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Right of Passage (film)

DVD cover. Courtesy of Nitto Films
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Documentary film by Janice D. Tanaka that chronicles the convoluted twenty-year history of the Redress Movement .


Tanaka and screenwriter Screescanda tell the story in a more or less chronological manner while framing the story as a "mystery": why President Ronald Reagan, who had seemingly opposed redress legislation throughout, eventually changes his mind and signs the legislation in 1988. From there, the filmmakers go back to 1970 and the first call for monetary reparations by Edison Uno , going on to detail the " Seattle Plan ," internal debate within the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) on redress proposals, the rise of rival redress groups the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR) and the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), the divided community response to what would become the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), the impact of the subsequent commission hearings, the coram nobis cases , and Personal Justice Denied the CWRIC's final report. The second half of film is narrowly focused on the battle in Congress to pass redress legislation based on the CWRIC's recommendations, detailing two failed attempts before the ultimate passage of H.R. 442 in 1987. Much of the credit to the bill passing the House of Representatives is given to novice Japanese American lobbyists, many of whom were women. The film then turns to the White House, detailing the various factors that may have led the President to eventually sign what would become the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 . A final section of the film covers the battle to secure funding for the legislation, concluding with various reflections of its meaning.

"Right of Passage" is largely based on interviews with the key actors in the drama (with the filmmakers drawing on interview footage from Densho and other archives for those who had passed prior to the making of the film), along with footage of congressional hearings and speeches, and news reports. The filmmakers also drew on documents from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and other archives, with many of the documents appearing onscreen. To help viewers keep track of the lengthy cast of characters, most interviewees are presented alongside biographical data that explains their position or role. A timeline at the bottom of the screen appears throughout to help keep viewers aware of where the story is at any given moment.

Background and Response

"Right of Passage" was one of several films on aspects of Japanese American history funded by Nitto Tire U.S.A. Filmmaker Tanaka told Mary Uyematsu Kao that "... every participant firmly believed in his/her vision of how it [redress] was won." Tanaka adds that the filmmakers adopted Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon' approach—asking each person to tell the story from his/her perspective." [1]

The film premiered at a Washington, D.C. screening in September 2015 and had its West Coast premiere on October 15. The version screened at these events was well over two hours long. A 98 minute version screened at film festivals and community events in 2016.

Response to the film in the Japanese American community has been mixed, with criticisms reflecting the differing interpretations of redress among different factions of the community. In the Pacific Citizen , Gerald H. Yamada calls the film "seriously flawed," challenging the core premise of the film that the reason for Reagan's change of mind was a "mystery." Yamada wrote that the film "fails to give any credit to the two individuals who changed President Reagan's mind," Grant Ujifusa and Tom Kean and that "there is no mystery" why Reagan signed the legislation. In a rebuttal to the review, screenwriter Screescanda points out that Ujifusa's and Kean's actions are included in the film along with interviews with both, also noting that documents at the Reagan Library suggest that there were other factors behind Reagan's change of mind as noted in the film. While giving the film "two thumbs up," Mary Uyematsu Kao writes that she agrees with NCRR criticism "that the film does not give enough weight to the role of the grassroots (and grassroots organizers) to get people to speak out at the hearings since it is the grassroots pressure that motivates legislators to make their moves." Chris Komai writes that the film is "methodical in laying out the details of what was a two-decade struggle within the Nikkei community and in the halls of Congress" [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Justice Now! Reparations Now! (1988); Redress: The JACL Campaign for Justice (1991); Rebel with a Cause: The Life of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga (2016)


  1. Mary Uyematsu Kao, "Right of Passage: How a Wrong Got Righted," Rafu Shimpo , Apr. 27, 2016, 3.
  2. Gerald H. Yamada, "Film Review: 'Right of Passage,'" Pacific Citizen , Sept. 23, 2015, ; Screescanda, "'Right of Passage' Rebuttal," Pacific Citizen , Feb. 2, 2016, ; Kao, "Right of Passage: How a Wrong Got Righted"; Chris Komai, "The Unseen Price of Redress," Discover Nikkei , Feb. 19, 2016, , all accessed on March 9, 2016.
Media Details
Release Date 2015
Runtime 128/98 minutes
Director Janice D. Tanaka
Producer Janice D. Tanaka
Writer Screescanda
Narrator Brooke Shields
Starring Cherry Kinoshita (interviewee), Edison Uno (interviewee), John Tateishi (interviewee), Henry Miyatake (interviewee), Clifford Uyeda (interviewee), Alan Nishio (interviewee), Miya Iwataki (interviewee), Ron Ikejiri (interviewee), Daniel K. Inouye (interviewee), Shosuke Sasaki (interviewee), Mike Lowry (interviewee), Norman Mineta (interviewee), Jodie Bernstein (interviewee), Barney Frank (interviewee), Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga (interviewee), Angus MacBeth (interviewee), Peter Irons (interviewee), Edward J. Ennis (testimony), William Hohri (interviewee), Glenn Roberts (interviewee), Alan Simpson (interviewee), Ron Wakabayashi (interviewee), Grant Ujifusa (interviewee), Stuart Ishimaru (interviewee), Robert T. Matsui (testimony), Spark Matsunaga (speech), Joseph Biden (speech), Grayce Uyehara (interviewee), Rose Ochi (interviewee), Rudy K. Tokiwa (interviewee), Tom Kean (interviewee), S.I. Hayakawa (testimony), Ken Duberstein (interviewee)
Cinematography Mik Ayers
Editing Screescanda
Studio Nitto Films
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For More Information

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Komai, Chris. " The Unseen Price of Redress. " Discover Nikkei , Feb. 19, 2016.