Filmmaker tells personal story of Manzanar


For Burbank native Brett Kodama, his film about his grandmother’s experience at the Manzanar War Relocation Center during World War II became more than just an informative piece about internment camps and a way to fund other film projects down the road.

Kodama’s documentary, “One-Two-One-Seven: A Story of Japanese Internment,” turned into his own political statement on what could happen again under the wrong leadership in the United States.

“In my head, it was a personal story, nothing grand-scale,” he said. “I made it initially as a jumping off point to get money for projects. But I also made it because of the comments that [Donald] Trump was making about how he wants to tag and round up the Muslim population.”

Kodama, 24, a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, was one of 12 finalists competing in the Student and Emerging Filmmaker Competition during this year’s March on Washington Film Festival.

The documentary is about Kodama’s grandmother, Sharon Kodama, who was 4 years old at the start of the war. In the film, Sharon Kodama described how the pressure of the war and being held captive under their own will drove her father to kill his wife and himself, leaving Sharon Kodama and her sister orphans in the internment camp.

“One-Two-One-Seven” refers to the number 1217, the identification number Sharon Kodama and her family were given in Manzanar.

While working on the 13-minute piece last August, Brett Kodama found out that many of his friends from the East Coast did not know about Manzanar and how it housed more than 110,000 Japanese American people during the war.

“They didn’t even know that internment camps were a thing,” he said. “That pushed me to do the documentary.”

Even after the documentary’s screening last Saturday, people approached Brett Kodama and told them they had little to no knowledge about what had happened in Manzanar, he said.

“They said that they knew it existed, but didn’t know anything else about it,” Brett Kodama said.

Though she was not hesitant to talk to her grandson about what had happened to her parents during World War II, Sharon Kodama, 77, said it took nearly two generations for her to become comfortable talking about her experience.

“When you have this hatred all over you, you just don’t want to talk about it and want to hide,” Sharon Kodama said about herself and others after leaving the internment camp. “That’s the way Japanese culture is. Everyone tries to hide and tries to not make waves … Now it’s easier to talk about because it was so long ago.”

Sharon Kodama was in Washington, D.C. to watch her grandson’s film last Saturday. She said that she was impressed by what he had done and, like her grandson, believes people should know more about what life was like in Manzanar.

“I just visited the Holocaust museum and it makes you feel bad,” she said. “You just don’t want anything like that to happen again, same thing with the internment here. It shouldn’t have happened. It could have been worse and could have been like the Holocaust.”


Anthony Clark Carpio,

Twitter: @acocarpio