Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People (film)
Influential documentary film by Loni Ding that was the first of many to specifically focus on the story of Japanese Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II.
A sociologist, television producer, and independent filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ding was inspired to do the film after attending the hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWIRC) in 1981. As she told Barbara Abrash,
I found the whole experience absolutely riveting because there were these four generations sitting there who normally found it difficult even to talk to each other about these matters. Yet they had gotten together to do this joint appearance, and they were giving a stunning performance. They were appearing in front of a bunch of big wigs revealing publicly their very personal lives and yet every one of them had done it like a prime performance. Then I noticed, in fact, that the media were coming and taking their sound bites and leaving. I just felt that this shouldn't be happening. Right then I was thinking that something should be done. 
Supported by grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the California Public Broadcasting Commission and California Council for the Humanities, Washington Council for the Humanities, and National Endowment for the Humanities, Ding embarked on what would become a two-year project. The film had its world premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on February 19, 1984, serving as a fundraiser for the coram nobis cases .
Nisei Soldier uses archival footage—much of it drawn from the many newsreels that extolled the exploits of the soldiers—and photographs, contemporary interviews, and a minimal amount of narration to tell the broad outline of the story in largely chronological fashion, covering prewar anti-Japanese sentiment , the attack on Pearl Harbor, the exclusion and incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans, and the formation and exploits of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team . Ding also addresses the issue of why the men chose to serve despite the incarceration and of whether the Nisei soldiers were specifically given the most difficult and dangerous assignments. Among those interviewed are veterans Henry Gosho, Chester Tanaka, John Kaneko, Rudy Tokiwa, Hiro Higuchi, and Goro Sumida, along with Major James Lovell, the executive officer of the 100th, and military historian Eric Saul.
Nisei Soldier was shown nationally on over 300 public broadcasting stations in 1984–85, as well as at various screenings and film festival appearances. It was well reviewed at the time and cited for its significance by film scholars. Carlos Cortes called it "informative and provocative," Richard Springer praised it as "... a fine production and perhaps her most polished to date," and Donald Hata wrote that it "conveys a sense of genuineness."  Film historian Michael Resnow called it "a sensitive treatment of the young men who chose to leave the camps to enter military service...," and Glen M. Miura cites it as being among the "most notable" of films on Japanese Americans in the military.  In their study of the Redress Movement, Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold note that the it was shown on closed-circuit television in Congress when redress legislation was being debated.  Among the many awards it has received include a Northern California Region Emmy Award, a Gold Medal for History and Biography at the 1985 New York International Film & Video Festival, and a 1984 CINE Gold Eagle.
Being able to tell only a small part of the story in the half-hour Nisei Soldier , Ding went to make the longer The Color of Honor: The Japanese American Soldier in WWII , which focused on Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service , in 1987.
Might also like The Color of Honor: The Japanese American Soldier in WWII (1987); 442: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity (2010); Citizen Tanouye (2005)
- Barbara Abrash, "Interview with Loni Ding," April 28, 1991, accessed on November 26, 2013 on the Documentary Is Never Neutral website. http://documentaryisneverneutral.com/words/intloniding.html .
- Carlos E. Cortes, "Review of Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People and Unfinished Business: The Japanese American Internment Cases ," Film & History 16.4 (December 1986), p. 87; Richard, Springer, "NIsei Soldier Provides Moving and Realistic Depiction," East West , February 8, 1984, p. 8; Hata, Donald Teruo, Jr. "Review of Nisei Soldier ," The Journal of American History 74.3 (1987), p. 1116.
- Michael Resnow, "Warring Images: Stereotype and American Representations of the Japanese, 1941–1991," in The Japan/America Film Wars: World War II Propaganda and Its Cultural Contexts (Edited by Markus Nornes and Yukio Fukushima, Philadelphia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994), p. 111; Glen M. Mimura, Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), p. 82.
- Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold, Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress (Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1999), p. 142.
|Starring||Henry Gosho (interviewee), Chester Tanaka (interviewee), James Lovell (interviewee), John Kaneko (interviewee), Rudy Tokiwa (interviewee), Hiro Higuchi (interviewee, audio only), Eric Saul (interviewee), Goro Sumida (interviewee)|
For More Information
Nisei Soldier official site. http://www.cetel.org/nisei.html .
Kanopy Streaming link: https://www.kanopystreaming.com/product/nisei-soldier
Abrash, Barbara. " Interview with Loni Ding. " April 28, 1991. Documentary Is Never Neutral website.
Cortes, Carlos E. Review of Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People and Unfinished Business: The Japanese American Internment Cases . Film & History 16.4 (December 1986): 85–88.
Hata, Donald Teruo, Jr. Review of Nisei Soldier . The Journal of American History 74.3 (1987): 1116.
Mishima, Darin. "Nisei Soldiers: Fighting for Justice." Hawaii Herald , October 19, 1984, p. 11.
Renow, Michael. "Warring Images: Stereotype and American Representations of the Japanese, 1941–1991." In The Japan/America Film Wars: World War II Propaganda and Its Cultural Contexts . Edited by Markus Nornes and Yukio Fukushima. (Philadelphia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994): 95–118. Reprinted in Michael Renow, The Subject of Documentary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004): 43–68.