For those who were interned, I hope this work brings them some peace
Pia Massie, filmmaker
Today, the little girl in the picture above would be about 80 years old and the baby wouldn't be much younger. The mother is probably no longer alive and the baby probably has few memories of the day his/her family was forced to leave their home. The girl, however, from the look in her eyes will never forget. Her expression says everything about what it must have been like to be caught up in the frightening experience of the relocation of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians during World War II. It is her story - the story of people who were young during the internment - that Pia Massie has set out to tell in her new film, Just Beyond Hope.
Just Beyond Hope weaves together the stories of three very different women: Mine Okubo, a Japanese artist who was interned at a camp in California; Margaret Sage a Canadian woman who worked at Tashme, the internment camp located "just beyond Hope," about 200 kilometers from Vancouver, and renowned photographer Dorothea Lange who took hundreds of moving photographs documenting the internment camps. When Massie began actively working on the film - she had been thinking about the topic for 30 years - she was surprised to discover that even after more than 60 years, survivors were still reluctant to speak about their experiences. As Massie told writer, Kenji Maeda, in an interview in The Bulletin: A Journal of Japanese Canadian Community, History + Culture. "It was stunning to realize how taboo the stories were to speak about; how much emotional freight they still carried. This, if anything, spurred me on more to connect with the elders that had lived it and let them set down some of the pain they they had been carrying."
Tashme Internment Camp, near Hope, B.C. photo: www.discovernikeii.org
My husband and I went to the World Premiere of Just Beyond Hope last Saturday at Vancouver's DOXA Documentary Film Festival. I'm delighted that Massie didn't let people's reluctance to speak stop her from producing this beautiful film. Just Beyond Hope is an "experimental" documentary, as Massie referred to it after the screening. The film blends footage of photographs from Dorothea Lange and other photographers, with shots of the landscape and ocean of the West Coast of British Columbia, contrasted with shots of the harsher landscape of the internment camp. Narrators read excerpts from the letters that Canadian Margaret Sage's wrote while working at Tashme, and excerpts from Okubo's book, Citizen 13660. The excerpts from Okubo's book are read, somewhat ironically, by an "aunt" (actually cousin) that Massie discovered while researching the film. Massie's aunt, now in her 80s, was more than willing to read from Okubo's book, but was reluctant to tell her own story. Interwoven with the three main stories are snippets of Massie's own family history.
The film was both a challenging and moving experience. There were so many layers of information and overlapping voices in the film, that I need to watch it again - maybe more than once. There were also layers of language, particularly untranslated Japanese, that enriched the film. One of the most surprising things I discovered while watching the film was the story of how Japanese Canadians were deported to Japan. Apparently, they were given a choice of moving east of the Rockies or going to Japan. Although, the factual details don't all come through in the film, Canada clearly didn't come off much better than the U.S. when it came to their treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II.
Another aspect of the film that I loved was the way in which Massie wove the voice of white social worker, Margaret Sage, into the story. Sage's voice added to the film's texture and provided a subtle way to show the heartbreak of the deportations and separation of families. I loved the film. It provides an intimate look at the experiences of relocation and internment from the viewpoint of a member of the Japanese Canadian community. I highly recommend the film and urge you to see it, if you have a chance.
For Further Reading, Watching, Looking
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
A novel that documents the story of a Japanese family from Berkeley during the war years. Short and emotionally subtle with marvelous details.
A fascinating book about how Lange's "impounded" photographs were finally released.
Almost 8,000 photographs taken by photographers including Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Japanese photographer Hikaru Iwasaki and many others. A treat for the eyes, mind, and heart. Be careful, however, or you can be sucked into the vortex of these beautiful photographs and spend hours clicking through photo after photo.
And for quite a different film about one survivor of an internment camp, check out the clip from The Cats of Mirikitani below.
Note to readers: If you want to take a look at my other blogs, you can either follow the links here Digging Out and The Caregivers Chronicle or click on the links at the top of the page. Digging Out is a blog about getting my life in order - digging out of debt and clutter. The Caregivers Chronicle is about caregiving for my aging parents and topics that interest other caregivers.