If Tomorrow Comes (film)

Title If Tomorrow Comes
Date 1971
Director George McCowan
Producer Richard Newton
Screenplay Lew Hunter
Starring Patty Duke (Eileen Phillips); Frank Liu (David Tayaneka); Anne Baxter (Miss Cramer); James Whitmore (Frank Phillips); Pat Hingle (Sheriff); Mako (Tadashi); John McLiam (Father Miller); Beulah Quo (Midori); Michael McGreevey (Harlan Phillips); Kay Stewart (Helen Phillips); Bennett Ohta (Hachiro); Bert Remsen (Coslow); Michael Fox (Judge); Frank Hotchkiss (Lieutenant); Ron Stokes (Corporal)
Music Gil Mellé
Cinematography Arch R. Dalzell
Editing Art Seid
Studio Aaron Spelling Productions
Distributor CBS
Runtime 73 minutes
IMDB If Tomorrow Comes

Made for television movie that tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet type romance between a Nisei man and a white woman against the backdrop of World War II. Produced by Aaron Spelling Productions, "If Tomorrow Comes" debuted on CBS on December 7, 1971. It was directed by George McCowan from a teleplay by Lew Hunter and starred former child star Patty Duke opposite newcomer Frank Liu. The movie was originally titled "My Husband, the Enemy," with protests by the Asian American community leading to a name change.

New to a California town, having moved there with her family where her father is the new station master, Eileen Phillips (Duke) strolls around the neighborhood when she stumbles across a Japanese American obon replete with kimono clad revelers. There she meets David Tayaneka (Liu), a Nisei (in a Western suit) honor student, basketball star, and Eagle Scout. Discovering a love of poetry in common, they secretly begin dating and fall in love. They marry on the morning of December 7, 1941, finding out about the attack on Pearl Harbor afterwards. Unable to tell their families, they continue to meet in secret while pondering their future. Eileen's father (James Whitmore) is a bigot who leads a group of rock throwing zealots who attack the Tayaneka home. When Eileen's brother Harlan (Michael McGreevey) finds out about David and Eileen, he fights and accidentally kills David's cousin Tadashi ( Mako ). David chases down Harlan and they fight, with Harlan ending up dead. Meanwhile, David's father (Bennett Ohta) is arrested and sent to an internment camp. David is tried and found not guilty of Harlan's murder. With her father implying that he'd rather she be dead than married to a "Jap," Eileen fakes her own death, intending to run off with David. David finds out about her fake death and kills himself.

Despite a storyline that was highly sympathetic to Japanese Americans, response from Japanese Americans was largely negative with many objecting to the exotic depictions of Japanese culture and the level of melodrama. Referring to the fight to change the film's title, Taxie Kusunoki of the New York Nichibei wrote "My own thought after it was all over was that it was not so much the title that needed changing, but the lines from start to finish." In a letter to the Pacific Citizen , Mrs. Kazu Obayashi wrote that "The bad scenes alone in Japanese costumes made me vomit." In another letter, Irving Paik described it as "... drowned in a sea of 'Oriental' exotica." George Takei, who as National JACL Cultural Chairman had been one of the leaders of the name change campaign, wrote in response to Obayashi, "We do indeed share with you not only disappointment but a deep sense of violation." [1] Less than five years later, another made for TV movie focusing on the Japanese American World War II experience, Farewell to Manzanar , garnered a much more positive (though mixed) response. If Tomorrow Comes has been rarely shown since its original screening.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. All quotes from the Pacific Citizen newspaper, Obayashi's and Kusunoki's from the January 7–14, 1972 issue, page 2; Takei's from January 28, 1972, p. 2, and Paik's from March 10, 1972, p. 2.

Last updated May 14, 2024, 4:56 a.m..