Japanese Internment Movies

Saturday, April 2 by Karen Murdock

You may have learned in American history about Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans, but these Japanese internment movies reveal human suffering and heroism that history books often leave out. Whether these Japanese interment movies tell the story through fictional characters or real-life survivors, they have a lot to teach about this shameful moment in American history.

  1. “Rabbit in the Moon” (1999) – Although American history classes often gloss over the wretched conditions in the Japanese internment camps, this documentary makes sure the painful historical truth is preserved. Watch this Japanese internment movie to learn about prisoners who fought the hellish conditions of their detainment.  “Rabbit in the Moon” won the Cinematography Award at Sundance and a Silver Apple award from the National Educational Media Network.
  2. “Passing Poston” (2008) – This documentary about the Japanese internment camps stands apart for including the voices of actual camp survivors. Four survivors of the Poston camp in Arizona desert search for meaning and identity as they still struggle to heal. According to a Seattle Times article, the survivors’ harrowing experiences can be summed up with one word, oft repeated in this documentary of Japanese internment: “hell.”  
  3. “Come See the Paradise” (1990) – Despite its alluring title, this interracial love story is also a Japanese internment movie. Dennis Quaid plays Jack McGurn, who in 1936 works for a movie theater in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. He falls for the owner’s daughter, and the two eventually flee to Seattle when her father attempts to dissolve the relationship. But her father is not the only challenge the couple faces. World War II threatens to tear them apart when the United States government orders thousands of Japanese-Americans to report to internment camps.
  4. “Unfinished Business” (1986) – This documentary follows three Japanese-American men who refused to report to internment camps. Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui all received criminal convictions because they dared to stand up against the Japanese internment policy. Forty years later, all three fought to have their convictions overturned. If their fight for justice fails to inspire you, you have no heart.  
  5. “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story” (2000) – Fred Korematsu was one of the three Japanese-Americans who defied Executive Order 9006 forcing thousands of Japanese-Americans to report to internment camps. This documentary tells the personal story of his courageous fight against Japanese internment and his victory almost 40 years later, when his conviction for disobeying the law was finally overturned. 
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