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Pearl Harbor" Sink or Swim

Date Posted: 2001-07-07

The film "Pearl Harbor," opening recently across the United States, will stir up more controversy than did the film the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!". The 1970 film was far less biased than the new Touchstone

Pictures film; it showed the attack from both the American and Japanese sides. The new film emphasizes a love story throughout the film between Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) and two Army Air Corps pilots, Rafe and Danny (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett). The film gives us 40 minutes of special effects action.

The problem studios run into when either period pieces and/or culturally sensitive films are made is getting "it" right. "It" is historical events in the proper sequence, correct historical figures, dates, and the like. In the case of films involving different cultures, depicting the characters of a particular culture is a sensitive undertaking due to stereotyping and personal biases.

I grew up in Hawaii and clearly remember "Tora! Tora! Tora!" being filmed. The sight of fake Imperial Japanese Naval aircraft flying over Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base raised concerns and no doubt many memories from almost 30 years ago. The concerns at the time were not for the safety of island residents expecting another Pearl Harbor attack, but that the local island residents and tourists population which was majority Asian would take offense to such a film being made.

Concerns were put to rest when it was learned that the film would show both sides viewpoints in the attack, the film having American and Japanese screenwriters and directors accomplished this.

"Pearl Harbor" is an American film, made for hard-core biased American audiences. The film is not meant to be even handed in its judgment of the Japanese actions before, during, and after the attack. Unlike the 1970 film, which was generally well balanced representing both sides, "Pearl Harbor" stereotypes all Japanese as being enemies of the United States. The studio has already felt the backlash from Asian American civil rights organizations; the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) has voiced its alarm over the potential hatred and actions that may come from this film. We will see in the next couple of weeks how the studios handle any fallout that may occur as a result of the film. Touchstone Pictures parent company Disney is releasing the film in slightly different versions in Japan and Germany, emphasizing romance over battle. This was a very expensive film to make; one source of potential loss of revenue may be in the Asian film marketplace, where typically American action films do well. One interesting item is that if the film is not seen as an insult to Japanese people in the Asian marketplace, then it may be seen as a patriotic film in the sense that Japan kicked the stuffing out of the United States and that the romance in the film is secondary. This idea may play well in Japan, but for Japanese and Japanese Americans residing here in the United States this film may lead to a renewal of stereotyping and hatred. Lets hope that one biased film doesn't rehash a 60-year old wound.

Lee Richerson
Woodbridge, VA

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