'Go For Broke' movie aims to tell stories through eyes of 442nd soldiers

'Go For Broke' movie aims to tell stories through eyes of 442nd soldiers
Volunteers line up to recreate an iconic photo of the 442nd RCT (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Stacey Hayashi (left) during filming (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Stacey Hayashi (left) during filming (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Hawaii 442nd RCT soldiers, March 28, 1943 (Image: 442nd Veterans Club)
Hawaii 442nd RCT soldiers, March 28, 1943 (Image: 442nd Veterans Club)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of volunteers spent hours under the scorching hot sun in front of Iolani Palace on Easter Sunday to bring to life a significant moment in World War II history, but one that's been largely forgotten today.

That moment: When more than 2,600 soldiers of the newly-formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team marched down King Street before being shipped to the Mainland for training. They were bid aloha by some 17,000 civilians.

Similar to how everything led up to the moment in real life, the movie "Go For Broke" will culminate with the recognizable shot of soldiers lined up in front of the palace -- in hopes of offering a lasting image of the bravery and heroism demonstrated by the Japanese-American soldiers during the war.

"That's the moment everyone had been working towards," said Stacey Hayashi, the film's writer and executive producer. "It's a moment of triumph really, and so many mixed emotions because while everyone was working towards the Japanese-Americans getting the right to bear arms and defend America back, the fact is, they're going off to war. Not everyone's going to come home, so you have this myriad of emotions."

The concept behind "Go For Broke" started about 16 years ago, when Hayashi was a software engineer and eager to share stories of Hawaii's history.

One story that intrigued her the most was the journey of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion.

"We should tell our own stories," Hayashi said. "Hawaii has so much to share with the world, and that's really how it started, not knowing anything, not knowing how difficult it was to make a film."

Difficult, indeed, as one of the most daunting tasks for Hayashi has been finding funding for the movie, an ongoing battle until this day.

The film is primarily funded by a grant-in-aid of about a half a million dollars from the state through the 442nd Foundation.

But it took years of delays before she could even get the money.

Get the facts on the 442nd Regimental Combat team, one of the WWII's most decorated units.

Through it all, one politician served as Hayashi's biggest cheerleader: The late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, to whom the film is dedicated.

"Mark has always been so supportive of the veterans, of this project of course, but also everything that I've ever done for the vets and that other people have done for the vets," she said.

Takai, who died of pancreatic cancer last year at the age of 49, was an Iraq war veteran and a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Before "Go For Broke," Hayashi's concept evolved into comic book illustrated by artist Damon Wong. Titled "Journey of Heroes: The story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team," the 45-page book chronicles the journey of the soldiers through cute, Japanese Manga-style "chibi" characters.

Though the comic book is a comprehensive story of the Japanese-American soldiers' journey, the movie "Go For Broke," which started filming in December 2016, focuses on the beginnings of the 442nd and 100th Battalion, commencing with the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to the formation of the Varsity Victory Volunteers -- a small band of Japanese-American volunteer students who eventually formed into the 442nd -- and ending with the iconic shot of all the soldiers in front of Iolani Palace.

To Hayashi, the film is much more than just another Hollywood-type movie, but rather an opportunity to dive deep into a story that not many people may know about. She also hopes to bring to life the characters who helped shape Hawaii today.

"I think we all know what Pearl Harbor looked like, but nobody really knows the story about Hawaii's people and Hawaii's contribution to the war effort," she said. "The civilians really suffered such a unique situation. Almost half the population was Japanese. Very difficult situation and it's a testament to Hawaii's racial harmony. Just the fact that we're all willing to work together and want to."

Jane Kurahara, of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, has a personal connection with the 442nd. Her husband, Conrad, joined the Army with his twin brother when they were 18 years old.

She was pleased to hear that a movie would tell the stories of what her husband and the thousands of other Japanese-American soldiers exhibited during the war.

"What these Nisei soldiers did during World War II was extraordinary," Kurahara said. "I think present and future generations need to know this story as there will be difficult times in the future when people will need to be inspired by and show this kind of courage. What is important is that the values that gave these soldiers the strength to do what they had to do are included and apparent in the movie."

She added that this time period was one of the darkest in Hawaii history as it included the discrimination against the Japanese in the U.S., who looked like the "enemy."

"There are historical lessons in this time period that need to be learned, remembered, and internalized, otherwise, history will repeat itself some day, and similar mistakes will be made," she said.

The cast of "Go For Broke" will include a diverse group of Hawaii actors, but also some internationally-renowned talent like Ban Daisuke, of the hit Japanese TV series "Kikaida"; Oscar-award winner Chris Tashima; Pete Shinkoda, of "Daredevil"; and Cole Horibe, of "So You Think You Can Dance." Ukulele virtuoso and Hawaii native Jake Shimabukuro will also write the soundtrack for the movie.

"It's told through the eyes of Japanese-Americans, and in their own words as much as possible," Hayashi said. "A lot of the lines are actually what they said."

The film, expected to be complete in the fall, will be released On Demand.

The end goal for Hayashi: To be the voice of the Japanese-American soldiers who did so much for the state and for the country, but aren't necessarily getting the recognition they deserve.

"A lot of them don't share their stories so it's difficult for later generations to appreciate what they did. So we need to bring these stories to light in order to appreciate them."

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