According to the director’s testimony, my great grandfather migrated to the Pacific Northwest during the 1920s. He left Japan in search of a better life and settled down in America, unaware of the impending war that would drastically alter his family’s destiny. My grandfather, who was born and raised in the US, was later relocated to an internment camp along with the rest of our family. Despite this betrayal, he bravely joined the Army and was willing to sacrifice his life for his country. The film ‘Nisei’ (2nd generation) chronicles the experiences of two brothers, Minoru and John Miyasaki, during WWII. Despite being stripped of their citizenship and imprisoned, they volunteered to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all Japanese-American unit that became the most decorated in US military history.
The movie takes place in California in 1944, where two brothers are riding a bus in army uniforms. They are still receiving hostile looks from a fellow passenger. When they reach their destination, one of the brothers decides not to meet their father, Harry, and remains on the bus. The other brother, Minoru, visits Harry at a concentration camp as he had volunteered for the US Army. Harry is unhappy about his son fighting for America and their conversation is tense. It becomes clear that Harry considers Japan his only country, while his son identifies as American.
The scene shifts to Italy, where a team of American soldiers of Japanese heritage are preparing to attack a residence. While conducting the operation, they come across a young girl, but the situation quickly becomes dire.
Darren Haruo Rae directs a film that is divided into two distinct parts. The first part focuses on the family’s drama, particularly through a brief but tense and meaningful scene between the son and father. The second part shifts to a war/action narrative. The intermingling of these two parts throughout the movie is an intriguing approach that adds depth and meaning to each other. The editing by Caleb Wheeler is a standout aspect of the film, with its fast pace that complements the overall aesthetics. Towards the end, the pace slows down to emphasize the drama in a suitable manner.
However, one could argue that the final portion of the film comes across as somewhat preachy and excessively nationalistic, as exemplified by the father’s dialogue and the overly dramatic music. This ultimately shifts the focus away from the bravery of the Japanese soldiers and instead highlights the heroism of the US army, thereby diluting the central message of the movie.
Shiro Kawai delivers a standout performance as Jinkichi Miyasaki, effectively conveying the depth and significance of each word he speaks. He also skillfully portrays the struggles faced by the first generation of Japanese immigrants in the US.
However, from a technical standpoint, the movie is of extremely high quality. The war scenes, in particular, are captivating to watch thanks to the intricate cinematography by Connor Van Bodell. The editing and sound work also contribute to the overall impressive visuals. The coloring and lighting are also well executed, making for an excellent audiovisual experience throughout the film.
The movie “Nisei” would greatly benefit from a longer duration, as it would allow Rae to present his comments more fluidly and the context to be more focused. However, overall it still makes sense and showcases the director’s skill in storytelling and composition.