“Allegiance” Lead George Takei Discusses the Musical’s Broader Message
Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Actor and civil rights activist George Takei said the story of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were imprisoned behind barbed wire fences and guard towers in the months following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor because they looked like the enemy is relevant today “. . . when we have an ignorant, reckless president who is repeating the same thing all over again.”
Takei was in Honolulu on Nov. 4 to honor Nisei veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — only one Nisei veteran, Ted Tsukiyama, attended the program at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. Takei also used the opportunity to promote the return screening of the film version of the Broadway musical, “Allegiance.” It will be shown in 600 movie theaters throughout the mainland U.S. and Hawai‘i on Thursday, Dec. 7.
“Allegiance” is based on the real life experiences of Takei’s family during World War II. The future actor was 5 years old when his family was uprooted from their Los Angeles home and sent to Arkansas, where they were imprisoned in Rohwer Relocation Center.
The musical opened on Broadway in October 2015 and ran for five months. Takei starred in the production along with Tony Award-winning actor Lea Salonga. Prior to its closing, the musical was videotaped for later screening in movie theaters.
Best known for his founding role as “Mr. Sulu” in the television series, “Star Trek,” Takei plays two characters in the musical — “Ojii-chan,” the grandfather of a family in Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, and “Sam Kimura,” who decides to prove his loyalty by volunteering for the 442nd RCT out of the internment camp. Salonga plays his sister “Kei,” who sides with internees who refuse to sign a loyalty oath and are imprisoned as draft resisters.
Takei told the more than 200 people who attended the program at the JCCH that although the family in the musical — the Kimuras — is fictional, their story “is an American story that has such grave contemporary importance today when we live in a time that is convulsed with division.”
The play is about “the idea of allegiance — allegiance to country, but also allegiance to family and, ultimately, allegiance to oneself,“ Takei explained. He said the musical follows the conflicts in the Kimura family, dealing with duty and defiance, custom and change and family bonds, all in the course of being imprisoned in a wartime internment camp.
Takei applauded the actions of former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, who, just weeks after the inauguration of Donald Trump as president, instructed U.S. Justice Department lawyers not to defend Trump’s executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. Trump’s order also suspended the admission of all refugees for 120 days and suspended indefinitely the Syrian refugee program. Yates was subsequently fired by Trump.
Takei also praised Hawai‘i Attorney General Doug Chin for opposing the ban and U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson from Hawai‘i, who has blocked the president’s travel bans.
Takei said one of the more chilling moments during his family’s four-year incarceration at the Rohwer camp was reciting the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance while he could see the barbed wire fences and the sentry tower through the window of his classroom.
But Takei said he was “too young to feel the stinging irony of those words — liberty and justice for all.”
Later, during a panel discussion that included Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige; Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell; “Allegiance” producer and co-writer Lorenzo Thione and Jacee Mikulanec, past president of the Hawai‘i chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, Takei said the internment of Japanese Americans needs to be incorporated into the country’s educational system.
“The problem is that it is a shameful chapter of American history, so we don’t teach it,” he said.
“I think it is our mission to ensure that it is incorporated into our educational system so that the Americans of the future learn from this mistake and not have a president who is so ignorant of this history and so reckless as to repeat it again.”
During the panel discussion, Ige added that it was “an easy decision” to make with Chin when Trump first instituted his travel and immigration ban. “Clearly, we decided that those acts that violated our community values, certainly, we are going to stand up and be counted. . . . This is certainly one we are going to take to the limit and we are going to say we will not allow this to happen,” Ige said.
Caldwell said Takei’s story reinforces the need for people to stand up when injustices occur, forcing their leaders to respond and take action.
During the program, Thione announced that “Allegiance” would have its Asia movie premiere in Tökyö on Nov. 11 and run for three days. The musical will also return to the stage in Los Angeles next Feb. 21. It will be staged at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo through April 1. Additionally, Honolulu’s Manoa Valley Theatre will stage its production of the musical in the spring of 2019.
The audience was treated to musical numbers from “Allegiance” by Elena Wang and Sam Tanabe, members of the original Broadway cast, and the ‘Iolani School chorus. Wang will star as “Kei” in next year’s Los Angeles production.
Allegiance” will be shown on O‘ahu on Dec. 7, 9, 11 and 12 at Dole Cannery Theater, Windward Stadium Theaters, Pearl Highland Theaters and Kapolei Commons Theaters. On Maui, it will be shown at the Maui Mall Megaplex on Dec. 12. Screenings are also scheduled for Hawai‘i Island at Prince Kuhio Theater in Hilo on Dec. 9 and at the Makalapua Stadium Theater in Kailua-Kona on Dec. 10.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.