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A searing portrait of war and prejudice, 'Only the Brave' takes you on a haunting journey into the hearts and minds of the forgotten heroes of WWII - the Japanese-American 100th/442nd. In 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, overnight Japanese Americans were put into internment camps for the duration of the war. Determined to prove their loyalty, 1400 Japanese Americans successfully petitioned the government to serve becoming the 100th Infantry Battalion. They were sent to North Africa, Italy and finally France were they performed an impossibly-dangerous rescue of the Texas 36th Division. During their two years of combat these men received an unparalleled 21 Medals of Honor, 9,486 Purple Hearts, 8 Presidential Citations, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 588 Silver Stars and 5,200 Bronze stars - making them the most decorated unit of their size in American military history. This is their story. Written by
On December 7 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy raided Hawaii's Pearl Harbor and decimated the United States Navy's Pacific battleships.
Two months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, permitting the U.S. military to uproot thousands of West Coast Japanese and Japanese-Americans and ship them to inland interment camps.
In February of 1943, the ban on Japanese in the military was lifted and the 100th Battalion 442nd Regimental Combat Team was formed. Containing Japanese-American volunteers from Hawaii and, remarkably, from out of the mainland interment camps, the 100th/442nd was sent to Europe.
"Only The Brave" is a fictionalized account of the 100th/442nd's most famous success: the October 1944 rescue of the "Lost Battalion", the all-white "Texas" 141st, trapped behind enemy lines deep within the Vosges Mountains of France.
The movie opens during the battle for the town of Bruyeres, France. After a receiving a head wound, Sergeant Jimmy Takata (played by the film's writer and director, Lane Nishikawa) begins to "see" the memories of his dying troops. As they die, Takata also becomes a walking repository of their mementos: a signature pair of eyeglasses, a photograph of children, an engagement ring never given.
Through the Bruyeres battle and the five bloody days of desperate fighting it takes to break through the German line and rescue the 141st, Nishikawa uses Sergeant Takata as a metaphor for the quiet and proud generation of Japanese-Americans who endured life in the relocation camps, who fought in battle and who kept up the home front, but who have mostly held onto their stories. Nishikawa's moral is an old one: the release of the past brings healing for the future, but it is especially poignant given that so few of that generation remain.
Working with a limited budget and an abbreviated shooting schedule, Nishikawa wisely chose to "go small" with his shots. Each scene is personal to the viewer. Each battle is realistically chaotic without wide shots and multiple angles to give viewers their bearings. The result for the viewer is as it is for the characters - an exhausted embrace of the story's pauses.
Nishikawa also "goes small" with his characters. The memories that haunt Takata are often short, deeply personal gut punches. The realistic pidgin banter between the "local boy" Hawaiian Japanese and the exploration of the tensions between the Hawaiian Japanese and the mainland "kotonk" Japanese are products of character development and not just tossed in for "authenticity".
Unlike many recent war films, there is little battle gore in "Only The Brave", making the infrequent bloody scenes that much more powerful.
The cast, featuring Nishikawa, Jason Scott Lee, Yuji Okumoto and Tamlyn Tomita, turn in solid performances but Pat Morita's cameo was a little wonky for me.
"Only The Brave" will definitely be worth watching when it is finally released into theaters. I was lucky enough to attend a private screening in Seattle. I'd gladly wait in line again.
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