Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"Day of Independence," a film about an internment camp baseball team, debuted at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival and will show on KHET/PBS Thursday.

Innings in

They called themselves the Desert Carps. That's the name of the internment-camp baseball team in Chris Tashima and Tim Toyama's poignant short film, "Day of Independence." Two jarring images forcibly juxtaposed perfectly describe that cruel wartime experience -- the arid and inhospitable environment combined with the fish that symbolizes the strength and perseverance that imprisoned Japanese-American citizens had to draw upon to survive World War II while incarcerated.

"Day of Independence"

Hawaii TV premiere airs at 8 p.m. Thursday, KHET/PBS

"Day of Independence" debuted at last fall's Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, and will be shown again Thursday evening on PBS Hawaii.

Both Tashima and Toyama will be in Honolulu for special school screenings of their film, participating in question-and-answer sessions with students of Iolani School this afternoon, Aiea High School tomorrow and at Sacred Hearts Academy Thursday.

In a telephone interview last week, both filmmakers spoke from their Cedar Grove Productions office in Los Angeles. They said showing a film featuring main characters of the kids' own age makes the Japanese internment experience relevant to them.

"They've always been one of the film's prime target audiences," Tashima said. "It gets to be an education tool for history teachers who talk about the internment camps. ... More screenings are being lined up in California schools this month, in conjunction with a program to honor those nisei who were pulled out of high school during that time, and to now give them their high school diplomas."

In the subsequent question-and-answer sessions, Tashima said he was pleased that "a lot get the connection of what happened then and the current situation after 9/11, and those (Islamic) Americans that have been imprisoned for the same reasons the Japanese Americans were put away."


IT TOOK the filmmakers six years to scrape together financing for their independent film, but they realize there is more to address concerning the Japanese-American experience during WWII, especially stories of the decorated 442nd Regiment. Tashima and Toyama's visit to Hawaii is twofold. Besides the school visits, they're making plans to starting shooting another short here in the fall: their take on the 442nd.

"We'll be working with the same lead actors/characters from 'Day of Independence,'" Tashima said. "It'll be a dramatic sequel (with the title 'Memorial Day'), as we follow the ball players as they join the Army. ... In fact, we're just finishing up the script and working on a revised draft. So we're going to start finding money to make it and, while we're in Hawaii, look for locations and meet industry and community people, spreading the word and generating support for the film."

Like "Day of Independence," Toyama said that "Memorial Day" "is based on a short play that I wrote ... and once the film project gets started, I will be one of the executive producers, the other being Stacey Hayashi."

"We met her in Hawaii last year," Tashima added. "She's working on her own feature project of the 442, and I told her, 'You help us and we'll help you.' We'll shoot the short first. The two will actually be two different stories, since there's so much on the nisei soldiers."

(Other former local residents who worked on "Day of Independence" were Kauai-born editor Aaron Yamamoto and "Picture Bride" producer Lisa Onodera, who's now on "Charlotte Sometimes" director Eric Byler's new film, "American Knees," shooting in Los Angeles.)

TASHIMA NARRATED as the game's umpire in "Day of Independence," a role he originally didn't envision for himself. "We were planning to use another actor, but couldn't use him when we had, unfortunately, an unplanned hiatus of nine months when one of the original producers backed out. But it gave me more prep time as the director, and then we had the umpire talk directly to the camera as a clever way of helping tell the story."

There's one special insider moment during a montage sequence that included a shot of a camp choir singing "Yashi-No-Mi."

"We shot that in Los Angeles the same day as the final dance scene," Tashima said. "It was open to all available, and Sab Shimono and Tamlyn Tomita, who both starred in the internment drama 'Come See the Paradise,' came in and played choir singers.

"That song was especially important to that era, about missing home. ... It has special meaning to the older nisei, and even the younger Japanese nationals that were on our crew saw the dramatic connection. Playing over the montage was important to show what else happened during camp life, with the dust blowing and all the time having to wait in line."

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