Conscience and the Constitution (film)

Title Conscience and the Constitution
Date 2000
Genre Documentary
Director Frank Abe
Producer Frank Abe; Shannon Gee
Writer Frank Abe
Narrator Lawson Fusao Inada
Starring Mits Koshiyama (interviewee); Frank Emi (interviewee); Yosh Kuromiya (interviewee); Bill Hosokawa (interviewee); Michi Nishiura Weglyn (interviewee); Gloria Kubota (interviewee); Dave Kawamoto (interviewee); Grace Kubota Ybarra (interviewee); Jim Akutsu (interviewee); Roger Daniels (interviewee); Art Hansen (interviewee); Art Emi (interviewee); Clifford Uyeda (interviewee); Ben Kuroki (interviewee); James Omura (interviewee); Paul Tsuneishi (interviewee); Tak Hoshizaki (interviewee); Andy Noguchi (interviewee); George Takei (voice); Mako (voice); Stephen Sumida (voice); Jim French (voice)
Music Alan Koshiyama
Cinematography Phil Sturholm
Editing Lillian Benson, A.C.E.
Studio Independent Television Service
Distributor Productions
Runtime 57 minutes
Budget $275,000
IMDB Conscience and the Constitution

Influential documentary film that tells the story of the draft resistance movement at Heart Mountain . Journalist Frank Abe produced, directed, and wrote the hour-long film, which was released in 2000.


Made in a conventional documentary style. Conscience and the Constitution tells the story more or less chronologically, starting with the mass forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, the strategy of cooperation promoted by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and their advocacy of military service as a way for Nisei to demonstrate their "loyalty," the " loyalty questionnaire " and its aftermath, and the rise of the organized draft resistance at Heart Mountain in the form of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee (FPC) once the draft is reinstituted for Nisei in 1944. Featuring interviews with leaders of the FPC and Heart Mountain resisters, we follow the two trials—the first for 63 draft resisters, the second for six leaders of the FPC and journalist James Omura —and their aftermath, including the steep price the resisters paid in the postwar years. The film ends by noting the turn in public opinion about the resisters over time, with even the JACL passing a resolution of apology to them in 2000.

In addition to resisters and their family members, others interviewed include JACL leaders Bill Hosokawa and Clifford Uyeda , journalist Omura, and historians Roger Daniels, Art Hansen, and Michi Nishiura Weglyn . The interviews are augmented by historical footage, including color film of Heart Mountain by Eiichi Edward Sakauye. Actors George Takei, Mako , Stephen Sumida, and Jim French read key documents in support of the narration by poet Lawson Fusao Inada .

Background and Impact

Filmmaker Frank Abe grew up in Cleveland and Northern California and moved to Seattle at age 25 in 1976. A graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz in theater directing, was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco and worked as a actor including a key role in the film adaptation of Farewell to Manzanar . In Seattle, he helped organize the first Day of Remembrance . Abe worked for fourteen years as a news reporter for KIRO Newsradio in Seattle and subsequently as director of communications for two King County executives and for the Metropolitan King County Council. [1]

As a child of the 1960s, Abe had long been interested in Japanese American resistance to their forced removal and incarceration, searching in vain for such stories. In the 1980s, he met Frank Emi and James Omura through playwright Frank Chin and began work with Chin on the documentary a decade later. Starting with a $2,000 bequest from Michi and Walter Weglyn, he, Chin, and videographer Phil Sturholm began interviewing resisters in Los Angeles. The project received a $100,000 grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund , the largest grant awarded to an individual; further funds from the Independent Television Service/Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Motoda Foundation, Anheuser-Busch Companies, and Brooks and Sumi Iwakiri helped complete the film. Subsequent grants from the California and Washington state Civil Liberties Public Education Programs funded educational programs and the project website,, which was launched in 1999. [2]

Conscience and the Constitution was completed in the spring of 2000 and had its world premiere on May 23, 2000, in Los Angeles as part of the VC FilmFest 2000. Numerous subsequent screenings took place through 2000 and 2001 including screenings in Singapore and Japan. It received a national PBS broadcast on November 30, 2000, with home video sales beginning after that. Among the many awards it received were national awards from the Asian America Journalists Association and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2001. In 2011, Abe released a two-disc DVD collector's edition that included two hours of bonus footage, with extended interview footage (including an archival 1988 radio interview with Masaoka) and a short update featurette on the JACL apology to the resisters. [3]

Often grouped with Emiko Omori's Rabbit in the Moon (1999), which also highlighted resistance in the concentration camps, Conscience and the Constitution has been praised for how it "... superbly challenge[s] a grand narrative about Japanese American history since the attack on Pearl Harbor" as historian Naoko Shibusawa wrote in The Journal of American History . In The Oral History Review , Troy Reeves wrote that the film "should serve as a launching point for scholars or any interested parties to revisit this period and challenge the 'master narrative.'" Writing in the Rafu Shimpo , George Johnston wrote that "Abe put much time and effort into it and even if you don't like the stance the resisters took, it's worth it to watch." However, Shibusawa adds that both Omori and Abe "exaggerate JACL's influence on the federal government and its coercive power over the Japanese Americans" and that Abe's "casting JACL leaders as... misguided, arrogant youth... oversimplifies the specific context under which they operated." [4]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Rabbit in the Moon (1999); The Color of Honor: The Japanese American Soldier in WWII (1987); From a Silk Cocoon (2005)


Banks, Taunya Lovell. "Outsider Citizens: Film Narratives About the Internment of Japanese Americans." Suffolk University Law Review 42 (2009): 769–94.

Nakagawa, Martha. "Conscience' DVD Set Full of Valuable Material," Rafu Shimpo , Sept. 22, 2011.

Reeves, Troy. The Oral History Review 29.1 (2002): 117–19.

Shibusawa, Naoko. The Journal of American History 88.3 (Dec. 2001): 1209–11.


  1. Andrew Hamlin, "Filmmaker Frank Abe Ensure Resisters Are Never Forgotten," Northwest Asian Weekly , Mar. 10–16, 2012, accessed on June 16, 2017 at ; Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 41–42; Koji Seven, "8 Questions with Frank Abe of Conscience and the Constitution," 8Asians blog, Oct. 20, 2011, accessed on June 16, 2017 at .
  2. Seven, "8 Questions"; Hamlin, "Filmmaker Frank Abe"; "News Updates in 1999," accessed on June 16, 2017 at ; "News Updates in 2001," accessed on June 16, 2017 at . The $100,000 grant from the CLPEF proved to be controversial, as it contributed to the perception by some that the organization harbored an anti-JACL bias. See Alexandra L. Wood, "After Apology: Public Education as Redress for Japanese American and Japanese Canadian Confinement" (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 2013), 182–83.
  3. "News Updates in 2000," accessed on June 16, 2017 at ; "News Updates in 2001"; Nakagawa, Martha, "'Conscience' DVD Set Full of Valuable Material," Rafu Shimpo , Sept. 22, 2011, accessed on June 16, 2017.
  4. Naoko Shibusawa, Review of Rabbit in the Moon and Conscience and the Constitution , The Journal of American History 88.3 (Dec. 2001), 1210–11; Troy Reeves, The Oral History Review 29.1 (2002), 119; George T. Johnston, "Into the Next Stage: Conscience Also Tells a Worthy Story", Rafu Shimpo , June 8, 2000, accessed on June 16, 2017.

Last updated Dec. 18, 2023, 6:55 p.m..