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When You're Smiling: The Deadly Legacy of Internment (film)

Autobiographical film by Janice D. Tanaka about growing up Sansei in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s amidst parental silence about their wartime incarceration. It was one of several films about aspects of the incarceration funded by the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund .

Narrated in Tanaka's first-person voice, When You're Smiling begins with the apparent mystery of Sansei deaths in the early 1970s whose causes were only vaguely noted in the Japanese American press, a symptom of a community intent on putting a positive face on all its problems. Tanaka intercuts her own family story—one of parents who married too young, alcoholism, and unrealistic expectations—with those of other Sansei, most of whom grew up in the multi-ethnic Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. All describe the toll of growing up in families so anxious to get the camp experience behind them that they don't talk about it with their children, denying their ethnic heritage and pushing their children to succeed on mainstream American terms. The portrait that emerges is that of a generation beset by drug abuse—nearly all of the deaths were either suicides, drug overdoses, or a combination of both—youth gangs, and the Vietnam War and a community determined to put a lid on such issues. Tanaka and her interviewees also come to take control of their lives, forming organizations to help themselves and their peers, while others are inspired by the social movements of the time and turn to political activism and the arts. Tanaka emerges from this turmoil with a resolve to go to film school and the implicit desire to tell the story of her generation.

When You're Smiling premiered on November 13, 1999, at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Tanaka went on to make many other films about aspects of the Japanese American experience including Right of Passage (2015), about the redress movement; Act of Faith: The Rev. Emery Andrews Story (2015); and Rebel with a Cause: The Life of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga (2016).

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Family Gathering (1988); Children of the Camps (1999); Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts, Anyway (1992)

Media Details
Release Date 1999
Runtime 60 minutes
Director Janice D. Tanaka
Producer Janice D. Tanaka
Writer Janice D. Tanaka
Starring Duane Ebata (interviewee), Susan Tanaka Heller (interviewee), Art Ishii (interviewee), Mas Kodani (interviewee), June Okita Kuramoto (interviewee), Yuki Morita (interviewee), Nick Nagatani (interviewee), Mike Nakayama (interviewee), Cindy Tomita Oda (interviewee), Irene Watanabe (interviewee), Evelyn Yoshimura (interviewee), Amy Iwasaki Mass (interviewee), Kenji K. Arai (interviewee), Merilynne Quon (interviewee)
Editing Janice D. Tanaka
Studio Visual Communications