Film Review:
"Rabbit in The Moon"
A Film Review by Linda Lopez McAlister
on "The Women's Show"
WMNF-FM 88.5, Tampa, FL
June 26, 1999

Today's review is something of a departure for me; I'm writing about a film that is going to appear on television in a few days rather than in the movie theaters. The title of the film is "Rabbit in The Moon," and it will be broadcast nationally on the PBS series P. O. V. on July 6th. It is both a documentary and a personal memoir made by veteran Japanese-American cinematographer Emiko Omori as she explores her and her family's experiences in the internment camps into which thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were forced to relocate between 1942 and 1945.

The film, for which Omori won a special award for cinematography at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is one of the most visually beautiful documentaries you will ever see. It is also one of the most emotionally touching ones as Emiko, with the help of her elder sister Chizuko, explores the last years in the life of their mother whom they lost in 1946 of bleeding ulcers less than a year after coming out of the Manzanar internment camp and who has been, like the camp experiences themselves, a repressed and unspoken part of their personal histories until now.

I have seen other documentaries and quasi-fictional narrative films about this sorry era in American history, but I have never seen one that is as explicit and intent on showing the ways camp life affected the people sent there, the conflicts--both political and generational--among the internees, and the details of the U.S. government's often inconsistent, not to mention unconstitutional, policies with respect to the internees. How ironic that the film will be screened on July 6 just a few days after Independence Day when we celebrate "the home of the free and the brave." Some of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans interned during WWII were very brave indeed, but their freedom was curtailed and the privileges of citizenship abruptly revoked merely on the basis of their Japanese ethnic heritage if they were only as much as 1/16 Japanese. You'll learn a lot from this film.

Being a native of Southern California and about the same age as Emiko Omori, I recall this era and I vaguely knew of the camps when I was a child; my mother used to complain that the produce in the grocery stores was inferior to that that had been available before the Japanese truck farmers were moved away. We also heard that young Japanese American men were eager to prove their loyalty to the U.S. by forming their own military division and fighting bravely in the war in Europe--those who were not signing up for military intelligence as translators.

The Japanese-American Citizen's League was the group of Neisi (second generation)leaders which encouraged unquestioning support of U.S. policies as a way to display one's loyalty to the USA. What was seldom mentioned by the media was the hurt and resentment of their parents who had either been born in Japan or born in the US but educated in Japan. They had been the community leaders before the war and now they were being passed over, thought to be a bigger security risk than their American born and raised children. These generational tensions contributed to the breakdown of the families who lived in the several camps that ranged across the country from California to Florida. The older generation and many of their children certainly did not think that the JACL spoke for them, though the U.S. propaganda machine favored the organization because its positions were wholly supportive of the government policies. In fact, there was much resistence within the camps to government policies. This film, for the first time, documents many of these issues. As I said, you'll learn a lot from this thoughtful and sensitive memoir.

When westerners look at the moon they are supposed to see the Man in the Moon; Japanese, however, see the Rabbit in the Moon. During this period of pre-McCarthy repression these people were being asked , in effect, to stop seeing the rabbit and from now on only see the man in the moon. What an apt and beautiful metaphor to express the impossibility of changing one's ethnic heritage on command.

Because I won't be here for the next couple of weeks (I'll be back on July 17), I want to mention briefly another P.O.V. film coming up on Tuesday, July 13. Almost their whole season this summer features films by women filmmakers. The film on Tuesday is called "Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena," directed by well-known feminist filmmaker Lourdes Portillo. The cinematographer is, once again, Emiko Omori. I have not been able to preview this film so I can't speak about it except to say I'd certainly be watching it if I were going to be in the country on July 13. It has to be an improvement over the little-plaster-saint version of Selena that we got in the Hollywood biopic last year.

For the WMNF Women's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.

Posted 6/29/99