Karleen C. Chinen
Pamela Rotner Sakamoto came to understand the invaluable, but secret, work that soldiers in the Military Intelligence Service performed in World War II while writing her own book, “Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds,” about the family of MIS veteran Harry Fukuhara. So when she says that “Proof of Loyalty: Kazuo Yamane and the Nisei Soldiers of Hawai‘i,” produced by veteran filmmakers Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers, “. . . captures the sad irony that those we discriminate against may be among our most able, tireless and faithful,” Sakamoto knows what she is talking about.
Hawai‘i International Film Festival attendees would be wise to include “Proof of Loyalty” in their viewing plans. It may not have the bells and whistles of the other World War II film about the Nisei soldiers featured in this year’s HIFF, but you will exit the theater with a greater understanding of Hawai‘i’s history and an appreciation for the depth of service the young Nisei stepped up to perform when the odds were against them.
The film highlights the work of 100th Battalion and MIS veteran Kazuo Yamane, who was the eldest of four sons and seven daughters born to immigrants from Japan. Their father, Uichi Yamane, who had immigrated to Hawai‘i from Yamaguchi Prefecture, would build a business empire that allowed Kazuo to receive an Ivy League-quality education at Waseda University in Tökyö after graduating from McKinley High School in Honolulu. Yamane returned to Hawai‘i in August 1940 after s graduating from Waseda and was drafted into the 298th Infantry Regiment of the Hawai‘i National Guard, based on O‘ahu.
Yamane and other Nisei would become part of the War Department’s most successful social experiment — forming the 100th Infantry Battalion, an Army unit made up of primarily of American-born men of Japanese ancestry.
Yamane was among the 1,432 original members of the 100th Battalion who were shipped out of Hawai‘i in June 1942 and sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. In November and December of 1942, the Army transferred about 60 Japanese-speaking soldiers — many of them Kibei, who were born in the U.S. and educated in Japan — from the 100th to the Military Intelligence Service. They believed that the soldiers’ knowledge of Japanese language and culture could be used against Japan. The 60 underwent intensive military language training at the MIS Language School at Camp Savage, Minn.
Kazuo Yamane and his three brothers all served America honorably during the war. But it was Kazuo’s discovery of the Japanese Army Ordnance inventory while serving at Camp Ritchie in 1944 that the Army would find especially valuable. Yamane was later dispatched to Europe on a secret mission.
After the war, Yamane returned to Hawai‘i and worked in his family’s businesses.
Filmmakers Ostrander and Sellers tell the fascinating story of the loyalty, service and patriotism of Yamane and his comrades through their research and valuable interviews with historians who put this compelling story in its proper historical context. Among the interviewees are MIS and 442nd RCT veteran Ted Tsukiyama, who lived through the era, and research historians such as Dr. Franklin Odo, Dr. James MacNaughton and Tom Coffman.
“The little known story of Kazuo Yamane conveys how one man’s actions and belief in his country were significant in turning the tide of World War II,” commented Linda Tamura, Willamette University Professor of Education Emerita and the author of “Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River.” “More than that,” she continues, “it depicts how those least trusted during the war — because they looked like the enemy — became invaluable to our war effort. The rich archival images, context given by historians and veterans, and the haunting music complement this vivid story highlighting Kazuo Yamane, but also telling of Japanese Americans’ critical contributions during World War II.”
Kazuo Yamane died in April 2010 at the age of 93.
The film will have two screenings at HIFF — Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 6 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 10, 1:30 p.m. — both at the Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 in Iwilei. A trailer of the 55-minute film can be viewed at http://proofofloyalty.com. “Proof of Loyalty” was the recipient of the Audience Choice Award (documentary) at the Asian American International Film Festival in New York in August. For ticket information, go to hiff.org, or call (808) 447-0577.