The Manzanar Fishing Club: Film Review

This doc about how many Japanese-Americans interned at Manzanar took refuge in fishing seems like a missed opportunity.

The documentary centers on the angling activities of Japanese-Americans interned at Manzanar during World War II.

The shameful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II has received scant cinematic examination, which makes The Manzanar Fishing Club something of a puzzler. As it title would indicate, this documentary concentrates mainly on the fact that a large number of the internees at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California were dedicated fishermen who through various means were able to temporarily escape their confines to enjoy trout fishing in the waters of the Eastern Sierra. It’s a nice little human interest story, but hardly seems worthy of this full-length treatment.

That’s especially true since this film directed by Cory Shiozaki seems more wonkishly interested in the intricacies of angling than in the larger social and moral themes that might have been more richly explored in the extensive interviews with the now elderly survivors. As subject after subject describes in great detail the sorts of rods, reels and bait they used, it’s hard not to bemoan the lack of greater thematic depth.

The filmmaker also uses archival footage, occasional recreations and interviews with historians, children of survivors and a former guard to relate the tale. But he allows too many of his subjects to ramble on in digressive fashion, blunting the impact of what they have to say.

Some of the accounts of how the inmates managed to forge rudimentary fishing tools and escape the camp’s confines with the help of sympathetic guards are undeniably moving. But there’s a much larger story that has yet to be fully told, and this minimalistic effort seems like a woeful missed opportunity.

Opened: Friday, Sept. 14 (Barbed Wire to Barbed Hooks LLC)
Director: Cory Shiozaki
Screenwriter: Richard Imamura
Producers: Cory Shiozaki, Richard Imamura, Lester Chung, John Gengi
Executive producer: Alan Sutton
Photography: Talk Story Media
Editor: Lester Chung
Music: Bill Ungerman, James Achor, George Abe, Harold Payne, Dave Iwataki
Not rated, 74 min.