Encounter with the Past: American Japanese Internment in World War II (film)


Title Encounter with the Past: American Japanese Internment World War II
Date 1980
Director Tak Shindo
Producer Tak Shindo
Narrator Tak Shindo
Starring Melva Nielson (interviewee); Yukio Tamura; Estelle Ishigo; Toyo Miyatake; Shinobu Mashiko; Tamotsu Tsuchida; Mako
Music Tak Shindo
Editing Jim Schneider
Distributor Eurasia Publications
Runtime 50 minutes

A 1980 documentary film on the history of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans at Manzanar, produced and directed by Tak Shindo, a Nisei musician and composer, best known for his albums from the jazz exotica music era and television soundtrack work. The film is built around color footage of the camp taken by Aksel Nielson, the director of recreation at Manzanar. Narrated by Shindo, the film includes his own experiences at Manzanar, military service, and subsequent musical career. Though he had passed away prior to the making of the film, Nielson's voice can be heard describing scenes of sporting events and gardens at Manzanar, and his wife, Melva Nielson, a music teacher at Manzanar, is interviewed at length on camera. Among those appearing in the film are Military Intelligence Service veteran Yukio Tamura, artist Estelle Ishigo, photographer Toyo Miyatake, nursery owner Shinobu Mashiko, Tamotsu Tsuchida, and actor Mako. With the exception of the Nielsons, Shindo summarizes their comments over the footage of them, so that none of their voices actually are heard in the film. Also included are contemporary scenes of the Manzanar site at that time and of young people revisiting Manzanar, possibly at a pilgrimage.

The film is notable for being one of the earliest documentaries on the Japanese American exclusion and incarceration experience and for the unique and still rarely seen color footage. In addition to the many scenes of both organized and informal recreational activities at Manzanar (including a performance by the Jive Bombers big band), there is also footage of Manzanar Director Ralph Merritt and of the Cow Creek camp, where inmates threatened by camp violence were removed for their own safety in December 1942.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho