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Only the Brave: Lane Nishikawa honors Japanese American Veterans

In all of his pursuits as an actor, writer, and director, Lane Nishikawa has “continually broken ground in examining the human condition of the Asian American experience.” In Only The Brave, Lane Nishikawa gives viewers a unique perspective into a piece of World War II history that is little known to the American public. Only The Brave celebrates “the unparalleled courage of the Nisei soldiers who voluntarily fought in World War II while many of their families were imprisoned in internment camps back in the States.”

The son of an accountant and beauty salon owner, Nishikawa was born in Wahiawa on Oahu and then raised in San Francisco from the time he was three. Nishikawa worked his way through San Francisco State University, and in true artistic form, he ended up creating his own degree—a B.A. in Asian American Theater—in interdisciplinary studies by combining creative writing, ethnic studies, and theater.

As a college student, Nishikawa wrote poetry, but his introduction to the Bay Area’s Asian American Theater Workshop (later known as the Asian American Theater Company) sparked an interest in telling stories about Asian Americans in the form of plays. In the years since, Lane Nishikawa’s body of work has crossed many different genres. He has written poetry; he has written and performed one-man shows; and he has written, produced, and acted in a number of noteworthy plays.

Nishikawa’s journey into filmmaking began when he was given a Civil Liberties Public Education Fund award to create his first film short When We Were Warriors, based on his play, The Gate Of Heaven. That was the first of his trilogy of films honoring Japanese American World War II veterans. He then received the first of two grants from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program to create a second short feature film, Forgotten Valor. The second grant in 2002 allowed him to develop his first feature length motion picture, Only The Brave.

In an interview with the Japanese American National Museum Store, Lane Nishikawa discussed various aspects of the film. The inspiration for the film came from many sources. According to Nishikawa, “I first became interested in the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team after one of my uncles passed away when I was a teenager. I learned later that he was a member of the 522nd Artillery unit of the regiment and he suffered tremendous PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Back then they just called it shell shock. The more I looked into the history, the more I found out about my other uncles who served, but it was really books, documentaries, and interviews that provided the background for me to understand what these men went through during a very difficult time for Japanese America.” Time and time again, throughout his research, Nishikawa was inspired by the bravery and sacrifice of these men and their families; he knew their stories had to be told. Nishikawa adds, “The characters in Only The Brave are based on many people, many stories. I never interviewed someone so that I could put his story in the film. There is no specific person that I had in mind when I was writing the script. It just seemed that when I was ready to put it together, my head was filled with so many stories and people that it just flowed out. I almost didn’t have to think, just feel.”

Not surprisingly, the film has been well received by audiences. The filmmaker seems both moved and grateful for the tremendous response the film receives each time it is shown. He says, “Each screening is memorable. The response from the audience, the gratitude from the veterans and the overwhelming affirmation that our story is important and everyone should see it. Those are the kinds of comments that tell me we created something very special.”

Lane Nishikawa is pleased that Only The Brave is now available on DVD to the general public. He also tours with the film across the country, making an effort to help organizations in every city in which the film screens. Anyone who is interested in more information about Only The Brave can go to the film’s website, www.onlythebravemovie.com.

November 2007

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