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Short Film Review: Nisei (2023) by Darren Haruo Rae

Nisei Review
"History is full of foolish boys trying to be heroes"

From the director's statement: In the 1920s, my great grandfather immigrated to the Pacific Northwest. Wanting a better life, he left Japan and started a family in America. Little did he know, war was on the horizon and that my family's fate was forever changed. My grandfather, born and raised in America, was placed in an internment camp along with the rest of my family. Without hesitation, he volunteered for the Army, prepared to sacrifice his life for the very country that betrayed him. ‘' (2nd generation) follows the journey of two brothers through WWII, Minoru and John Miyasaki, who are stripped of citizenship, imprisoned, but still volunteer to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all Japanese-American regiment and the most medaled unit in the history of the US military.

“Nisei” review is part of the Submit Your Film Initiative

The film begins in California in 1944, where the aforementioned two brothers are riding a bus in army uniform, still getting threatening looks from another passenger, though. As soon as they arrive, one of the two has second thoughts about meeting Harry, their father, and chooses to remain on the bus. It turns out the other one, Minoru, is going to see him in a concentration camp, after having volunteered for the US Army. Expectedly, Harry is not too happy about his son “fighting for America” and their discussion is filled with tension, particularly because it becomes obvious that he considers Japan his one and only country, while his son, the US.

The setting then changes to Italy, where a group of US soldiers of Japanese descent are about to storm a house. During the raid, they stumble upon a little girl but things soon take a turn for the worse.

directs a film that is essentially split into two parts, with the first one following the path of the family drama, particularly through the brief, but rather tense and thriving with meaning scene between son and father, and the second being essentially a war/action one. The fact that the two parts are intermingled, with one succeeding the other throughout the movie, emerges as a rather appealing approach, as each part provides a relief and also adds meaning to the other. As such, Caleb Wheeler's editing emerges as one of the best parts of the short, also due to the relatively fast pace, that suits the overall aesthetics of the movie. The pace slows up a bit close to the end, in order to stress the drama, in the same fitting way, though.

On the other hand, it is easy to say that the last part of the movie in general emerges as somewhat sanctimonious and overly “patriotic”, with the words of the father definitely moving towards this and the melodramatic music adding to this sense. That in the end, it is not the Japanese soldiers that appear heroic, but the US army in general, essentially dulls the main point of movie, also moving it into the aforementioned direction.

Acting-wise, the one that stands out is Shiro Kawai as Jinkichi Miyasaki, whose manages to make each word coming out of his mouth, ripe with meaning, while also highlighting the circumstances of the first generation of Japanese migrants in the US in the best fashion.

On the other hand, technically the film is on a very high level, with the war scenes in particular being impressive to watch, due to Connor Van Bodell's cinematography, who captures the action quite intricately, the editing, and the job done in the sound. The coloring also works well throughout the movie, with the same applying to the lighting, in an overall great work, audiovisually.

“Nisei” is one of those films that would definitely benefit from a larger duration, which would allow Rae to present his comments more smoothly, and the context to be more on the point, but as a whole, it definitely makes sense, highlighting the director's eye for writing and composition.

About the author

Panos Kotzathanasis

My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia.

Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute.

In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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