Okage Sama De (I Am What I Am Because of You) (film)
DVD cover. Courtesy of Tim Rooney
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Filmed version of storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung performing a one-person show mostly centering on the stories of Japanese American soldiers during World War II.
Okage Sama De takes the form of a program for the dedication of a memorial to Japanese American soldiers during World War II. Takiyama-Chung plays all of the various characters, including an MC who introduces the five different speakers who make up the five stories he tells. The stores include:
• "My Friend Ted" (23:24), the story of Ted Tanouye, a Nisei from Torrance, California, who was among those awarded the Medal of Honor , the highest award given for military service. Takiyama-Chung plays Ken Watanabe, a fictitious friend and classmate of Tanouye and tells Tanouye's story through him. The story begins when both are students at Torrance High. Shortly after they graduate, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor; despite his father being arrested by the FBI, Ted volunteers for the army, eventually ending up in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team . Ken and his family and Ted's family are forcibly removed first to the Santa Anita Assembly Center , then to the Jerome , Arkansas, concentration camp. They end up reunited when Ken also volunteers for the 442nd. He goes on to describe Ted's heroism in battle, then his death while defusing a mine at age 24. The story ends with the building of a memorial to Ted at Torrance High in 2004.
• "Heroes" (35:31), told by Toshiro Abe, a Hawai'i-born veteran of the 442nd. Telling the story in Pidgin English, Abe begins with witnessing the attack on Pearl Harbor, then eventually volunteering for the 442nd along with his younger brother Kenji. He takes us through basic training at Camp Shelby , Mississippi, the journey to Europe and front line battles in Italy, the liberation of Bruyeres and Biffontaine in France, and climaxing with the rescue of the "Lost Battalion," in which Kenji is killed. Abe is a composite character that draws on the experiences of various 442nd veterans. Several of the episodes he recounts—his father telling him not to bring shame to the family as he leaves home; the clash between " Buddhaheads " (from Hawaii) and " Kotonks " (from the continental U.S.) Nisei that ends with a visit to the Arkansas concentration camps; and his shooting a wounded German soldier as he reaches for what turns out to be a photograph—are stories that Senator Daniel Inouye often told in interviews.
• "Voices" (18:21), the story of Takejiro Higa, told in Higa's own voice. Born in Waipahu, Hawai'i, but raised mostly in Okinawa, Higa returned to Hawai'i at age sixteen speaking virtually no English. He and his brother volunteer for the army, and because of their language abilities, end up as linguists in the Military Intelligence Service . Higa ends up helping plan the invasion of Okinawa, something that causes him great discomfort given his familial connections there. The story climaxes with his interrogation of two captured soldiers who end up being former classmates of his from Okinawa. He is proud that he helped save many Okinawans from mass suicide by convincing them to surrender.
• "A Single Flame" (15:25), the story of Chinue Sugihara, told in Sugihara's voice. The Japanese consul in Lithuania before the war, he risks his job and possibly his life by writing visas for hundreds of Jewish refugees allowing them to escape before the Nazis can capture them. He describes the moral dilemma he faced and the decision he made. The story ends with his reunion with one of the people he helped save many years later, the first indication he had that any of these he helped had survived.
• "A Life Twice Saved" (10:20), the story of Solly Ganor, told in Ganor's voice. The story begins when Ganor meets Sugihara when he is eleven. He later ends up in the Nazi death camp at Dachau, where he is eventually rescued by a group of Nisei solders in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion . The story ends when he emotionally reunites years later with one of the men who had saved him.
Takiyama-Chung performs the stories dressed in all black before a dark background. Though he normally performs the pieces for live audiences, there is no apparent audience present. Piano music by Mike Van Liew accompanies him. No other visuals are used in the performances.
A professional storyteller, Takiyama-Chung grew up in Honolulu and has degrees from the University of Washington and Oregon State University. He has been based in Portland, Oregon, since 1990. In addition to performing stories from Japanese American history, he performs Asian folk tales, Okinawan stories of World War II, and ghost stories from Hawai'i and Japan.