Something Strong Within (film)
DVD cover. Courtesy of the Japanese American National Museum
View in the Densho Encyclopedia
Documentary film by pioneering director Robert A. Nakamura crafted out of amateur home movie footage shot in American concentration camps. Nakamura and producer/writer Karen L. Ishizuka produced Something Strong Within for the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) as a companion piece to the exhibition America's Concentration Camps , curated by Ishizuka, which opened on November 11, 1994.
Initially, Nakamura—whose 1971 film Manzanar was the first documentary film on the concentration camps by a Japanese American—intended to make a conventional documentary that included interviews, photographs, and artifacts. [B]ut when I saw the home movie footage," he told Arnold Hiura, "I knew I had a chance to do what I've always kind of dreamt of doing—show an insider's perspective. We're tired of an outsider's view. It's not newsreel; it's not WRA . This is it."  The footage—collected, transferred and preserved by Ishizuka and Nakamura—was mostly shot surreptitiously by Japanese American inmates, and most had never been seen by the public. Nakamura eventually decided not to use any voice-over narration and to use only minimal text: only brief introductory text at the beginning and occasional captions identifying filmmakers and camps, providing quotes by inmates, or providing explanation of a scene. He also decided to show not only the stark or bleak images often associated with incarceration, but seemingly happy images as well, intercutting them to show that "there's a lot of strength in the people surviving, and the kids maintaining a sort of normal atmosphere in a very abnormal situation."  Dan Kuramoto, best known as the leader of the popular band Hiroshima, composed original music for the film. The original home movie footage was drawn from the collections of Masayoshi Endo, Naokichi Hashizume, Akira and Yoshio Hayashi, Franklin Johnson, Eichi Edward Sakauye, George Sagara, Dave Tatsuno , and Gunji Watanabe.
The finished film became a key part of the America's Concentration Camps exhibition, "a bonafide people magnet at the exhibit."  It also appeared in many film festivals and won numerous awards, including a 1996 CINE Golden Eagle and a 1995 Silver Muse Award from the American Association of Museums. The film accompanied the traveling version of the exhibition to venues in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Little Rock and was also featured in subsequent exhibitions at JANM, including Fighting for Tomorrow: Japanese Americans in America's Wars and Common Ground: The Heart of Community .
Might also like Manzanar (1971); Dave Tatsuno: Movies and Memories (2006); Encounter with the Past: American Japanese Internment in World War II (1980)
- Arnold T. Hiura, "'Something Strong Within': People's Perspective Prevails Throughout JANM's Exhibit on WWII Concentration Camps," Hawaii Herald , June 2, 1995, A8–9.
- Hiura, "'Something Strong Within,'" A9.
- Hiura, "'Something Strong Within,'" A8.
|Director||Robert A. Nakamura|
|Producer||Karen L. Ishizuka|
|Writer||Karen L. Ishizuka|
|Editing||Robert A. Nakamura|
|Studio||Japanese American National Museum|
For More Information
Hiura, Arnold T. "'Something Strong Within': People's Perspective Prevails Throughout JANM's Exhibit on WWII Concentration Camps." Hawaii Herald , June 2, 1995, A-8.
Ishizuka, Karen L. Lost and Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
---, and Robert A. Nakamura. "Something Strong Within: A Visual Essay." In Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories . Edited by Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 98–106.
James, David E. The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
Kikumura-Yano, Akemi, Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and James A. Hirabayashi eds. Common Ground: The Japanese American National Museum and the Culture of Collaborations . Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 2005.
Rosen, Robert. " Something Strong Within as Historical Memory." In Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories . Edited by Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 107–21.
" Something Strong Within " on Japanese American National Museum website.