The Empty Chair (film)
Feature length documentary film by Greg Chaney that recounts the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans from Juneau, Alaska, during World War II.
The Empty Chair largely focuses on two families, the Tanakas, who ran the City Café restaurant, and the Fukuyamas, who ran Juneau Laundry, based on interviews with surviving Nisei family members Alice (Tanaka) Hikido, Mary (Tanaka) Abo, and Walter Fukuyama. The story begins with the prewar community in Juneau before the attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything, leading first to the arrests of Issei community leaders including both the Tanaka and Fukuyama patriarchs, followed by the removal of all Japanese Americans in the area to the Puyallup Assembly Center and Minidoka , Idaho, concentration camp. The film goes on to document their return to Juneau after the war and ends with the 2014 dedication of the Empty Chair memorial in Juneau. Numerous interviews with supportive non-Japanese American Juneauites make the case that there was an unusual level of interracial friendship in Juneau and that many non-Japanese Americans supported the Japanese American families during the war years, including watching over their property and helping them reestablish their businesses after the war. The title of the film and memorial comes from a small protest in the form of an empty chair left on stage at the 1942 high school graduation in honor of John Tanaka, the class valedictorian, who had been removed with his family a month earlier.
The film was made in collaboration with the Empty Chair Committee, an organization dedicated to preserving the story of the Japanese American Juneauites. Filmmaker Greg Chaney, the lands manager for the city of Juneau, heard the story of the chair at a city meeting about the proposed memorial, and, as he told Edward Yoshida, "I found the story of the empty chair to be compelling from the first time I heard it," adding that he "decided on the spot... [to] make a documentary about the event." John Tanaka's sisters, Alice Hikido and Mary Abo, readily agreed to assist with the film. Completed in 2014, the film screened locally in Alaska and at the Anchorage Film Festival, as well as at screenings and Days of Remembrance in the continental U.S.
Might also like The Merced Assembly Center: Injustice Immortalized (2012); After Silence: Civil Rights and the Japanese American Experience (2003); The Lost Village of Terminal Island (2007)
|Producer||Gina Spartz (associate producer)|
|Starring||Alice (Tanaka) Hikido (interviewee), Mary (Tanaka) Abo (interviewee), Bill Tanaka (interviewee), Ed Tanaka (interviewee), Jeanne Tanaka (interviewee), Roberta Messerschmidt (interviewee), Katie Torkelson Hurley (interviewee), Walter Fukuyama (interviewee), Haruo "Ham" Kumasaka (interviewee), Mary Lou Spartz (interviewee), Randy Wanamaker (interviewee), Neil MacKinnon (interviewee), Jane MacKinnon (interviewee), John "Jack" Hermle (interviewee), Marie (Hanna) Darlin (interviewee), Sam Kito, Jr. (interviewee), Jack Pasquan (interviewee), Steve Tada (interviewee), Renee Loree (interviewee), Judy (Oyama) Neary (interviewee), Koji Tada (interviewee), Yohko (Kohsaka) Tada (interviewee), Rose Komatsubara (interviewee)|
For More Information
The Empty Chair Project website: https://emptychairproject.wordpress.com/ .
Fletcher, Amy. " Made in Alaska: Greg Chaney's 'Empty Chair.' " Juneau Empire , Dec. 11, 2014.
Yoshida, Edward. " Documentarian Greg Chaney: Honoring Juneau’s Japanese Community Unjustly Incarcerated during World War II. " Discover Nikkei , Mar. 25, 2016.