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Movie Review : Restoring A Heritage In 'Unfinished Business'

January 26, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

There have been other films dealing with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but none so powerful and comprehensive as Steven Okazaki's "Unfinished Business," which screens today only at 3 and 7 p.m. at the Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St.

The premiere of this one-hour documentary marks the 43rd anniversary of the signing of Executive Order No. 9066, which effectively stripped all American citizens of Japanese ancestry of their rights and property in the Western states.

Through the lives of three men who resisted internment to test its legality, Okazaki evokes the plight of all those sent to the camps, euphemistically called "relocation centers."

He does so by deftly incorporating interviews (with many others besides his three principals, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui) with extraordinary archival footage, showing not only the rounding up of Japanese-Americans and their bleak existence in the camps but even, in one unforgettable instance, a government spokesman gingerly defending this action in a prepared speech.

Yasui, the eldest of the three resisters, was an attorney--and, ironically, already in the U.S. Army Reserves--determined to test the order's constitutionality. Gordon Hirabayashi, today a sociology professor in Canada, was a university student who felt that his only choice was civil disobedience. Fred Korematsu, who was engaged to a Caucasian, simply wanted to continue his life as an Oakland shipyard worker. Their stories are heartbreaking, their resistance doomed to defeat, but these survivors stave off pity through the sheer force of their dignity and character.

Budgeted at a mere $140,000, "Unfinished Business" is at once history and a brief for righting terrible wrongs. It is also a moving testament of children redeeming their parents and grandparents, a loving gesture on the part of the Sansei to the Nisei and Issei.

More than any other film on the subject, "Unfinished Business" reveals that in many instances those who were adults at the time of Executive Order 9066 have been too ashamed of what befell them to press their own cases. But their children, now adults, in wanting to come to terms with their heritage, have led the battle for restitution.

As of this writing, Korematsu, who admits he was not able to bring himself to speak of his fate for 40 years, has won his case. His indictment was dismissed and the conviction set aside last year. Yasui's conviction has also been vacated, but is on appeal at the 9th Circuit Court in Portland. Hirabayashi has a trial date set for June 17 in the U.S. District Court in Seattle. Their attorneys contend that upholding the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 involved false, misleading evidence and the withholding of evidence. What's at stake is not merely redress and reparations but the very meaning of United States citizenship.


A Mouchette Films presentation produced with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Producer-director-cinematographer-editor Steven Okazaki. Written by Okazaki, Jane Kaihatsu, Kei Yokomizo, Laura Ide. Assoc. producer Jane Kaihatsu. Consultant Roger Daniels. Key advisers Carole Hayashino, Dennis Hayashi. Narrator Amy Hill. Nonprofit sponsor: National Asian-American Telecommunications Assn.

Running time: 1 hour.

Times-rated: Mature.

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