Farewell to Manzanar (film)

Title Farewell to Manzanar
Date 1976
Genre Drama
Director John Korty
Screenplay Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston; James D. Houston; John Korty
Based On Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
Narrator Greta Chi
Starring Yuki Shimoda (Ko); Nobu McCarthy (Misa and older Jeanne); Clyde Kusatsu (Teddy); James Saito (Richard); Seth Sakai (Joe Takahashi); Mako (Fukimoto); Momo Yashima (Alice); Akemi Kikumura (Chiyoko); Dori Takeshita (young Jeanne); Vernon Kato (Calvin); Pat Morita (Zenihiro); Gretchen Corbett (Lois); Frank Abe (Nishi); Ron Weyland (Holtzman); Mitsu Yashima (granny); Kip Niven (Capt. Curtis); Lou Frizzell (himself)
Music Paul Chihara
Cinematography Hiro Narita
Editing Eric Albertson
Studio Korty Films, Inc.
Runtime 107 minutes
IMDB Farewell to Manzanar

Made-for-television movie about a Japanese American family in Manzanar during World War II. Based on the book of the same name by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar aired nationally on NBC stations on March 11, 1976, and remains one of the few mainstream dramatic films centered on the Japanese American concentration camp experience.


The movie begins in the early 1970s present as the adult Jeanne Wakatsuki arrives at the Manzanar site with her husband and two young children. Her voiceover begins "My name is Jeanne Wakatsuki. This is where I grew up." As the story continues, contemporary Jeanne's narration provides context for the on-screen events of the past. We go back to just prior to the war as the Wakatsukis celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of Jeanne's parents, Ko and Misa, with her four older siblings Teddy, Richard, Alice, and Vernon, Teddy's pregnant wife Chiyoko, Jeanne's grandmother, and some of Ko's white friends. Ko is an apparently prosperous fisherman, and the family lives in a spacious home in Santa Monica, California. But a week later, as the family sees Ko and the two sons out to sea on their fishing boat, they are puzzled when the boats turn around and come back. Shouts of "Pearl Harbor" soon explain the reason. Over the next few days, the family burns family photos and a Japanese flag and see neighbor men arrested. A week later, the FBI comes to arrest Ko, taking him away. Rumor of forced removal become reality, and the Wakatsukis pack their things. When a greedy white man offers to buy Misa's prized dishes for a fraction of their worth, she begins breaking them instead. The family gathers with other Japanese Americans and get on a bus to Manzanar. On the way to the camp, Misa reads a censored letter from Ko who is being held at the Fort Lincoln , North Dakota, detention camp, while Joe Takahashi, a World War I veteran, dressed in his uniform, rails against what is being done to them.

At Manzanar, we get a glimpse of the chaotic early days of the camp: poor food, a lack of privacy, insufficient medical personnel and facilities, and spartan living conditions. Everyone in the family gets sick. When Rich goes to the hospital to seek assistance, a nurse—who says she is a volunteer from the American Friends Service Committee —tells him she will come to see the family, which she does. She and Rich exchange glances. Meanwhile at Ft. Lincoln, Ko is viewed as an inu by other inmates. At his hearing, a young white officer asks him about his sympathies and confronts him with accusations that he provided oil to Japanese submarines; Ko explains that the oil drums contained bait used to catch fish. Back at Manzanar, tensions rise among inmates and within the family. The kids begin eating with friends rather than family, and Teddy and Rich clash with the former's measured approach making the latter more and more angry about his circumstances. At a mass meeting—likely modeled on the Manzanar Citizens Committee—a young Nisei named Frank Nishi who preaches cooperation with the administration is countered by angry speeches from Takahashi and Fukimoto about a series of issues in the camp. Nishi is later beaten up, and Takahashi imprisoned as a result. Fukimoto leads a mass uprising that ends when MPs fire into a crowd of inmates, with two men apparently dying as a result.

Towards the end of the year, Ko is released and arrives at Manzanar a changed man, who acts strangely and begins brewing sake in his room and drinking heavily. Meanwhile the loyalty questionnaire is circulated. Joe comes to see him, urging him to take a stand and recommend "no" answers to questions 27 and 28 , but Ko refuses. Meanwhile, Teddy and Richard talk, and Teddy urges Richard to enlist in the army, telling him and Ko that he intends to. Ko tells him that only a fool would volunteer. At a meeting, Takahashi urges everyone to answer "no-no"; Ko contradicts him telling the crowd that he intends to answer "yes-yes." The two men fight. Meanwhile, Alice sings at a music recital led by the new music teacher, Mr. Frizzell. After the uprising, things quiet down in 1943. Richard and Lois start seeing each other, and he tells her his is also going to enlist. The family see the two off. As life goes on in the camp, the Wakatsukis learn that Richard has been killed in Europe. As the war winds down, more and more people leave camp, with Alice and Lois going off to Michigan. After the birth of a grandson, Ko and Misa seem to grow closer, and Ko dreams of going back to his Hiroshima origins to visit someday. Back in the present, Jeanne and her family visit the ruins of Manzanar and Jeanne recalls her father's last rebellious act at Manzanar: driving the family out in a old car he had somehow acquired. Contemporary Jeanne explains that though her father lived ten more years after the war, that his life really ended at Manzanar and that hers really began there.

Historical Figures and Differences with the Book

Beside the Wakatsukis, several key characters in the film are clearly based on real historical figures. A photographer who sneaks a lens into the camp and subsequently builds a camera and takes pictures surreptitiously is based on Toyo Miyatake . Joe Takahashi is based on Joe Kurihara , Fukimoto on Harry Ueno , and Frank Nishi on Fred Tayama and possibly Koji Ariyoshi and Togo Tanaka .

Though the movie follows the Wakatsukis' concentration camp storyline of the book fairly closely, there are both major and minor changes in the movie. Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of several character and subplots both inside and outside the Wakatsuki family that are seemingly attempts to broaden the storyline beyond that of just the one family. While the book treats the December 1942 riot/uprising and subsequent "loyalty questionnaire" episode briefly and entirely within the context of the family, the movie turns both into a major plot point, introducing characters—Joe Takahashi, Fukimoto, Frank Nishi—who are not in the book. Zenihiro, the photographer, is also not in the book. Jeanne's grandmother dies in Manzanar in the movie; no such death takes place in the book.

Jeanne's movie brother Richard singlehandedly introduces multiple story lines. Whereas Jeanne is the youngest of ten children in the book, the movie truncates her family to five children, with each of the siblings becoming composite characters. The invented Richard starts as an angry young man who sympathizes with the resisters and argues with Woody. The subplot involving his interracial romance is extrapolated from a briefly noted episode in the book involving an unrelated young man, and there is no analogue to Richard's death in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the book.

Another major change is the the excising of the post-camp scenes from the book. While about a quarter of the book deals with the years after Jeanne and her family leave Manzanar, the movie ends with their leaving Manzanar, leaving out the years between then and the 1970s pilgrimage back to the camp.

Film Background

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (1933– ) had been incarcerated with her family at Manzanar when she was seven years old. Spurred by questions from a nephew about her experiences, she collaborated with husband James D. Houston (1932–2009) to write Farewell to Manzanar . Published in 1973 by Bantam as interest in the Japanese American World War II story was on the upswing, it soon became a critical and commercial success. The Houstons approached director John Korty, fresh off the success of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), a made-for-television movie about an African American woman spanning slavery to the Civil Rights Movement that won nine Emmy Awards. The trio collaborated on the screenplay. According to Korty, an NBC executive suggested changing the protagonist to a white schoolteacher, but the trio stood fast on a story in which nearly all the characters are Japanese American. Korty also hired a largely Japanese American crew, including Richard Hashimoto as first assistant director, Hiro Narita as cameraman, and Paul Chihara as composer. Veteran actor Yuki Shimoda landed the lead role as Ko Wakatsuki, Jeanne's father, while Nobu McCarthy played both Misa, Jeanne's mother, and Jeanne herself as an adult. [1]

Farewell was largely filmed at the site of the Tule Lake camp in the summer of 1975. The contemporary scenes were filmed at the Manzanar site, while the riot and hospital scenes were filmed at the Santa Rita Prison grounds outside of Oakland, California. The Wakatsuki house was in Tiburon, California. The Tule Lake site was chosen largely because there were many intact barracks there at the time, in contrast to the Manzanar site. Set designer Robert Kinoshita refashioned duck hunting cottages that had once been the MP complex at Tule Lake into barracks, adding new tarpaper and also built new guard towers. Filming lasted thirty-six days. [2]

For the almost entirely Japanese American cast, the filming was a powerful experience. Shimoda had himself been incarcerated at Tule Lake as a young man. "When I read this script, I felt that the role of Ko was the role I have been preparing for all these years," he told James Houston. "In one way or another, I think we all feel that way." Akemi Kikumura-Yano became close friends with McCarthy on the set and believes that for both the experience of working on the film influenced their future engagement with the Japanese American community. [3] Many Japanese American former inmates journeyed to the set to play extras, further adding to the atmosphere, among them Jimmy Nakamura, who took part in the actual uprising at Manzanar; writer Toshio Mori ; and the youthful editors of the Asian American literary anthology Aiiieeeee! . A highlight for many was the scene in which Ko rejoins the family at Manzanar from a North Dakota internment camp. For the scene, Shimoda purposely did not visit the set beforehand, so that his reaction upon getting off the bus was his genuine reaction to seeing Tule Lake for the first time since his incarceration there. [4]


The response from both the Japanese American community and mainstream critics was mixed. Even as the film was being made, the Manzanar Committee along with other Japanese American organizations raised questions about historical accuracy and criticized Korty for dismissing their concerns. Later, writer and playwright Frank Chin and community activist Raymond Okamura emerged as the most vocal critics of the film. In an open letter to Korty published in Japanese American vernacular newspapers in January 1976, Chin called the film "the most despicable, self-righteous, white racist vision of Japanese American in American film," citing in particular the film's failure to depict the white racism that was behind the forced removal and incarceration and the manner in which Japanese American resistance was portrayed and fictionalized. An extra in the film, Chin asked that his name be removed from the credits and also ended his friendship with the Houstons, writing, "I don't want to be the friend of anyone who willfully destroys their history and culture for a night on NBC prime time." Okamura's more detailed critique praises the emotional impact of the film, writing that the "drama is absorbing, the acting heartrending, and the scenes are near-perfect recreations of the World War II concentration camps for Japanese Americans." But in addition to amplifying Chin's critiques, Okamura also objected to the uniformly sympathetic Caucasian characters, the mainstreaming of the language spoken by Japanese American characters, the "one-sided treatment of the protest demonstration and loyalty oath issue," and the "happy" ending. Okamura concludes that "[b]y distracting from hard issues and obscuring the root causes for the concentration camps, it succeeds in protecting, perpetuating, and promoting white racism." [5]

As part of her response to the criticism, Jeanne Wakatsuku Houston wrote that it "is only the story of one family.... in no way was it intended that the book or the screenplay be representative of all the families interned during those years." Activist Edison Uno , who served as an advisor on the film, defended it, citing the use of Japanese American actors and crew members and reminding critics that the film was not a documentary. While granting some flaws, other Japanese Americans praised the film. In an editorial, the Pacific Citizen called it "stylishly portrayed" and "superbly cast and richly staged"; Karl and Elaine Yoneda wrote that it "brought tears and anger to former concentration camp residents in spite of the errors and omissions"; Sachi Seko wrote that "[o]ne sensed the bleakness of the evacuees and saw it repeated in the creative set reproduction of Manzanar. One could not help but respond to the totality of emotions." [6]

Perhaps influenced by Chin's and Okamura's critiques—reviewers in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times both explicitly mention them and repeat their core points—mainstream reviewers were also mixed, if somewhat more positive in their assessment of the film. Harry F. Walters' review in Newsweek is typical. "'Farewell' does not adequately convey the complex national mood that set the stage for the internment policy," writes Walters. "What has been left out historically, however, in no way undercuts the show's dramatic impact," he continues. "In a spare, austere style, the film movingly captures one Japanese-American generation's shame and humiliation and their children's efforts to atone for crimes they never committed… This is a bleak and harrowing film, but one with an ultimately uplifting message." [7]

Farewell to Manzanar won a "Humanitas" prize for its screenplay, and the National Education Association recommended the film and book for classroom use in 1976. Korty and the Houstons were also nominated for an Emmy Award for the screenplay adaptation.

Historical Accuracy

The film (and book) are generally accurate in their portrayal of the historical events, even if some of those events are unlikely. There are nonetheless many minor issues in the film. Among them:

• (29:40) Jeanne's narration claims that the inmates organized many services in the camp that were actually set up by camp administration, either the Wartime Civil Control Administration (before June 1, 1942) or the War Relocation Authority (after June 1).

• (35:00) In the dramatic scene depicting his interrogation, Ko is questioned by a lone officer. Hearings for internees like Ko actually took place before Alien Enemy Hearing Boards consisting of three civilians, as well as a translator and recorder.

• (49:15) Fukumoto talks of his family being held in a horse stall prior to coming to Manzanar. While some inmates were indeed held in such stalls in " assembly centers " such as Santa Anita or Tanforan , nearly all these in Manzanar had come directly to Manzanar without having gone to such an assembly center.

• (89:20) Jeanne's narration says that her brothers went overseas "immediately" with the 442nd. In actuality, volunteers for the 442nd spent many months training in the U.S. and didn't go overseas until the summer of 1944, in some cases a full year after they were inducted.

• (97:00) Joe comes to visit Ko to try to patch things up between them. As an agitator and "no-no boy," Joe would have long since been sent to Tule Lake and would thus no longer be at Manzanar.

• (100:20) Jeanne's narration claims that one family returning to California "had been hung by a vigilante group." While there were terroristic attacks on returning Japanese Americans, there was no such incident.

Additionally, the depiction of the riot/uprising that took place at Manzanar in 1942 is fictionalized and simplified as noted above.


Twenty-five years after its original showing, Farewell was restored and shown at the Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival in the spring of 2001. That same year, the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program distributed 10,000 copies of the video to California schools as part of a kit that included the book and study guide. It was also adapted into a play for the Cornerstone Theater Company's Literature to Life program by Cynthia Gates Fujikawa in 2006. [8]

Despite continued interest in the film at venues such as the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) and the Manzanar History Association Store, it remained unavailable on either VHS or DVD subsequently. JANM's Maria Kwong investigated, eventually discovering that the reason NBC Universal had not released it on DVD had to do with music rights fees of $140,000 that would likely not be recouped by sales. As a non-profit, JANM was able to negotiate a lower price for music rights and became the exclusive rights holder, subsequently releasing Farewell on DVD in 2011. A screening on October 23, 2011, brought together cast and crew members. Rafu Shimpo columnist George Toshio Johnston wrote that "the years of "FTM" being out of sight have given the movie a patina to the performances and performers it might not otherwise have acquired, especially since so many of the cast have died." Farewell remains available on DVD through JANM. [9]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Stand Up For Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story (2004); Manzanar: Never Again (2008); Rabbit in the Moon (1999)

For More Information

Farewell to Manzanar at JANM Store: https://janmstore.com/products/farewell-to-manzanar-dvd .

Hamamoto, Darrell Y. Monitored Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Houston, James D., with Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. "Another Kind of Western." In One Can Think About Life After the Fish Is in the Canoe and Other Coastal Sketches by James D. Houston. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1985. 46–58.

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

Okamura, Raymond Y. "Farewell to Manzanar: A Case of Subliminal Racism." Amerasia Journal 3.2 (1976): 143–48. Reprinted in Counterpoint: Perspectives on Asian America , edited by Emma Gee. Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California, 1976. 280-83.


Carmody, John. "A 'Shameful Time'", Washington Post , Mar. 11, 1976, D1, D11. ["'Farewell to Manzanar' tells this story without the revisionism that is so fashionable these days. It is sympathetic but not strident."]

Chin, Frank. "'Go for Broke!' vs 'Farewell to Manzanar'", Pacific Citizen , Mar. 26, 1976, 1–2. ["... a white racist fantasy that makes Japanese American acceptable to whites by making a racist stereotype of Japanese American people, history and language."]

Mayer, Phil. "On the Air," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Mar. 18, 1976, C-6. ["… once you begin watching this skillfully done, turbulent made-for-TV film, adapted from a true story, you will see it through."]

O'Conner, John J. New York Times , Mar. 11, 1976. [“'Farewell to Manzanar' is nicely done, perhaps a bit too nicely. The result is absorbing but never quite as moving, as profoundly affecting, as it has every right to be. And, on closer inspection, some aspects of the script are downright puzzling."]

Schickel, Richard. Time , Mar. 15, 1976. ["… never seems forced or schematic. The result is a work that is modest and touching and refreshingly free of melodrama."]

Seko, Sachi. "From Happy Valley." Pacific Citizen , Apr. 16, 1976, 2. ["I wish that the film had included a reason for Manzanar. We were put on buses and trains by the historical and political conditions. American racism has been the poison in the promise."]

Thomas, Kevin. "An American Ethnic Tragedy," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 11, 1976, IV-19. ["It is devastating in its emotional impact but does not go early far enough in its examination of the underlying causes and crucial aspects of one of the least understood and most tragic episodes in American history."]

Variety Mar. 17, 1976. ["Directory Korty provides taut switches from narration to drama and set off meaningful dramatic sparks with his handling of the scenes of strife between political combatants that arose in the camp."]

Waters, Harry F. Newsweek , Mar. 15, 1976, 55. ["In a spare, austere style, the film movingly captures one Japanese-American generation's shame and humiliation and their children's efforts to atone for crimes they never committed… This is a bleak and harrowing film, but one with an ultimately uplifting message."]


  1. Anthony Friedson, "No More Farewells: An Interview with Jeanne and John Houston," Biography 7.1 (Winter 1984), 54–56; Esther Newman, "An Interview with John Korty, Director of 'Farewell to Manzanar,'" Discover Nikkei , Oct. 19, 2011, accessed on Mar. 27, 2017 at http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2011/10/19/john-korty/ .
  2. James D. Houston, with Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, "Another Kind of Western," in One Can Think About Life After the Fish Is in the Canoe and Other Coastal Sketches by James D. Houston (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1985), 55–58; Martha Bridegam and Laurie Shigekuni, "Filming 'Farewell to Manzanar' at Tule Lake: Seeing One Camp in Another, Part 2," Discover Nikkei , May 20, 2015, accessed on Mar. 27, 2017 at http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2015/5/20/farewell-to-manzanar-2/ .
  3. Kikumura-Yano became the president/executive director of the Japanese American National Museum, while McCarthy later became director of East-West Players, an Asian American theater company.
  4. Houston, "Another Kind of Western"; Bridegam and Shigekuni, "Filming, Part 2"; Frank Abe, "Revisiting 'Farewell to Manzanar' and the Revolt Against the JACL," Resisters.com, July 4, 2013, accessed on Mar. 27, 2017 at http://resisters.com/2013/07/04/revisiting-farewell-to-manzanar-and-the-revolt-against-the-jacl/ .
  5. Pacific Citizen , Oct. 31, 1975, 1; Gael Muramoto, "'Farewell to Manzanar' Has Critics, Too," Pacific Citizen , Mar. 12, 1976, 2; Frank Chin, "Letter to John Korty," originally in Japanese American papers Hokubei Mainichi , New York Nichibei and Rafu Shimpo in January 1976, reprinted in Mother Jones , May 1976, 4; Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 227; Raymond Y. Okamura, "Farewell to Manzanar: A Case of Subliminal Racism," Amerasia Journal 3.2 (1976), 143, 146, 147.
  6. Pacific Citizen , Mar. 19, 1976, 2; Yang Murray, Historical Memories , 227–29.
  7. John J. O'Conner, New York Times , Mar. 11, 1976, accessed on Mar. 27, 2017 at http://www.nytimes.com/1976/03/11/archives/tvmanzanar-a-story-of-wartime-internment.html?_r=0 ; Kevin Thomas, "An American Ethnic Tragedy," Los Angeles Times , Mar. 11, 1976, IV-19; Harry F. Waters, Newsweek , Mar. 15, 1976, 55.
  8. Ajay Singh, "The Lessons of History," Los Angeles Times , Nov. 6, 2001, http://articles.latimes.com/2001/nov/06/news/cl-650 ; Martha Bridegam and Laurie Shigekuni, "Filming 'Farewell to Manzanar' at Tule Lake: Seeing One Camp in Another, Part 3," Discover Nikkei, May 21, 2015, http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2015/5/21/farewell-to-manzanar-3/ ; Sigrid Hudson, "The Legacy of 'Farewell to Manzanar,'" Discover Nikkei , July 26, 2010, http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2010/7/26/farewell-to-manzanar/ , all accessed on Mar. 27, 2017.
  9. Esther Newman, "Timeless and Timely," Discover Nikkei , Oct. 7, 2011, http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2011/10/7/farewell-to-manzanar/ ; George Toshio Johnston, "Into the Next Stage: Maria Kwong Solves the Case of the Missing 'Manzanar,'" Rafu Shimpo , Oct. 28, 2011; George Toshio Johnston, "Into the Next Stage: 35 Years Later, Say Hello to 'Manzanar,'" Rafu Shimpo , Nov. 10, 2011; all accessed on Mar. 27, 2017.

Last updated Jan. 9, 2024, 11:12 p.m..