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The Ito Sisters (film)

DVD cover. Courtesy of Unwashed Masses Productions
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Documentary on three Nisei sisters from Central California who lived to see their beiju (88th birthday) celebration, exploring their lives to the end of World War II.

Yetsusaburo Ito comes to the U.S. in 1897 from Aichi Prefecture as part of the wave of Japanese migration, working first as a houseboy, then eventually saving enough to open a jewelry business in San Francisco. However, he is wiped out by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the first of four times he was forced to start over. He turns to farming in the Courtland area, and in 1913, returns to Japan to marry Toku Suzuki of Shizuoka. Conceived in Japan, first daughter Nancy is born shortly after they arrive in 1914. Lillian (born 1916) and Hedy (born 1922) follow.

The first half of the film focuses on the prewar years: growing up on the farm, going to segregated schools in the Sacramento Delta, the work done by Toku and other Issei women, and arranged marriages for Nancy and Lillian. World War II brings the forced removal and incarceration of all West Coast Japanese Americans including the Itos. While Lillian, husband Mike and daughter Evelyn are sent to Turlock Assembly Center and the Gila River , Arizona, concentration camp, the rest of the Itos go to the Sacramento/Walerga Assembly Center and to Tule Lake . Lillian contracts tuberculosis while her husband leaves to resettle in Chicago while Nancy recounts losing a baby born in Heart Mountain due to inadequate medical care. Hedy talks about how her engagement to a Nisei soldier she had been corresponding with since before the war was broken up by her family and go-betweens. The postwar years are largely bypassed, with only a brief update of the women's 88th birthday celebrations and subsequent fate noted.

Much of the context on Japanese migration, the anti-Japanese movement , and removal and incarceration is provided by scholars (one of whom, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, is the daughter of Lillian) and through quotes by leading anti-Japanese figures as voiced by actors. Much of the footage of the sisters, shot over a period of many years, is from informal settings, and their words are often illustrated through drawings by Manuel Falcon Padua and animations by Carlos Bonilla and Kenny Navarro. Original music is by Dave Iwataki.

Filmmaker Antonia Grace Glenn is the daughter of Evelyn, granddaughter of Lillian. The film was funded in part by a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program . It premiered in May of 2017 in San Francisco, and in 2019, it aired on over 160 PBS stations nationwide.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like From a Silk Cocoon (2005); Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn (2010); Mitsuye and Nellie: Asian American Poets (1981)

Media Details
Release Date 2017
Runtime 80/57 minutes
Director Antonia Grace Glenn
Producer Antonia Grace Glenn
Writer Antonia Grace Glenn
Narrator Antonia Grace Glenn
Starring Hedy Ito Kadoi (interviewee), Lillian Ito Nakano (interviewee), Nancy Ito Takahashi (interviewee), Scott Dawson (voice actor), Patrick Alexander Glenn (voice actor), David Johann Kim (voice actor), Grace Kim (voice actor), Tim Kniffin (voice actor), Kerr Lordygan (voice actor), Vance Reyes (voice actor), Joel Rieck (voice actor)
Music Dave Iwataki
Cinematography Antonia Grace Glenn
Editing Gregory Paificar
Studio Unwashed Masses Productions
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