only the brave

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the first film i saw for asian american showcase 2006 was "only the brave," the world war 2 tale of the rescue of the army 100th regimental combat team, a team of texans, by the 442nd regimental combat team, made up of u.s. soldiers of japanese descent.

in short, the film was written by lane nishikawa, a critically-acclaimed playwright, so it had the feel of a play - there were times when really touching dialogue was choppy because the camera had to follow the actors as they said their lines.

nishikawa plays sgt. jimmy takata, the highest-ranking officer remaining in the 442nd, whose father, a buddhist priest, had just passed away just as he was about to be deployed to france. after completing one assignment, his unit is sent to rescue the 100th, trapped on all sides by the germans. severely injured in the last battle, the army doctor orders him to stay behind and rest.

there is a searing scene of the other sergents commanding each of their units and passing by him. one by one his injured soldiers return, and when they die, takata collects personal items, at first to remember his soldiers by, and then later, to return to their families.

nishikawa expertly weilds the lives of japanese-americans in this movie. takata is shown to take care of his troops less like a commanding officer and more like a substitute father, brother or friend. during the rest he takes the opportunity to get to know his soldiers, and in the process learns about the fiance who asked one to marry him, the engagement ring tucked in an unused lighter; the other who left behind a beauty queen; the next whose mother speaks only japanese and whose two sisters won't cease crying. his mother circulated a white cloth to hundreds of women who each embroidered a red knot on the cloth.

his mother said it's an old tradition - each knot represents the prayers of a loved one. i forgot just how many knots there were, the film says so, but i think it's 1,000 knots. if he wears it, the wearer has 1,000 people praying for his protection. the son given the cloth was killed in the battle to rescue the texans. my mind whirled about iraq, and all the other things that war kills.

the film is about the contribution of an asian american group to u.s. history - one of its most important moments. like filipino american soldiers ignored by the government, a story like this is due. according to the u.s. department of defense web site, the 442nd unit is the most decorated unit in u.s. military history.

nishikawa said he first got involved in the 100th/442nd story because he has an uncle who served in the 442nd. he found out that by marriage, he gained two more relatives who had served in the 442nd. it's part of his family's history.

hawaii resident nishikawa visited the chicago screening and despite the finished look of his film, he described other plans for it - such as photos of the awarding ceremony and the current lives of veterans. eventually, he said, he would like to release a DVD for the film.

i was asked to review this film almost two years ago. i never turn down assignments, but i didn't follow-up on this anyways. my editor was gracious enough to let it slide. i couldn't review it because i hadn't seen the film yet, but also because of the violent history of the japanese on filipinos, also during world war 2.

the prevalent role that the military japanese, vietnamese, italians and the germans play in world war 2 films is that of the enemy. i had blogged about this topic before, regarding another world war 2 movie, "the great raid":

the mother of a friend of mine recently visited the philippines for a tourist tour she was never able to take while still living there. among the stops was a site in memory of the japanese invasion of the philippines. my friend didn't specify where, because i don't think her mother knew where as well. but he said she returned with much avarice against the japanese for 1) invading the philippines and, in exaggeration, 2) for brutally ransaking everything in sight. my friend said his mother's behavior surprised him so, but what topped it was that she went as far as calling the japanese the three- and four-letter J word - a label considered on a par with the N word here for blacks.

i was shocked, but i wasn't sure if the J word was derogatory, and my friend, born and raised here, making him a full-fledged jerzee boy migrant to chicago, confirmed that the J word is highly derogatory. "here," he emphasized, meaning the u.s. it's the same as "asiatic" and "oriental" when you use those words to describe a person.

asians here in the u.s. realize they're all lumped in the same boat, and there's already enough racial baggage around here as it is. groups have to choose which issue to tackle first. and within the groups, baggage brought in from the homeland by the newly-arrived is considered laughable if you fail to see how it relates to your current life.

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essentially, my friend said there's nothing wrong writing about the a japanese american story if you're filipino american.

and that's essentially why i didn't write about the story. i still can't write that article, even as i completely understand what the 442nd went through. i still have to clearly see why the u.s. rounded up the japanese americans and the german americans during world war 2. i think my mind still can't wrap itself around the concept of prejudice and ignorance: there's absolutely no excuse for such.
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