By Densho’s Content Director Brian Niiya
Japanese Americans often object when journalists, screenwriters, or others minimize or distort some aspect of the wartime incarceration. But should we also object when the incarceration is depicted in a way that makes it worse than it was? This question has come up most recently in criticisms leveled at the musical play Allegiance, most notably by filmmaker Frank Abe on his invaluable resisters.com website and blog.
I thought of this when I recently viewed two episodes of dramatic TV shows largely devoted to plot lines that take place in American concentration camps during World War II. The first is an episode of Hawaii Five-0 titled “Ho’onani Makuakane” (Honor thy Father) that aired last December. The plot involves an elderly Sansei man named David Toriyama who is caught trying to shoot an even older World War II veteran. It turns out that Toriyama believes that the old man killed his father while the family was interned at the Honouliuli camp in central Oahu. The rest of the episode sees the police officers investigate and ultimately solve the crime, with frequent flashbacks of internment at Honouliuli in recreating the crime scene.
The second is an episode of the MTV drama Teen Wolf titled “The Fox and the Wolf” that first aired a couple of months ago. The show is about a typical teenager at a suburban California high school who also happens to be a werewolf. A major subplot of the series’ third season is the apparent possession of key character by a nogitsune, a type of malicious Japanese fox spirit. This episode explains the origins of the nogitsune, which turns out to involve a secret Japanese American concentration camp and the mother of a newly arrived Japanese American student. As with the Hawaii Five-0 episode, we get numerous flashback scenes that take place at this camp.