Dramatic films/videos on incarceration

The history of dramatic films that either depict or mention the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans is a relatively brief one, despite its central importance to Japanese Americans and its increasingly well-known place in American history. Briefly noted in several Hollywood films in the years after World War II, the first mainstream movie to have the story at its center didn't appear until Farewell to Manzanar in 1976 and subsequent mentions have remained rare. Many independently produced Japanese American films made since the 1980s have included the incarceration as a central element, but few of them have actually depicted the concentration camps, perhaps for budgetary reasons. Ironically, the most robust depictions of the camps have likely appeared in Japanese-produced television series intended for Japanese audiences.

Spies and Saboteurs

The first film to refer to the forced removal and incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II was the notorious Little Tokyo U.S.A. , made quickly and cheaply in the summer of 1942 and released in August. Made in a quasi-documentary style, the film's plot involves the breaking up of a Los Angeles Little Tokyo spy ring led by Japanese Americans. The movie actively advocates for mass the removal and incarceration and includes actual documentary footage of the roundup and of a deserted Little Tokyo in its aftermath.

Though the only film to specifically refer to the incarceration released during the war, it was just one of many films from those years that portrayed Japanese Americans as spies and saboteurs who are ultimately foiled by heroic white characters. Preceding Little Tokyo, U.S.A. by a few months was the Eastside Kids drama Let's Get Tough , which involved the gang breaking up a Japanese American sabotage ring in New York City. Other early movies of this type included Submarine Rider (released in June 1942), Prisoner of Japan (July 1942), and Across the Pacific (September 1942). Famed director Howard Hawks' Air Force , one of the most popular movies of 1943, depicted Japanese Americans in Hawai'i aiding the attack on Pearl Harbor by blocking roads and damaging planes. Even the Three Stooges got into the act, with their 1944 short The Yoke's on Me including a gang of menacing Japanese Americans who had escaped from a "relocation center."

Though some of these movies also include "good" Japanese American characters, these movies reinforced the army's claims that Japanese American "loyalty" could not be determined, most baldly stated by Western Defense Command head John L. DeWitt 's infamous "a Jap's a Jap" line. No feature films produced during the war advocated for fair treatment of Japanese Americans, leaving such messages to government propaganda documentaries produced by the War Relocation Authority and Office of War Information .

Though some of the movies, including Little Tokyo, U.S.A. used white actors in "yellowface" to portray Japanese Americans, most of them utilized other Asian American actors to play the Japanese or Japanese American parts.

"Positive" Portrayals in the Cold War Era

Hollywood movies played a small role in the dramatic shift in the perception of Japanese Americans in the decade after the war. Several films explicitly referred to the incarceration and other discrimination faced by Japanese Americans in a disapproving manner during the Cold War years, implicitly or explicitly calling for an end to such treatment. The first Hollywood film to include such a reference was Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon (1947), a romantic drama starring Joan Crawford who plays a woman torn between two men. One of her beaus, a married lawyer played by Dana Andrews, takes on an escheat case of a Nisei veteran in California whose farm had been "legally stolen"; his eventual losing of the case (which also results in his being assaulted by hoodlums) sets in motion a chain of events that lead to the movie's climax.

The first three mainstream movies to note the incarceration since the war years appeared in a one-year span in 1951–52. First was Samuel Fuller's 1951 Korean War drama The Steel Helmet , which included a Nisei soldier character who had been in an American concentration camp during the war. Just a few weeks later, MGM released Go For Broke! , which told the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and includes several references to the incarceration by the various Nisei soldiers, most of whom were played by actual 442nd veterans. Finally, the January 1952 release Japanese War Bride includes a Japanese American family who is a neighbor of the title character. Most members of the family had been incarcerated during the war, and the Issei father remained embittered by his treatment; the Nisei son had been caught in Japan during the war and imprisoned for refusing to join the Japanese army.

Phil Carlson's Hell to Eternity (1960), on the exploits of a Mexican American war hero who had been adopted by a Japanese American family, was the first Hollywood film to actually portray the concentration camps on screen. Other notable movies of this period included one of the decade's most critically acclaimed films, John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), whose plot centers on the aftermath of the murder of an Issei in an isolated western town, and Fuller's The Crimson Kimono (1959), a movie that starred James Shigeta as a Los Angeles policeman investigating a murder while pursuing a romantic relationship with a white woman. But despite taking place almost entirely in Little Tokyo, The Crimson Kimono does not mention the wartime incarceration. Through the 1960s, portrayal or even a mention of America's concentration camps in Hollywood movies remained a very rare phenomenon.

Mainstream and Independent Portrayals of Camp in the 1970s and Beyond

Whether due to changing attitudes towards ethnic minorities or to the resurgence of interest by Japanese Americans themselves in the wartime incarceration story in the 1970s, three mainstream productions included that story as part of their plot lines. The most notable was the the made-for-television movie Farewell to Manzanar (1976), an adaptation of the popular book by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston. Directed by John Korty, fresh off an Emmy Award for the African American themed TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), from a script by the Houstons, the movie follows the wartime incarceration story of the Wakatsuki family, with much of the story taking place in Manzanar . [1] While mostly acclaimed by mainstream critics, the movie proved controversial within the Japanese American community. An earlier television movie, If Tomorrow Comes (1971) was broadcast on ABC on the 30th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and centers on the romance between a young Nisei man and white woman in California in the aftermath of the attack, leading up the incarceration. Panned by both mainstream and ethnic media, If Tomorrow Comes has been seldom seen since its initial airing. The epic theatrical drama Midway (1976) included a plot line involving the romance between a navy pilot and a Nisei woman who, with her family, was caught up in the Japanese American removal and incarceration.

In the post redress period of the 1990s, two big budget mainstream Hollywood movies depicted the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans and included it as a central element in their story lines: Come See the Paradise (1990) and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999). The two films share several elements in common: both were made by foreign filmmakers—Englishman Alan Parker wrote and directed the former and Australian Scott Hicks co-wrote and directed the latter; both had white male protagonists involved in an interracial romance with a Nisei woman; both were praised for their faithful and moving depictions of removal and incarceration; and both received mixed mainstream reviews and were relative box office failures. Asian American critics and scholars almost uniformly lamented the need of the filmmakers to insert a white male hero into movies telling a Japanese American story. Two other lower budget mainstream movies I'll Remember April (2000) and The Magic of Ordinary Days (2005)—the latter another made for television movie—also included the incarceration as a key plot element. Perhaps the most widely viewed movie to mention the incarceration was The Karate Kid (1984), an immensely popular film that inspired two sequels. Though just a sidelight, we learn that one of central characters of the series, the karate teacher Mr. Miyagi, memorably played by Pat Morita , was a veteran of the 442nd whose wife died while at Manzanar.

The dawning of the redress era also brought the first films that touch on incarceration made by Japanese American filmmakers. The first was likely Hito Hata: Raise the Banner (1980), produced by the pioneering media arts non-profit Visual Communications, and directed by Robert A. Nakamura and Duane Kubo. In telling the story of an elderly Issei man in flashback, the film includes scenes of the mass exodus out of Little Tokyo in 1942. The availability of grant funds through the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund starting in 1998, state civil liberties funds in California and Washington subsequently, and through the Japanese American Confinement Sites grants starting in 2006 has led to a flood of productions in the late 1990s into the 2000s. Full length movies include Rea Tajiri's Strawberry Fields (1997), a contemporary drama about a young Japanese American's discovery of her family's wartime incarceration; Old Man River (1998), a filmed version of Cynthia Gates Fujikawa's one-woman play about her father that turns on his wartime incarceration; Lane Nishikawa's Only the Brave (2006), a war drama centering on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team's rescue of the " Lost Battalion "; and Desmond Nakano's American Pastime (2007) a drama centered around baseball in the concentration camps. There have also been many dramatic short films set in the concentration camps or that tell some part of the incarceration story.

Somewhat surprisingly, the most elaborate productions that tell some aspect of the incarceration story have been made in Japan for Japanese audiences. The first was Amerika Monogatari (1979), produced by Japan's national TV network NHK. The four part multi-generational saga tells the story of an immigrant family that covers the family's wartime incarceration at Manzanar. Its popularity no doubt influenced NHK's production of an even more elaborate production five years later. Sanga Moyu (1984) stretched out over a full year and included fifty-one forty-five minute episodes. The story focused on the wartime experiences of a Japanese American family in Los Angeles, focusing on the three Nisei sons, two of whom serve in the U.S. Army and one who is stranded in Japan and serves in the Japanese army. Objections by Japanese American organizations about the portrayal of Nisei split loyalties prevented Sanga Moyu from being shown on Japanese language television stations in the continental U.S. in the midst of the Redress Movement , though it was shown locally in Hawai'i. Most recently, the ten-hour drama 99-nen no ai (2010), produced by the TBS network, was yet another epic Japanese American family drama that included digitally enhanced scenes of incarceration at Manzanar.

Several episodes of network television shows have also broached the topic, starting with a pair of episodes of Wonder Woman in 1977 and extending to recent episodes of Hawaii Five-0 (2013) and Teen Wolf (2014). Though undoubtedly well-meaning in that they represent the incarceration as an injustice, most depict wildly inaccurate versions of the wartime incarceration.

List of Films

Films Prior to 1970

Films Released During the War that Depict Japanese Americans as Japanese Spies or Agents

Across the Pacific (1942, Warner Brothers) Directed by John Huston and Vincent Sherman. Humphrey Bogart plays a American mercenary who ends up foiling a plot by a spy ring to blow up the Panama Canal. One of the conspirators is a Nisei, "Joe Totsuiko," played by Victor Sen Yung.

Air Force (1943, Warner Brothers) Directed by Howard Hawks. In a story that takes place during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans in Hawai'i are depicted as saboteurs who block roads and damage planes. Though these scenes were edited out of prints screening in Hawai'i, they were left in prints shown in the continental U.S.

Betrayal from the East (1945, RKO) Directed by William A. Berke. About an ex-GI who busts up a Japanese spy ring in U.S. that is populated with Japanese Americans, one of whom (played by Richard Loo) was a yell leader at Stanford.

G-Men vs. The Black Dragon / Black Dragon of Manzanar (1943/1966, Republic Pictures) Directed by William Witney. G-Men vs. The Black Dragon was a fifteen part movie serial about allied intelligence agents joining forces to bring down a Japanese espionage ring in the U.S. The serial was recut into a single 100 minute film for TV broadcast in the 1960s under the title Black Dragon of Manzanar .

Let's Get Tough (1942, Monogram) Directed by Wallace Fox. The ninth film of the East Side Kids series has the New York based gang of teenage good-hearted toughs discover and break up a Japanese spy ring led by an Issei shop keeper and his Nisei son (played by Philip Ahn).

Prisoner of Japan (1942, Atlantis Pictures) Directed by Arthur Ripley. Story centers on a group of Americans trapped on a South Pacific island controlled by a Japanese spy. One of the characters, Loti Bowman (Corinna Mura), is a mixed-race Japanese American entertainer who is initially an ally of the spy, though she later switches allegiances.

Samurai (1945, Cavalcade Pictures) Directed by Raymond Cannon. Documentary-style film on the exploits of Japanese American "samurai" Ken Morrey (Paul Fung), a medical doctor and artist who attempts to organize Japanese Americans in California to aid in a Japanese invasion. Born in Japan, Morrey is orphaned in the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and raised in San Francisco by adoptive white missionary parents, before being secretly indoctrinated as a "samurai" by a local Shinto priest.

Submarine Raider (1942, Columbia) Directed by Lew Landers. Story set on December 6 and 7, 1941, focuses on a Japanese battleship and an American submarine caught up in the events. Portrays Japanese Americans in Hawai'i signaling ships offshore the night prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Films that Reference Japanese American Incarceration

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, MGM) Directed by John Sturges. Popular and acclaimed film centering on the mysterious hostility of an isolated desert town towards a stranger looking for a former Japanese American resident of the town. Despite its condemnation of the discrimination faced by Japanese Americans, no Japanese Americans appear in the film, since the two core Japanese American characters are both dead by the time the events depicted in the film take place. One of the townsmen tells the stranger that the Japanese American had been sent to a "relocation center" after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Go for Broke! (1951, MGM) Directed by Robert Pirosh. Follows the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from basic training to the Rescue of the Lost Battalion through the eyes of Lieutenant Grayson (Van Johnson), their initially bigoted commanding officer. Includes several references to the incarceration throughout the movie, including Sam (Lane Nakano) receiving letters from family members in one of the Arizona camps.

Hell to Eternity (1960, Allied Artists) Directed by Phil Karlson. The story of World War II hero Guy Gabaldon, who was adopted by a Japanese American family prior to the war. The movie includes scenes of his family at Manzanar, the first time any of the camps had been depicted in a dramatic film.

Japanese War Bride (1952, Twentieth Century-Fox) Directed by King Vidor. About the title character (Shirley Yamaguchi) and her white Korean War veteran husband (Don Taylor) upon their return to his hometown of Salinas, California. A Nisei neighbor who befriends her (Lane Nakano) tells her about the wartime incarceration of his family.

Little Tokyo U.S.A. (1942, Twentieth Century-Fox) Directed by Otto Brower. On a Japanese American spy ring based in Los Angeles that is brought down by the efforts of a heroic police detective. The only film to actively call for the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans, Little Tokyo, U.S.A. incorporates actual documentary footage of Japanese Americans being removed from Little Tokyo into its finale.

Moving Day (1965, UCLA student film) Directed by Phyllis Tanaka. Student short film that is likely the first film by a Japanese American to dramatize the wartime incarceration.

The Steel Helmet (1951, Lippert Pictures) Directed by Samuel Fuller. Korean War drama about a ragtag group of soldiers brought together by chance, one of whom is Sergeant Tanaka, a Nisei veteran of World War II played by Richard Loo. When they capture a North Korean POW, the POW tries to embitter Tanaka by engaging him in a conversation about his and his family's WWII incarceration.

The Yoke's on Me (1944) Directed by Jules White. Three Stooges short that has the stooges operating a farm to support the war effort. At the farm, they are accosted by a group of escaped "Japs" from a nearby "relocation center." Played by uncredited Asian American actors, the six escapees are all young men who wear prison-style jumpsuits.

"Positive" or Mixed Portrayals of Japanese Americans

Ambush Bay (1966): WWII drama centering on a group of Marine scouts dispatched to the Philippines to connect with a intelligence agent who has information crucial to the planned invasion of the Philippines. The agent, Miyazaki (Tisa Chang), is a Nisei from Long Beach, California.

The Clay Pigeon (1949, RKO) Directed by Richard Fleisher. Film noir about a World War II veteran and former POW in Japan who awakens from a coma to find himself accused of murder. In his effort to clear his name, he uncovers a counterfeiting scheme run by another former POW and a vicious former Japanese guard at their prison, Ken Tokoyama (Richard Loo), whom he first spots at a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. Though based loosely on the real-life Kawakita case, Tokoyama is not explicitly identified as Nisei. The movie also includes a "good" Nisei character, Helen Minato (Marya Marco), the widow of a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran.

The Crimson Kimono (1959, Columbia) Directed by Samuel Fuller. Murder mystery set in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo during the annual Nisei Week festival. Two Los Angeles Police Department detectives and best friends, one a Nisei played by James Shigeta, are assigned to the case, and both fall for a white female artist who was an associate of the victim. The rare movie with an Asian American male romantic lead in an interracial romance, The Crimson Kimono also includes many scenes of daily life in Little Tokyo, but no mention of the wartime incarceration.

Daisy Kenyon (1947, Twentieth Century-Fox) Directed by Otto Preminger. A New York based drama focusing on the romantic life of the title character, played by Joan Crawford. One of her beaus, a lawyer played by Dana Andrews, takes on a case representing a Nisei veteran in a California escheat case, in part because he thinks it will impress her.

No Down Payment (1957, Twentieth Century-Fox) Directed by Martin Ritt. Melodrama about the problems facing four young couples who move to a new housing development in a Los Angeles area suburb in the early postwar years. A subplot involves the efforts of a Nisei veteran named Iko (Aki Aleong) to move with his family into the development and the moral dilemma this causes for one of the couples.

Tokyo Rose (1946, Paramount) Directed by Lew Landers. On an American POW's quest to capture the mythical Japanese broadcaster, who is portrayed by Nisei actress Lotus Long (aka Pearl Suetomi). One of the characters who helps to capture "Tokyo Rose" is a Nisei played by Keye Luke.

Films from the 1970s to the Present

Mainstream Studio or Television Productions

Come See the Paradise (1990) Directed by Alan Parker. Centers on a love story of Irish American labor organizer Jack McGurn (Dennis Quaid) and Nisei Lily Kawamura (Tamlyn Tomita) spanning the years 1936 to 1948. Much of it takes place in Manzanar, where the impact of the incarceration on the Kawamura family is depicted.

Farewell to Manzanar (1976, NBC) Directed by John Korty. Landmark made-for-television movie that was the first dramatic film primarily set in the concentration camps. Based on the acclaimed memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, who also wrote the screenplay, the story is based on young Jeanne's memories of her childhood years at Manzanar.

If Tomorrow Comes (1971, CBS) Directed by George McCowan. Aaron Spelling-produced made-for-television movie about a romance between a Nisei man (Frank Liu) and a white woman (Patty Duke) in a small California town that is disrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Though the story takes place before the mass removal of Japanese Americans, the characters are shown preparing for their expulsion, and the movie includes a scene that depicts one of the enemy alien internment camps.

I'll Remember April (2000) Directed by Bob Clark. Four tween boys discover a wounded Japanese sailor hiding at their play fort at an abandoned mill in April of 1942. The boys' decision about what to do about their discovery takes place as one of boys and his family prepare for their forced removal as Japanese Americans.

The Karate Kid (1984) Directed by John G. Avildsen. Enormously popular movie about Daniel LaRusso, a bullied teenager who learns karate from Nisei handyman Kesuke Miyagi, played by Pat Morita. Through documents discovered at Miyagi's home, Daniel learns that he received the Medal of Honor as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team while his pregnant wife died while incarcerated at Manzanar. The movie inspired three sequels—all of which starred Morita and which flesh out Miyagi's life history—as well as a 2010 remake (which transformed the Miyagi character into a Chinese American).

Little Boy (2015) Directed by Alejandro Monteverde. Wartime drama about a seven-year-old boy in a California town whose father is an American soldier in the Pacific. Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), an Issei just returned from a concentration camp, befriends the boy and his family.

The Magic of Ordinary Days (2005) Directed by Brent Shields. Made for television movie about an urban college educated woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock and whose father arranges for her marriage to a farmer in Colorado. While adjusting to her new life, she befriends two Nisei women farmworkers on leave from one of the concentration camps.

Midway (1976) Directed by Jack Smight. Dramatization of the key battle and turning point of the Pacific War includes a subplot involving the Nisei girlfriend (played by Christina Kokubo) of a naval aviator and her and her family's wartime exclusion and incarceration.

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) Directed by Scott Hicks. Movie version of David Guterson's bestselling novel stars Ethan Hawke as Ishmael Chambers, a newspaper publisher covering the 1950 trial of Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), a Nisei fisherman and war hero accused of killing a childhood friend over a land dispute dating back to the wartime incarceration. Chambers' thoughts are complicated by the fact that the wife of the defendant, Hatsue Miyamoto (Youki Kudoh), was his childhood sweetheart.

Independent Productions

American Fish (1995) Directed by Jesse Wine. Short film about an encounter between two Nisei women who meet at a store and can't remember how they know each other. Each recalls memories of the concentration camps in trying to figure out where they had met. 10 minutes.

American Pastime (2007) Directed by Desmond Nakano. On a Japanese American family, the Nomuras, at Topaz , where the Issei patriarch forms a baseball league in the camp. 105 minutes.

The Chessmen (2005) Directed by Ken Kokka. On a Japanese American nursery in the resettlement era. Based on a short story by Toshio Mori. 18 minutes.

Conversations: Before the War/After the War (1986) Directed by Robert A. Nakamura. Three characters discuss their World War II incarceration and its impact over the course of the their lives. 29 minutes.

A Crossroad Called Manzanar (2010) Directed by Cindy Fang. On two little girls, one Chinese American and one Japanese American, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the lead up to mass removal and incarceration. 13 minutes.

Day of Independence (2003) Directed by Chris Tashima. On the changes the incarceration brings to a Japanese American family, told through the eyes of baseball playing young man. 26 minutes.

Eagle Against the Sun (1993) Directed by John Akahoshi. Focuses on a 17-year-old Nisei girl whose typical American teenage life is dramatically disrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. 27 minutes.

Forgotten Valor (2001) Directed by Lane Nishikawa. On an elderly Nisei veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who remembers his fallen friends when he learns that the U.S. government will be honoring additional Japanese American soldiers with the Medal of Honor. 43 minutes.

Go For Broke: An Origin Story (2017) Directed by Alexander Bocchieri. Feature length film that follows a group of Nisei young men in wartime Hawai'i from the Varsity Victory Volunteers to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. 104 minutes.

Half Kenneth (2008) Directed by Ken Ochiai. Short film centering on two pre-teen mixed-race brothers in (and out) of Manzanar. 21 minutes.

Heroes . Directed by Tim Rooney, 2007. Filmed performance of storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung telling the story of two Japanese American brother from Hawai'i who join the 100th Infantry Battalion /442nd Regimental Combat Team. 30 minutes.

Hito Hata: Raise the Banner (1980) Directed by Robert A. Nakamura and Duane Kubo. When an old Issei man (played by Mako ) is threatened with eviction from his Little Tokyo apartment due the redevelopment of the area, he tells his life story in flashback to a young Sansei who eventually joins the fight to prevent the evictions. Among the flashback scenes is one of the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Little Tokyo in 1942. 90 minutes.

Jap (2018) Directed by Derek Pike. On two inmates who try to escape their confinement at Gila River. 11 minutes.

The Nisei Farmer (2003) Directed by Dean Yamada. A Nisei man reflects on his lost youth in a concentration camp after receiving his redress check. 12 minutes.

The Oak Tree & Onigiri (2017) Directed by Masanori Baba. 15 minutes.

Okage Sama De (I Am What I Am Because of You) (2008) Produced by Alton Chung, 2008. Filmed performances of storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung telling five stories connected to the Japanese American experience during World War II. 103 minutes.

Old Man River (1998) Directed by Allan Holzman. Filmed performance of Cynthia Gates Fujikawa's one-woman play of the same name. The storyline involves Fujikawa's unraveling of a mystery in the life of her late father, the actor Jerry Fujikawa, whose answers inevitably go back to his wartime incarceration. 74 minutes.

One of Many (2006) Directed by Bryan Yokomi. The distribution of the " loyalty questionnaire " in one of the Arkansas camps causes a young Nisei man to ponder his future in America and with his fiancee. 19 minutes.

Only the Brave (2006) Directed by Lane Nishikawa. Tells the story of the rescue of the "Lost Battalion" in flashback through the eyes of Jimmy Takata (Lane Nishikawa), survivor of the battle who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the war. Jimmy's father was a Buddhist priest who was interned after the attack on Pearl Harbor and died in an internment camp. 98 minutes.

A Song for Manzanar (2015) Directed by Phil Emerson & Kazuko Golden. Family drama centering on a young mother in Manzanar and her sister, who lives in Hiroshima. 18 minutes.

Stand Up For Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story (2004) Directed by John Esaki. Dramatizes the true story of Ralph Lazo , a Mexican American teenager who voluntarily joined his Japanese American friends at Manzanar as a show of support. 33 minutes.

Strawberry Fields (1997) Directed by Rea Tajiri. Centers on a rebellious 16 year old Sansei girl in 1970s Chicago who takes a road trip with her boyfriend that includes a visit to Poston , where her family had been incarcerated during the war. 90 minutes.

Tadaima (2015) Directed by Robin Takao D'Oench. On a family's return home after being released from a concentration camp. 15 minutes.

Tsuru (2014) Directed by Chris K.T. Bright. About an Issei couple who try to evade the mass roundup with the aid of a white nurse. 22 minutes.

Tule Lake (2012) Written and directed by Michelle Ikemoto. Animated short about a young mother at post segregation Tule Lake . 7 minutes.

When We Were Warriors, Part I (1999) Directed by Lane Nishikawa. On the lifetime friendship between a Nisei soldier and a Jewish man he rescued from a Nazi death camp during World War II. Adapted from the play The Gate of Heaven , written by Nishikawa and Victor Talmadge, who also play the lead roles in the film. 33 minutes.

The Wash (1988) Directed by Michael Toshiyuki Uno. Movie adaptation of the play of the same name by Philip Kan Gotanda, about the breakup of two Nisei in their sixties after over forty years of marriage. Despite the breakup, the wife continues to do her former husband's laundry. The characters refer to the concentration camps, with the suggestion that their experience in camp has shaped their postwar lives and personalities. 94 minutes.

Worlds Apart (2004) Directed by Jesse Kobayashi. A Nisei son clashes with his Issei father over the decision to enlist in the army despite the fame's incarceration an an American concentration camp.

Yamashita (2013) Directed by Haley Foster. Animated student film about a young girl's experience in Manzanar with her parents and grandfather. 10 minutes.

Episodes of Television Shows

Cold Case , Season 5, Episode 11, "Family 8108." First aired on December 9, 2007. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc. The team investigates the killing of Ray Takahashi, a Nisei who had resettled with his family from Manzanar, in 1945. Each of the suspects recalls the war years through flashback scenes set at Manzanar or in resettlement era Philadelphia.

The Gallant Men , Season 1, Episode 22, One Puka Puka. First aired on March 2, 1963. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Episode of the World War II drama focuses on the exploits of the 100th Infantry Battalion, with guest stars Poncie Ponce, George Takei, and Mako.

Hawaii Five-0 , Season 4, Episode 10, " Ho'onani Mauakane ." First aired on December 13, 2013. Directed by Larry Teng. The attempted shooting of an elderly veteran by a local Japanese Americans reveals the existence of a seventy year old unsolved murder that took place in the Honouliuli internment camp. Flashback scenes portray the internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai'i and life at Honouliuli in a manner that conflates that story with the roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

Lou Grant , Season 5, Episode 15, "Recovery." First aired on March 8, 1982. Directed by Roger Young. In researching a story on those who profited from the forced removal of Japanese Americans in 1942, Rossi finds that the late husband of Mrs. Pynchon, the newspaper's publisher, was one of them.

Magnum P.I. , Season 3, Episode 17, " Forty Years from Sand Island ." First aired on February 24, 1983. Directed by Mike Vejar. A murder of an inmate at Sand Island by two guards in January 1942 comes to the surface when Higgins begins doing research on Japanese Americans in Hawai'i during World War II for new book by Masters. Though none of the former internees want to talk about the war years, Magnum suspects that one of the men—Dr. Enoka (James Shigeta), who is now running for senate—tried to kill Higgins in order to keep something from the past a secret.

7th Heaven , Season 4, Episode 9, "Dirty Laundry." first aired on November 22, 1999. A Nisei parishioner, Sachiko Ishida (Takayo Fisher) donates her $20,000 redress check to the church, in part to try to escape from a past she has never come to terms with. Parallels are drawn between the shunning of Japanese Americans during the war and school situations faced by several of the Camden children.

Teen Wolf , Season 3, Episode 21, "The Fox and the Wolf." First aired on March 3, 2014. Directed by Tim Andrew. The apparent possession of a high school student by a Japanese fox spirit leads to a flashback to a secret World War II concentration camp for Japanese Americans named "Oak Creek." Scenes set at the camp reveal that inmates there were slaughtered by guards after a riot.

The Terror: Infamy . First aired on August 12 to October 14, 2019. Co-created by Alexander Woo and Max Borenstein. The ten episode second season of the AMC's The Terror follows a Japanese American family from Terminal Island into a fictional concentration camp where, in addition to the usual travails, they encounter supernatural evil forces.

Wonder Woman , Season 1, Episode 11, "Judgement from Outer Space: Part 2." First aired on January 17, 1977. Directed by Alan Crosland. An observer from the Council of Planets sent down to assess the state of humankind, investigating both Allies and Nazis. In making the case for the former, Wonder Woman tells him that unlike the Nazis, "Americans don't make arbitrary arrests or use concentration camps." He replies, "I think you better explain that to the Americans of Japanese descent."

Wonder Woman , Season 2, Episode 3, "The Man Who Could Move the World." First aired on September 30, 1977. Directed by Bob Kelljan. Ishida ( Yuki Shimoda ), a Japanese American who has been working with a scientist to develop his power to move objects with his mind, blames Wonder Woman for killing his brother as they escaped from the "Los Alamos Relocation Center" as children during World War II. Seeking revenge with his newfound powers, he lures her back to the ruins of the camp for a showdown.

Japanese Productions

Amerika Monogatari (1979), NHK. Multi-generational saga of a brother and sister who immigrate to the U.S. from Yamaguchi Prefecture that covers the family's wartime incarceration at Manzanar. The series consisted of four eighty minute episodes and debuted on NHK on October 16, 1979.

Hyakunen no monogatari (2000, TBS) Directed by Yasuo Inoshita, Kanji Takenoshita, and Nobuhiro Doi. Three part Japanese drama that follows the fortunes of four generations women in a Japanese family spanning the 20th century. The second segment, set in the World War II occupation period, includes two Japanese American characters who had been in the American concentration camps, including a Nisei soldier serving the American occupation army. Three 90 minute episodes.

99-nen no ai (2010, TBS) Directed by Katsuo Fukuzawa. Sprawling saga of a Japanese American family in the U.S. over the course of a century that was aired on five consecutive nights in November 2010. The World War II period includes a depiction of life at Manzanar, the military service of a Nisei son, and other Nisei who end up stranded in Japan. Five approximately two hour episodes.

Sanga Moyu (1984, NHK) Directed by Yūji Murakami. Year-long Japanese television drama about the wartime travails of Japanese American family in Los Angeles, based on the novel Futatsu no sokoku by Toyoko Yamazaki. Incarcerated in Manzanar, two of the Nisei sons serve in the U.S. Army, while a third, who is stranded in Japan, is drafted into the Japanese army. Fifty-one 45 minute episodes.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

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

Creef, Elena Tajima. Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body . New York: New York University Press, 2004.

Gevinson, Alan, ed. American Film Institute Catalog: Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911–1960 . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Robinson, Greg. "Parallel Wars: Japanese American and Japanese Canadian Internment Films." DiscoverNikkei , Jan. 26, 2010 .

Wang, Xiaofei. "Constructing Japaneseness: War, Race, and American Cinema, 1924–1992." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 2009.


  1. Perhaps influenced by the popularity of Farewell to Manzanar , the vast majority of subsequent dramatic films that depict Japanese American wartime incarceration take place in Manzanar.

Last updated Dec. 21, 2023, 11:59 p.m..