“Beyond Barbed Wire,” Steve Rosen’s documentary about the thousands of Japanese American men who fought for the United States in World War II, is a moving look at a neglected chapter in U.S. history, made all the more compelling because the veterans are now in their 70s.
Mostly through interviews, Rosen tells the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team--a unit of 4,500 Japanese American men who became the most decorated military unit of its size in U.S. history--and the 100th Infantry Battalion. Many of these soldiers volunteered right out of internment camps, where their families were imprisoned by the U.S. government from 1942 until the end of the conflict because they were considered a threat to the war effort.
The voices of these soldiers are heard over archival footage from the war. Actor Noriyuki “Pat” Morita (“The Karate Kid”), who spent some of his early years in an internment camp, provides the narration.
Monterey, Calif.-based filmmaker Rosen and writer-producer Terri DeBono made the film after meeting some of the veterans and realizing that these stories would be gone with their storytellers in another generation.
The most chilling sequences are the testimonies of veterans who reveal the extent to which racism existed in the upper ranks of the U.S. military. Most haunting is the rescue of the 36th Division, known as the “Lost Battalion,” which was trapped by the Germans in the Vosges forest in France. Gen. John E. Dahlquist kept the Nisei troops at the front lines for five days and one veteran of the 442nd said he believed the strategy was racially motivated because the overwhelming majority of the casualties were Japanese Americans.
Although Japanese American veterans received some attention during the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, most of these stories have not been heard.
Though reparations were not extended to internment camp survivors--the vast majority of whom were American citizens--by the U.S. government until 1988, there were those who long ago recognized the plight of the Japanese American soldiers. Among them was President Harry Truman, whose words to the members of the 442nd close the film: “You fought not only the enemy--you fought prejudice.”
“Beyond Barbed Wire” provides a glimpse into that struggle.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: Nothing inappropriate for children.
‘Beyond Barbed Wire’
SunWood Entertainment presents A Mac and Ava Production. Director/cinematographer/editor Steve Rosen. Producer Terri DeBono. Executive producers Yukio Sumida, Sherry Lapham Thomas, Charles Richard Woodson. Screenplay Terri DeBono. Narrator Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. Researcher Marla Young. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.