratulations are due to organizers of the Oregon Asian Celebration and the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival for their political commitment and profound cultural contributions to our vigorous Northwest immigrant communities. Our deepest gratitude goes out there too.

These two coincident Eugene events represent thousands of both funded and donated hours by hundreds of famous folks (like Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, Tamlyn "sigh" Tomita, windward O’ahu’s Jason Scott Lee) and many-many more quiet blue-collar types whose heavy lifting makes Asian America as muscular as can be.

This year, the Oregon Asian Celebration begins with an opening night gala for the DisOrient Film Festival at Eugene’s Bijou Art Cinemas (492 East 13th Avenue). The festival includes 10 jury-selected feature films and over 30 short films of various genres, representing the usual amazing array of Asian ethnic communities in America.

Among this first year’s must-sees are local Vietnamese-American rookie filmmaker Nhien Nguyen’s Simply FOBulous and Hawai’i-born, Bay-Area-raised Lane Nishikawa’s Only the Brave. Mr. Nishikawa’s got the superstars mentioned above, but Little Sister Nhien’s got stars in her eyes. Both artists’ efforts are big, both are important for different reasons. Only the Brave will be discussed here; Simply FOBulous will be reviewed elsewhere.

Protagonist Jimmy Takata and his best buds were out training near O’ahu’s North Shore on the Sunday morning when screaming Imperial Japanese planes suddenly appeared on their way to Pearl Harbor. Jimmy is up to his elbows in blood. "We spent all day and night transporting the wounded." Early Monday morning, the FBI comes for Jimmy’s dad, a respected Waha’iwa community elder and founder of a local Buddha temple. Jimmy’s father answers the door dressed in his best suit. He hugs his son, saying, "Don’t ever forget, I was born here."

In those initial scenes, Jimmy’s father says a number of hard things, all central to his generation’s elegant Issei ethos and all essential to the arc of the story. And it is a grand story, both for its sheer human drama — neglected American ideals, aching Asian redemption — and of course for director Nishikawa’s artistic execution. He is relentless. Tough and tender, equally efficient with both extremes. The temptation for soapy melodrama, for smart-alecky political critique, is almost irresistible. But Mr. Nishikawa nimbly avoids cliché. It seems to me, Only the Brave, among other attributes, represents a defining moment in the evolving Japanese-American aesthetic.

Only the Brave is the first feature-length film to dramatize from the Japanese-American perspective the historic heroism of the legendary U.S. Army 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. They were, and remain, unexcelled for sheer number of military decorations and awful casualties. They were basic grunts; they were extraordinary.

The United States Army put into one racially segregated infantry regiment two groups of Japanese-American men. Young and old. Island cane cutters and small-town physicians. Over 1,400 of the regiment were drawn from Territorial Hawai’i’s 100th Battalion; around 4,500 volunteered out of 10 remote mainland Japanese-American family internment camps. Only the Brave as a film airs this energetic mélange for the first time. Ever. Director Nishikawa handles the mix masterfully. This is not overstatement. This is essential to advancing Asian America.

There’s lots of firsts in this film. What happens to mothers and wives and daughters is half of Mr. Nishikawa and crew’s story. Men ship off. Men die. Far away. What do women do with all these losses — constitutional, fraternal, paternal, familial in the broadest ethno-cultural sense? What?

Lane Nishikawa is known as a poet and a critically acclaimed performance artist. It shows. Certainly his film sweeps up some awful American history; just as surely his story takes us back to when 800 Japanese Americans got themselves wounded or perished while saving 211 white ones; but Mr. Nishikawa’s strongest cinematic seconds are silent, are between men and women. So hurt. So silent. So strong.

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