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Short Film "Tsuru"

As a senior film project with Chapman University, I’m currently working on the short film Tsuru that deals with an elderly Japanese couple who were faced with being forcibly removed to the U.S. concentration camps during WWII—a time of serious racial prejudice. As a Japanese American, this is a topic that I have felt incredibly passionate about for a while and one that I believe it’s important to raise more awareness in our history.

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In August 2013, I wrote a feature script about the Ni’ihau incident, a true story of a Japanese fighter pilot who, after the Pearl Harbor attack, crash-landed on the Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau and wreaked havoc among the native residents. The actions of the pilot and several Japanese Americans who aided him were noted in a January 1942 Navy Report as indications of the “likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan.”

This immediately struck me. Being both a Japanese American and Hawaiian, I was flooded with conflicting emotions: Was it fair? Was the U.S. Government justified? Was Japanese American internment right?

I eagerly researched the entire context of what happened. Very quickly, I realized the unjustness. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned. Two-thirds of them were American citizens. Over 1,000 died in the camps, most due to inadequate health care. The numbers were staggering. I began to talk to my grandparents—attempting to gain any insight I could, and this quickly became personal to me. I found that my relative fought in the 442nd battalion and we visited the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, CA and Go For Broke Monument to see his name on it. I interviewed those who were in internment camps. It became very clear to me that I needed to tell a story that would bring awareness to a topic in history so often glossed over.

But I wanted to tell a story that was as even-handed as possible. I wanted to be true to the reality of the situation. At the same time I was researching, I came across multiple rumored accounts of Japanese families who were hiding away in shacks in the California desert. I began to think, “Why would they live there? What would lead a family to put themselves in such danger? And what about all of the American citizens who sympathized with the Japanese? What about those who risked public scorn to support them?”

After talking over these ideas with many people, my brother and I began coming up with a short story. We immediately understood the importance of telling multiple points of view. It’s hard to get any idea into a short. But it’s much harder to do when you’re dealing with such an important topic as this. We had to be as economical with the story as possible.

After pitching the idea to mentors and to the university, we got many great confirmations that this was a story we need to tell. So that’s what we’re doing. I firmly believe in the importance of gathering a team of people who are strong in their craft, but more importantly, good people. And we have been blessed with exactly that. Together, this is what we are looking for in the specifics of crafting this film…


We aim to express a sense of abandonment and seclusion by structuring our tone around the atmosphere of internment itself. We want the film to be more than a reenactment—we want it to inhabit the feelings of what life was like in 1940s California as both a Japanese citizen and an American citizen. It should embrace the moral complexity of the situation—it should be unflinching, somber. Our shots will sometimes be long and meditative, evoking the perpetual social and physical confinement of the situation. Then, as the plot thickens, and as the characters’ hopelessness turns into franticness, so will the camera. We will be moving between a handheld documentary technique and a traditional approach.

Color Palette:

The entire film will be shot in black-and-white. This is not to merely resemble films of the time period; it’s to strip away the color—to accentuate the bleakness of the circumstance. Contrasting shades of radiant, sometimes overexposed whites, and rich dark tones will evoke the figurative barrier between the characters.


We will shoot in Simi Valley, CA. It’s dry, vast landscape accentuates the isolation of our Japanese couple in hideaway. The barren desert is as accurate a replica of the placement of Japanese American internment camps as we could find.


One of the main themes throughout the film is the tsuru (“crane”). As a symbol of long life and good luck, tsuru is used in the story as a gesture of gratitude from character to character. (“Tsuru” is also part of my middle name “Tsuruo,” a name passed down to me from my grandfather.)

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TSURU is a short film that takes place mid-WWII in May 1942—a time of serious racial prejudice. As over 120,000 Japanese Americans are being evacuated and forcibly interned by the U.S. Government, an elderly Japanese couple, the Ikedas, are in hiding, residing in a neglected shack in the middle of a California canyon. Mariko, the wife, is doing her best to keep her ill husband Yoshio in good health. Their lifeline? A young American nurse. Giving them the supplies, food, and medicine needed to survive. As another wave of Japanese Americans are being evacuated, suspicions arise when FBI agents and military personnel are unable to find the Ikeda couple.

The cast will include Takayo Fischer (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Moneyball) and Ken Takemoto (Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen). We are looking to shoot at the prestigious Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley in the first two weekends of April in Simi Valley, CA.

For more information, visit our Facebook page ( or email writer/director Chris K.T. Bright at

Casts (from left): Takayo Fischer, Ken Takemoto, Nicole Starrett, Michael Tomsu

We need to raise $23,000 in order to make this film and we need your help! Our Kickstarter campaign will be up and running until March 28, 2014.

You can donate via our page ( and receive SPECIAL REWARDS.


© 2014 Chris K.T. Bright

concentration camps incarceration japanese american short film tsuru World War II