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Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story (film)

DVD cover. Courtesy of ReImagined World Entertainment
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Feature length documentary film that traces the basketball exploits of Wat Misaka, a Nisei from Utah who starred on two college basketball national championship teams and played briefly for the New York Knicks in the 1940s.

After briefly tracing Misaka's early years as a Nisei growing up in Utah and his father's premature death, Transcending follows Misaka's basketball exploits first at Weber College, then at the University of Utah while World War II raged. (Because Misaka lived outside the West Coast restricted area, he and his family were not forcibly removed and incarcerated.) Though he often faced hostile crowds, he became a star player on the 1943–44 Utah Utes team that ended up winning the NCCA championship. Filmmakers Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson use a second Nisei on the team, "Tuts" Tatsuno, as vehicle for incorporating the wartime incarceration story, since Tatsuno had come to the University of Utah out of Topaz . Though left off the traveling squad for the NCAA tournament—for reasons that might have be racially motivated—Tatsuno was presented with a championship watch and a blanket, which Misaka presents to him on a visit to Topaz. This segment is illustrated with color footage of the two men recorded by Tuts's brother, Dave Tatsuno .

The second half of the film looks at Misaka's military service in postwar Japan as part of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and his witnessing of the devastation of Hiroshima. Upon his return to Utah, he stars again on the 1946–47 Utes team that is invited to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in New York City. He quickly becomes a favorite of the New York crowd and stars in the championship game, that saw Utah upset heavily favored Kentucky. Due in part to his popularity with New York fans, he is subsequently drafted by the New York Knicks, though he is cut after playing just a few games. The film ends with various experts weighing Misaka's historical legacy as the first person of color to play in the league that would become the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The filmmakers tell the story largely through interviews with Misaka and his Utah teammates, along with various basketball experts and historians. Though some grainy footage of Misaka playing is included, much of the basketball sequences are illustrated with photographs and newspaper clippings with voiceover readings of clippings and recreations of radio accounts about Misaka.

The film premiered in Salt Lake City on September 10, 2008, and has been screened numerous times at various film festivals, Days of Remembrance , and other events subsequently. A 2010 update includes a listing of the various honors Misaka received since that time—including recognition by President Barack Obama—over the closing credits.

The film was largely funded by grants from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program .

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Top of Their Game (2000); Dave Tatsuno: Movies and Memories (2006); Arnold Knows Me: The Tommy Kono Story (2016)

Media Details
Release Date 2010
Runtime 85 minutes
Director Bruce Alan Johnson
Producer Christine Toy Johnson
Starring Tatsumi Misaka (interviewee), Paul Osaki (interviewee), Wat Misaka (interviewee), Arnie Ferrin (interviewee), Daisy Satoda (interviewee), Fred Lewis (interviewee), Herb Wilkinson (interviewee), Fred Sheffield (interviewee), James Smuin (interviewee), Bill Marcroft (interviewee), Marice Shiozaki (interviewee), Spencer Ross (interviewee), Glynn B. Peterson (interviewee), Chris Grant (interviewee), Dennis D'Agostino (interviewee), Lindsey Yamasaki (interviewee), Eryn Kimura (interviewee)
Music Scot Stafford
Cinematography Bruce Alan Johnson
Editing Bruce Alan Johnson
Studio ReImagined World Entertainment
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