Emi (film)


Title Emi
Date 1979
Director Frank Nesbitt; Michael Toshiyuki Ono
Producer Michael Toshiyuki Ono
Writer Michael Toshiyuki Ono
Music Dan Kuramoto
Cinematography Frank Nesbitt
Editing Frank Nesbitt
Studio Educational Film Center
Runtime 29 minutes

Documentary film about a Nisei woman returning to Manzanar and to her prewar community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, for the first time some thirty-five years after being forcibly removed.

The film begins in Philadelphia in August 1978 where we meet Emi Tonooka as she plans a trip to relive her past for the first time. Through her first person narration and recreated scenes, we learn of her childhood on Bainbridge as the daughter of poor but hardworking strawberry farmers and of family and community life there. She then recounts the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent forced removal, telling us that "being taken away did things to me that I'm just beginning to get in touch with." We then shift to the present, as Emi, with her daughter Carla, first visit Manzanar. As they walk the site, Emi talks about her feelings at the time and recalls becoming "physically and mentally ill." Initially disoriented, she eventually finds her bearings and locates what she thinks is the block she had lived in. After a stop in Los Angeles to catch part of the Nisei Week festival, they head up the Pacific Northwest. On Bainbridge, she finds the house she grew up in still standing, then has a tearful reunion with the Nishimori family, her family's close friends from the before the war.

Emi was one of the first films to focus on the wartime incarceration story told from a Japanese American perspective. Anthropologist Lane Hirabayashi calls the film "very moving" and cites it as "virtually the only example" from its time to show "clear expressions of loss of communality expressed at an individual level."[1] It was made for public television as part of a film series titled Pearls, which was one of the first to focus on Asian Americans. Emi was directed by Frank Nesbitt and Michael Toshiyuki Ono and produced by Educational Film Center under a contract from Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Additional funding was provided by the Hōsō-Bunka Foundation, Tokyo, Japan.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Hirabayashi, Lane Ryo. "Community Destroyed? Assessing the Impact of the Loss of Community on Japanese Americans during World War II." In Re/Collecting Early Asian America: Essays in Cultural History. Edited by Josephine Lee, Imogen L. Lim, and Yuko Matsukawa. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002. 94–107.

Footnotes

  1. Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, "Community Destroyed? Assessing the Impact of the Loss of Community on Japanese Americans during World War II." In Re/Collecting Early Asian America: Essays in Cultural History (edited by Josephine Lee, Imogen L. Lim, and Yuko Matsukawa; Philadelpha: Temple University Press, 2002), 100.