I love film. I especially love independent film and now, working on a grassroots level film festival where although tasks may be divided, everybody ends up doing everything, the excitement about the films become even greater.
Curtis Choy, director and filmmaker, of several independent films is now in Portland. The first Curtis Choy film I saw was about author, playwright and Asian American movement icon, Frank Chin. The title "What's Wrong with Frank Chin" slapped me in the face. Frank is a controversial figure. He used his considerable influence to make or break people. Who he trusted, who he respected and who he didn't was very public and everyone had opinions about it. So a title which just put that out there and the enigma of Frank Chin, I had to see it.
The film festival, the first DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon, started in a small room as part of the Asian Celebration, an all volunteer, pan Asian event going on for decades which draws tens and thousands to Eugene to the Convention Center at the county fairgrounds. I was busy working the pop booth with my students, and couldn't see most of the films, but I couldn't miss this one.
I'm not going to say much about the film because for those of you who are within Frank Chin's huge circle of influence, who cannot help but be touched by his work, irritated by some of his very public slash and vent about other artists, and love him when he walks through the door no matter what, I don't want to ruin it for you. I will say that the film leaves Frank Chin exactly who he is, but just more. I'm buying it for me for the holidays.
Last year, DisOrient was in it's second year in a real theater and not part of the Asian Celebration and now a four day festival with its own identity. I had become an excited fan the first year of the four day festival at a theater and by DisOrient 3, I was part of the organizing committee. That year Choy sent in his film "Watada/Resister." The film was shot split screen, a phone call between Watada at Fort Lewis and from Frank Emi's home in San Gabriel, CA, the outspoken Frank Emi, Yosh Kuromiya, who may have been a conscientous objector and Paul Tsuneishi, who was part of the MIS, Nikkei soldier serving in the Pacific Front.
Like many Nisei, who joined up or were drafted from concentration camps while their families remained behind barbed wire in middle of deserts or swamp areas for the duration of the war, Mr. Tsuneishi is a veteran of a unit which was kept secret from the mainstream until relatively recent times, that Nisei were in combat, served as translators in the Pacific and credited for their role in bringing the war to an end more quickly.
Another unit, the 442nd, a segregated all-Nisei combat force fought with valor through the decisive battles of Europe -- opening up the Gothic Line, rescuing the Texas Battalion losing more lives in their unit than the number of soldiers they rescued from behind enemy lines, and the liberation of the French village. I can't remember the name. It always slips my mind. But our Uncle Sak was there, and returned with other elderly 442nd veterans to that place by the invitation of the French citizens to see the place once again where they lost so many of the young Nikkei buddies, many in the late teens and early twenties.
I just said the film was simply shot, a split screen of a phone conversation between Watada and the Nisei -- a resister, a c.o. and a veteran, but there was nothing simple about what the film accomplished. The importance is that it answered the question WHY. the layers and layers of why Lieutenant Watada, a "sansei" third generation Japanese American risked his career and decide to be the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. Was he just not American enough? Choy's film puts that to rest. Watada's careful study of the war, his deep commitment to his Constitutional duties, his adherence despite all things to Duty, and like most "sansei" his "on" or deep unrepayable debt owed to the generations of ordinary heroes from that touchstone moment for Japanese Americans -- WWII and the camps -- all of this led him to his decision. Like most sansei, Watada respects both 442nd and resister, and there is no contradiction. One must, simply, live by what is right. Our familes know that. Some families were torn apart -- one brother enlisting, knowing that he's joining a sacrificial battalion, the other standing up for his Bill of Rights and refusing to be drafted in. And for this young soldier, Lieutenant Ehren Watada, he had followed one choice after September 11 and that led him to the solitary decision he must make to make a stand for the Constitution, a legacy of the other choice. Learning what he learned, believing what he believed, he had little choice but to refuse leading men into battle which would constitute a war crime, and instead had to lead, by example, a resistence to an unconstitutional war, an attack on another sovereign nation.
Now, the Obama Presidency has even led President GW Bush to his "exit interview" where he admits his biggest regret is the war. He wishes he had "better intelligence." (Wow. A Freudian Double Entendre! I like that.) Better intelligence -- like the information that the rest of the American people and Lieutenant Watada had access to? I couldn't help hearing that pitiful part of the interview without thinking of the tens of thousands of American dead and horribly wounded, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the rubble of their historical world legacies and their country, the hundreds of war resisters whose lives and their family's lives have been ruined and. Of course, I thought about Ehren, his tour of duty over last year, his responsiblity finished and yet who still is at Fort Lewis, waiting to be released. The federal court has ruled that any further trial would be double jeopardy. And yet, he must wait. The end of the Bush regime gives me hope there will be justice of Lieutenant Watada. And having met the young lieutenant, I know that at the forefront of his mind, however, is justice for the families and the non-commissioned soldiers who resisted and whose sacrifice Watada always pushed forward in his speeches as graver than any he has made.
Curtis Choy is submitting "Manilatown is in the Heart" this year. I went on the website and became excited when I saw one of the film's subjects was to be Al Robles, poet and another Asian Pacific American icon from back in the day. I see him every year at Tule Lake. He plays tunes on the piano, reads his poetry at open mic' and lifts the spirit. I am always happy to see him, this cool Filipino guy with a halo of white hair, colorful shirts and a glowing smile like he's remembering something wild -- which he is -- like when a well known monk walked into his house from the street, into his kitchen and cooked him a feast and announced he would be moving in with him and did -- and Al did not know him at all. How did I hear the story? I said, "Hi, Al!" and instead of saying hi back he focused in, and told me this long story, while this older nisei woman standing by me peered up at him suspiciously, and shook her head like he was nuts. But, she didn't go away. She stayed for the whole unfolding story waiting for the point and gave a little growl and shuffled away when he finished . . . and of course, there was no point except the under message that life is full of wild mysteries and ain't that grand! I cannot wait to see Curtis Choy's film and what it reveals, the layers it reveals of Al Robles and others of Manilatown. Check out www.chonkmoonhunter.com. Check it out for holiday shopping and treat yourself to a good film!
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