World War II Nisei Soldiers’ Story Comes to the Big Screen
Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
In January 1942 —a month after Japan’s attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor — a group of dejected University of Hawai‘i Army ROTC students were sitting under a tree near Dean Hall on the Mänoa campus. Called to duty with the Hawai‘i Territorial Guard in the hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they had stood guard to defend the Islands against a feared Japanese invasion for weeks, only to be expelled because they looked like the enemy.
From his office across University Avenue, YMCA leader Hung Wai Ching, a member of the Territory of Hawai‘i’s Morale Committee, saw the young men and went to them. He tried to convince the confused and bitter young Nisei that even though their government did not trust them to carry guns, they could still serve their country and demonstrate their loyalty in another way — by swinging picks and shovels as members of a labor battalion.
The scene is one of the pivotal moments in a new 90-minute movie, “Go For Broke — A 442 Origins Story,” that will be the closing night film of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, presented by Halekulani, on Nov. 12 at the Hawaii Theatre. Hung Wai Ching is played by actor Michael Ng.
The screening will mark the public premiere of the movie, which was written by Stacey Hayashi, directed by Alexander Bocchieri and produced by Hayashi, Dean Sensui and Anne Misawa.
‘Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro wrote the soundtrack for the film and also has a role in it. He appears as Maui schoolteacher Saburo Maehara, whose father is interned on the Mainland.
A rough cut of the movie was shown at a private screening at the Hawaii Theatre on Oct. 8 for the World War II Nisei veterans, now in their 90s, cast and crewmembers and Island dignitaries. Among those in attendance were Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige, whose father served in A Company, 100th Battalion; Adm. Harry Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command; and retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who has a cameo part in the movie.
Sixteen years in the making, the movie chronicles the period beginning on the eve of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, to the sendoff ceremony on March 28, 1943, in which 2,686 Nisei volunteers of the 442nd Regimental Combat stood in formation in front of ‘Iolani Palace before shipping out a week later for training on the Mainland and the battlefields of Europe. The producers had to rely on special effects and only 120 actors to recreate the iconic palace scene.
The movie covers the 15 months after the Dec. 7 attack, when martial law and a curfew were imposed and the loyalty of Japanese Americans became suspect. It chronicles how Hawai‘i largely escaped the tragedy of mass evacuation and internment of Japanese (although about 2,000 primarily Issei were removed from their homes in Hawai‘i) and how Japanese Americans were given the opportunity to prove their loyalty with the help of people like Hung Wai Ching.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.
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