Go for Broke! (film)
Movie poster. Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
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1951 feature film that tells the story of 442nd Regimental Combat Team and that climaxes with the rescue of the "Lost Battalion." A popular and critical success, Go For Broke! represents a landmark in the representation of Japanese Americans in Hollywood films. The film focuses on the transformation of the initially bigoted Lt. Michael Grayson (played by Van Johnson), who is assigned to command the all-Japanese American unit. The members of the 442nd were mostly played by Nisei veterans. Producer and MGM studio head Dore Schary would produce another film centered around bigotry aimed at Japanese Americans four years later, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).
The exploits of the all-Japanese American 100th Infantry /442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) were well-known during the war years due to media reports documenting their service in Europe. Similarly, the Japanese American incarceration was no secret as Executive Order 9066 resulted in the removal and confinement of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans. Yet in the years following World War II, these two events were largely ignored due to a number of circumstances, not the least of which was lingering racism against the Japanese American community. One glaring exception to this silence in the decades following the war was the film Go For Broke! (1951).
The writer and director Robert Pirosh initially set out to research and write a love story about a young Japanese American university student, but the more he learned the more he focused on the story of the 100th/442nd RCT. He ultimately decided to create a film that would accurately show the negative aspects of the incarceration but with the overall positive affirmation of the brave service of Nisei soldiers. His partner on the project was producer Dore Schary, the son of Jewish immigrants who was known for racial tolerance, the use of minority actors, and left-leaning tendencies in his films. Ultimately, Pirosh and Schary, who was head of MGM Studios at the time of the release, produced a very well-received film that transformed the portrayal of Japanese Americans in Hollywood.
The star of the film was Van Johnson, who had just appeared in Pirosh and Schary's previous work, Battleground! (1949). Johnson played Lt. Michael Grayson, a soldier who had recently finished officer training and reported to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where he is put in charge of the 100th/442nd RCT. He is disappointed with his new unit, suspicious of their loyalties, and openly states his desire to return to his original unit, the 36th Division. Though his own commanding officer Captain Solari tries to convince him of the loyalty and quality of the all-Japanese American unit, Lt. Grayson spends much of the film trying to catch up with and rejoin his preferred unit.
There are six Japanese American characters that play opposite Johnson, five of whom were portrayed by veterans of the 100th/442nd RCT. Lane Nakano played Sam whose family was incarcerated in the continental United States inspiring him to enlist to prove his loyalty and try to ensure such a situation would not happen again. Sam's young friend Tommy was portrayed by Henry Nakamura, the youngest of the actors and the only one of the six leads not to have served during the war. Much of Sam and Tommy's conversations throughout the film remind viewers of the incarceration as Sam's family struggles for normalcy within the confines of the camps. George Miki depicted the perpetually grumpy Chick while Ken Okamoto played the always positive ukulele-playing Kaz from Hawai'i. Akira Fukunaga as an architect from the University of Southern California and Henry Oyasato as Sgt. Takashi Ohhara rounded out the primary Nisei characters, none of whom had acted before their appearance in Go For Broke! .
The film depicts the 100th/442nd RCT as they complete their preparations at Camp Shelby demonstrating their abilities and bravery even in training. They are transferred to the European Theater and the film highlights some of their most famous exploits at Monte Cassino, Hill 140, and the Rescue of the Lost Battalion. The loyalty, determination, and courage of the Japanese Americans gradually wins over Lt. Grayson, even to the point that he fights with a friend in their defense. Though he has come to appreciate his own men, he is eventually transferred back to the 36th Division just before they are trapped in the Vosges Mountains and surrounded by Germans. The Nisei soldiers rescue Lt. Grayson and the rest of his unit and return home as honored heroes receiving a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions in the Rescue of the Lost Battalion.
The weeks leading up to the release of the film saw one of MGM's largest advertising campaigns to date. There were a large number of ads taken out in weekly magazines like Life as well as military periodicals. There were even lesson plans made to distribute to schools to supplement the movie for students. When it opened in theaters, Go For Broke! was received very positively despite its open discussion and condemnation of the incarceration. MGM arranged a seven-city premiere opening in Honolulu, Hawai'i; Hollywood, California; Houston, Texas; New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C.; and Tokyo, Japan, to sold-out theaters. The premieres in Honolulu and Tokyo were particularly popular as lines formed before dawn on the first day of ticket sales and hundreds were turned away. The Waikiki Theater in Honolulu saw record ticket sales selling out the first showing in twenty-two minutes and the first week in four hours. Many of the premieres also hosted special guests, including the Gold Star Mothers of the 100th/442nd RCT, military dignitaries, and celebrities at the showings and related events.
Public opinion and critical reviews were overwhelmingly positive, though there were occasional critics. The movie was nominated for best story and screenplay in the 1951 Academy Awards, though it lost to An American in Paris . Many of the major news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post issued very positive reviews of both the movie itself and its depiction of history. In particular the film was praised for its accuracy and attention to detail in telling the exploits of the Nisei soldiers. Viewers were also positive in their reviews with 251 of 398 surveyed rating the film "outstanding" or "excellent" and only 16 giving it the lowest rating of "fair." 
There were some criticisms made both in the media and in public opinion. Many of the complaints from average viewers related to either the acting of the rookie actors or to the subject matter of war, which was declining in popularity in the years following the end of World War II. There have also been critics who argued that the film did not go far enough in condemning the incarceration, particularly the role of President Franklin D. Roosevelt . Others have criticized the condescension present in the film's depictions of the Japanese Americans' short stature, happy-go-lucky demeanor, and Hawaiian pidgin dialect.
While there is validity to these complaints, many agree that the film had more of a positive impact than negative. Historians have long argued that the service of the Nisei soldiers helped to improve the standing of Japanese Americans in the United States and for decades Go For Broke! was one of the only visible reminders of their service. It is logical to claim that the film introduced this story to many Americans and thus played a part in helping to end discrimination against the Japanese Americans. Historian Takashi Fujitani has argued that it neither significantly helped nor hurt the situation for Japanese Americans in the United States.  Instead he believes that it perpetuated some stereotypes while affirming some positives, but did not have a measurable impact beyond laying the groundwork for the " model minority " myth of the 1960s.
Regardless of whether the film was positive, negative, or neutral, its presence as one of the only popular culture depictions of the military service of the 100th/442nd RCT makes it an invaluable piece of Japanese American memory. In fact, in many ways this film remains one of the most accessible reminders of the World War II Japanese American military service. Viewers can rent or access the movie in a variety of mediums including rental services like Netflix, online viewing sites like YouTube, and retailers such as Amazon.
- First Preview First Report, December 17, 1950, Dore Schary Papers, Accession Number MCHC63-12, Box 39, Folder 12, Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, Wisconsin Historical Society and University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.
- Takashi Fujitani, " Go For Broke , the Movie: Japanese American Soldiers in U.S. National, Military, and Racial Discourse," in Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s) , Takashi Fujitani, Geoffrey M. White, Lisa Yoneyama, eds. (Charlotte: Duke University Press, 2001), 239–66.
|Cinematography||Paul C. Vogel|
|Editing||James E. Newcom|
|Gross Revenue||$2.5 million|
For More Information
Banks, Taunya Lovell. "Outsider Citizens: Film Narratives About the Internment of Japanese Americans." Suffolk University Law Review 42 (August 2009). http://suffolklawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Banks_Article_Final.pdf .
Chinen, Karleen. "'Go For Broke'—A Look Back." The Hawaii Herald , March 15, 1996. A1, A8–9.
Creef, Elena Tajima. Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body . New York: New York University Press, 2004.
Fujitani, Takashi. " Go for Broke , the Movie: Japanese American Soldiers in U.S. National, Military, and Racial Discourses." In Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s) . Edited by Takashi Fujitani, Geoffrey M. White, and Lisa Yoneyama. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. 239-66.
Salyers, Abbie Lynn. "The Internment of Memory: Forgetting and Remembering the Japanese American World War II Experience." Ph.D. dissertation, Rice University, 2009.
Tang, Edward. "From Internment to Containment: Cold War Imaginings of Japanese Amerians in Go for Broke ." The Columbia Journal of American Studies 9 (Fall 2009): 84–112. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cjas/tang-1.html .
Wu, Ellen. The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.