Dean Yamada explores the haunting ghosts of the Nisei in an Academy worthy 12-minute short.
By Kenneth Quan
In 1988, under the Reagan administration, the United States government accepted full responsibility for the sins it committed against the Japanese-American community during World War II. The government issued an apology and a redress in the sum of $20,000 to any persons interned in any of the many camps that dotted the desolate Mid-West deserts.
In Dean Yamada's short thesis film, "The Nisei Farmer," the impact and memories the redress dredged up in the victims of that injustice is explored through Hank (Steven Kondo), a Japanese-American farmer in Northern California. Through flashbacks, we see a young Hank and his family suffer betrayal and humiliation at the hands of the US government during their internment; in particular we see Hank's embittered and angry father becoming abusive towards his family. With the memory of his youth rushing back, Hank must make a decision as to whether he will take the $20,000; he believes that the redress money is an insult and diminishes the memory of the crime. With his wife (Jude Narita) in support of accepting the money, Hank must come to terms with the demons from his past and move on into the present.
In one of his first directing efforts, Yamada does a good job of condensing an emotionally complex story into 12 minutes; the audience is able to relate to Hank's dilemma. However, the film may have been better served with a more affecting performance in the lead role. While capable, Kondo seemed a bit stiff and sometimes unsure of his decisions on screen. However, Narita, in the role of the wife, adds the necessary emotional poignancy that allows the audience to empathize with the characters.
On a technical level, the film opens with a beautiful shot of Northern California with the rising sun peeking above the horizon, giving everything its rays touches a soft golden hue. The flashbacks worked especially well as the blue tones evoked the ominous emotional tone of the scenes. Nonetheless, the camera work by cinematographer Cliff Hsui seemed unusually grainy, leaving us to wonder whether the effect was intended. The music (by Dana Niu) with its synthesized ethereal notes, at first would seem a bit misplaced but was surprisingly evocative and effective.
"The Nisei Farmer" is currently being shown at festivals throughout the country. To find out more information about the film, please visit its website at: www.theniseifarmer.com.