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Only the Brave (film)

DVD cover. Courtesy of Mission from Buddha Productions
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Feature film that dramatizes the rescue of the "Lost Battalion" by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in France and its aftermath.


Only the Brave begins in 1953 in Wahiawa, Hawai'i, as Jimmy Takata (Lane Nishikawa), a 442nd veteran, suffers from PTSD, while his wife Mary (Tamlyn Tomita) struggles to reach him. We go back to France in 1944 when Jimmy, a sergeant, commands his men in battle. In taking and clearing a French town, one of his men, Nomu (Kipp Shiotani) is killed and others, including Jimmy, are wounded. They save a young French girl. As the story follows the men as they proceed through France and gear up for the rescue of the Lost Battalion, frequent flashbacks (which might also be hallucinations from Jimmy's head injury) fill in the back story of the various men: Freddy Watada (Greg Watanabe) telling his girlfriend Emily (Emily Liu) he is enlisting and explaining why he doesn't want to get married yet; Dr. Richard Naganuma (Ken Narasaki) with his wife and daughter in Manzanar ; Jimmy and Zaki (Mark Dacascos) being turned away from a pool hall while training in Mississippi by white soldiers; Jimmy being fired from his factory job after the attack on Pearl Harbor; "Yuk" Nakajo (Yuji Okumoto) dancing with his sisters in Rohwer and getting a senninbari from his mother; and Tak Takase (Jason Scott Lee) watching his future wife Eleanor (Gina Hiraizumi) be named "Miss Nisei 1939." Due to his head injury, Jimmy is ordered to stay back. But with Freddy, who has an injured shoulder, Jimmy leaves the infirmary and goes back to the front to take part in the rescue. Though ultimately successful, the 442nd suffers many more casualties than they rescue, including Freddy, who dives on a grenade, saving Jimmy's life. Back in 1953, Jimmy visits Emily to give her the ring Freddy had bought her. After a vision of his dead father ( Noriyuki Pat Morita ), his mind seems to clear as he and Mary drive off into the sunset.

While Jimmy and most of the main characters are from Hawai'i, two of the soldiers come to the 442nd from War Relocation Authority concentration camps. Only the Brave includes scenes in both Manzanar and Rohwer, making it one of the few feature films to include such scenes. Many of the Hawai'i soldiers speak in Pidgin' English and references are made to conflict between the " Kotonk " soldiers from the continent and the " Buddhaheads " from Hawai'i.


Filmmaker Lane Nishikawa was born in Wahiawa but was mostly raised in the San Francisco Bay area. Acclaimed as a poet, playwright, and actor, Nishikawa later turned to filmmaking with the short film When We Were Warriors, Part I (1999) based on his play The Gate of Heaven and followed it up with Forgotten Valor (2001), both films telling stories about Nisei World War II veterans. He began work on Only the Brave in 2002, aided by a $100,000 grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP), which had also funded Forgotten Valor . Four of Nishikawa's uncles served in World War II, one in the 100th Infantry Battalion , one in the Military Intelligence Service , one in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion (who also later suffered from PTSD), and one in the 442nd. The various characters in the film are composites of many real Japanese American veterans Nishikawa met through the years. As part of the Universal Studios Independent Film Program, Nishikawa was able to film 85 percent of the film on the Universal back lot and also got access to pre- and post-production services. Shot in eighteen days in May 2004, Nishikawa also shot at the Japan-America Theater in Los Angeles Little Tokyo (most of the flashbacks including the concentration camp scenes) and at Ernest E. Debs Park in Highland Park, California, which stood in for the Vosges Mountains. [1]

The film first screened at community fundraising events in Los Angeles and San Francisco in December 2004 and in Honolulu in January 2005 though its official premiere came a year later. "Each screening is memorable," Nishikawa told Leslie Yamaguchi. "The response from the audience, the gratitude from the veterans.... Those are the kinds of comments that tell me we created something very special." [2]

While the history as portrayed in the film is generally accurate, there are some minor errors and inconsistencies. In the scene in Manzanar in which he tells his wife he is volunteering for the army, Doc Naganuma cites the many Nisei from Seattle who are volunteering from that camp. However, nearly all Japanese Americans from Seattle were actually in the Minidoka , Idaho camp, so few if any Nisei from Seattle volunteered from Manzanar. Later, Naganuma tells another character that Jimmy had been in the 100th and "had a lot of years with the Hawaii Territorial Guard before the war broke out." But since the HTG didn't form until after the war had begun, he probably meant to say that Jimmy had been in the Hawaii National Guard's 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments , whose Nisei members formed the core of what became the 100th.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Go For Broke! (1951); Forgotten Valor (2001); American (2018)


  1. Leslie Yamaguchi, "Only the Brave: Lane Nishikawa Honors Japanese American Veterans," Discover Nikkei, Nov. 8, 2007, accessed on Mar. 16, 2017 at ; Shayna Ann Akiko Coleon, "Community Appeal: Only the Brave: A Movie that Needs to be Made," Hawaii Herald , Aug. 15, 2003, A-1.
  2. Chance Gusukuma, "Hawai'i Screening of 'Only the Brave' Set for Jan. 8," Hawaii Herald , Dec. 17, 2004, 1, 8; Yamaguchi, "Only the Brave."
Media Details
Release Date 2006
Runtime 100 minutes
Director Lane Nishikawa
Producer Eric Hayashi
Writer Lane Nishikawa
Starring Lane Nishikawa (Sgt. Jimmy Takata), Jason Scott Lee (Sgt. Glenn "Tak" Takase), Mark Dacascos (Sgt. Steve "Zaki" Senzaki), Yuji Okumoto (Sgt. Yukio "Yuk" Nakajo), Tamlyn Tomita (Mary Takata), Jeff Fahey (Lt. William Terry), Pat Noriyuki Morita (Seigo Takata), Greg Watanabe (Private Freddy Watada), Ken Narasaki (Dr. Richard "Doc" Naganuma), Guy Ecker (Sgt. Robert King), Garret T. Sato (Corporal Richard "Hilo" Imamura), Michael Sun Lee (Pvt. Al "Kauai" Nakamura), John Koyama (Lt. Hank Hayashi), Michael Hagiwara (Rev. Nobu "Rev" Inouye), Ken Choi (Pvt. Dave "Bullseye" Fukushima), Kipp Shiotani (Corporal Johnny "Nomu" Nomura), Ryun Yu (Pvt. Robert "Min" Minami), Emily Liu (Nancy Loo), C. Traci Murase (Frances Nakajo), Jennifer Aquino (Grace Nakajo), Gina Hiraizumi (Eleanor Takase), Sharon Omi (Charlene Naganuma), Takayo Fischer (Mrs. Nakajo)
Music Dan Kuramoto
Cinematography Michael G. Wojciechowski
Editing Chisako Yokoyama
Studio Mission from Buddha Productions
Budget $600,000
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