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American Sons (film)

Docudrama by Steven Okazaki about four Asian American male characters talking about the role of race in their lives. Though played by actors, the words spoken by each character come from interviews with real people.

The film features each actor playing the role of a single Asian American male character who speaks into the camera as if being interviewed for a documentary. The characters speak for varying amounts of time, and their comments are edited into five thematic segments, which are separated by musical interludes played on camera by an Asian American jazz ensemble led by Mark Izu. The four characters are James (played by Yuji Okumoto), a Korean American who was adopted from Korea and raised by a white American family; Mitchell (Kelvin Han Yee), a Chinese American whose anger at the racism he faced turned him into an violent man; Robert (Lane Nishikawa), a Japanese American Vietnam War veteran; and Danny (Ron Muriera), a Filipino American son of laborers who channels his anger into becoming a public interest lawyer.

The first segment focuses on childhood, with the characters talking about school, friends, culture, and the impact of race, relating early instances of racism. The second traces a bit of the family history of each, while the third and fourth focus on racism in the present and the challenges each face as Asian American men whose masculinity is constantly being questioned. The final segment features each actor reading short newspaper summaries of violent anti-Asian incidents.

As played by Nishikawa, Robert talks about his mother's World War II experience in which "she spent four years in concentration camps in California and Arkansas instead of four years of college" and of his father, who after serving in Europe as part of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion , was turned away from the first restaurant he visited upon his return and told, "We don't serve Japs." At a low ebb after returning from Vietnam, he turns his life around after moving to Hawai'i and working for his uncle, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team .

In his analysis of the film, Peter Feng writes that, "Okazaki has dared to put angry Asian American men on display in a film that is confrontational and uncompromising." [1]

American Sons premiered in San Francisco on August 31, 1995 at a benefit for the Asian American Theater Company of San Francisco. [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Looking Like the Enemy (1996); From Hawaii to the Holocaust: A Shared Moment in History (1993); Only the Brave (2006)


  1. Peter Feng, "Redefining Asian American masculinity: Steven Okazaki's American Sons," Cineaste 22.33 (December 1996): 27, MasterFILE Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed June 21, 2016).
  2. Pacific Citizen , Aug. 18–31, 1995, 10.
Media Details
Release Date 1995
Runtime 28/40 minutes
Director Steven Okazaki
Producer Steven Okazaki
Writer Steven Okazaki
Starring Yuji Okumoto, Kelvin Han Yee, Lane Nishikawa, Ron Muriera
Music Mark Izu
Cinematography Steven Condiotti
Studio Farallon Films
For More Information

For More Information

Official website: .

Feng, Peter. "Redefining Asian American Masculinity: Steven Okazaki's American Sons." Cineaste 22.3 (Dec. 1996): 27–31.