Reel NW


Robert Horton Recommends: More Like "One Big Hapa Family"

This week, film critic Robert Horton looks at some other films that deal with Japanese-Canadian internment and multiracial identity.

In Jeff Chiba Stearns's “One Big Hapa Family,” the filmmaker's spirited treatment of his subject never eclipses the sincere and serious ideas at play here. Those ideas include the puzzlements of multiracial identity, as well as the Canadian government's relocation program of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. The approach is crucial: As weighty as these topics might be, the spritzy animation and Stearns' first-person narration create an accessible way into them. These subjects have been treated by movies before, though often as clichés (“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”) or Ponderous Prestige pictures (“Come See the Paradise”). Here are a few exceptions.

Unfinished Business” (1986) and “Conscience and the Constitution” (2001). Two excellent documentary looks at the subject of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The former is an Oscar-nominated study by director Steven Okazaki that includes material on the legal challenges, years after the fact, to the forced relocation; the latter is a film by Seattleite Frank Abe that updates the topic.

The Crimson Kimono “(1959). A typically heated melodrama from maverick filmmaker Samuel Fuller, this low-budget offering is much bolder in its examination of a mixed-race relationship than many more respectable movies of its time. James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett play L.A. cops who fall for the same woman while investigating a case; Fuller mixes up race and society in combustible but forward-looking ways.

"Multi-Facial"(1995). Vin Diesel, then a nightclub bouncer and aspiring actor, created this 20-minute short film (part 1 here; part 2 here) that explores an actor's hard-to-cast multi-ethnicity (Diesel himself has African and Italian ancestry). It must have been convincing, because Steven Spielberg hired Diesel to appear in "Saving Private Ryan" after seeing him in this film.

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