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442 – Live With Honor, Die With Dignity--Film Review

The Bottom Line

An overlooked history of war-time heroism that provokes relevant modern issues of racial profiling.

Venue

Tokyo International Film Festival, Japanese Eyes 

 

Directed by

Junichi Suzuki


Cast

Daniel Inoue

George Takei

Steve Shimizu

Nelson Akagi

Lawson Sakai

442 - Live with Honor, Die with Dignity does for Japanese-Americans fighting in World War II what Glory did for African-American soldiers in the Civil War. The documentary by Junichi Suzuki brings to light the unsung heroism of the 442 Regiment, formed around 1942 from “Nissei” (second-generation) Japanese in internment camps and officers discharged from the U.S. Army subsequent to Pearl Harbor. They overcame discrimination and extreme battle conditions to become the most decorated regiment in the U.S. Army. 

The film is primed for airing on North American networks specializing in Asian subjects, in Japan and perhaps at festivals with Japanese sidebars. Its 44-minute length could be awkward for theatrical release. 

Concise but packed-to-the-hilt with memoirs, historical footage, live interviews and recordings of veterans’ visits to European locations where they fought, this film not only brings to light a little-known page in history, it also reminds one to reflect on contemporary racial profiling in our conflict-ridden world, and offers some forward-looking attitudes to address such issues. It could also be a catalyst to exploration and exchange between other veterans with comparable experiences, such as Australians who fought for the Allies in both world wars, as well as colonized Koreans and Taiwanese drafted into Japan’s Imperial Army.

Amidst the discursive structure, two major military operations stand out to illustrate both the regiment’s extraordinary bravery and the racist double standards within the U.S. army. At the decisive Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, the 100th Battalion of the 442 Regiment lost half their men in a bloodbath. While the remaining 1,000 or so marched on to liberate Rome, they were stalled and sent back to make way for Caucasian troops to enter the city in glory. 

At the Battle of Mount Vosges in France, the regiment was sent in to rescue a Texas battalion when all other operations had failed. More than 442 men were sacrificed to save the 211 Texans. In the words of one interviewee, the regiment was always picked for dangerous missions because they were considered the most “expendable.” 

Paradoxically, their response, according to him, was to welcome them as a chance to prove their loyalty and ability. 

Although the director does not analyze deeply the complex relations between ethnic identity, patriotism and nationalism, he does prompt one to question these issues. In the light of the veterans’ surprise that during

WWII, Japanese prime minster Tojo and Yosuke Matsuoka, Japan's ambassador to the United States, both exhorted the Nissei to fight against Japan as loyal Americans, one wishes to ask, must a citizen concur with his or her country’s decision to go war without questioning the motive?

Most of the interviewees are veterans now in their late 80s or early 90s. It’s a marvel that their memories are crystal clear. 

 

Tokyo International Film Festival, Japanese Eyes 

Sales: UTB.

Production: Film Voice, UTB.

Cast: Daniel Inoue, George Takei, Steve Shimizu, Nelson Akagi, Lawson Sakai.

Director-screenwriter: Junichi Suzuki.

Producers: Junichi Suzuki, Shigeto Terasaka.

Executive producers: Ryuichi Suzuki, Toshiyasu Hayakawa.

Cinematographer: Masashi Kobuchi. 

Music: Kitaro.

Editor: Toru Mihara.

No MPAA rating, 97 minutes.