Filmmakers re-create tale of wartime courage

March 19, 2006

Filmmakers re-create tale of wartime courage
By Jennifer Modenessi
CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Eric Hayashi has led a life dedicated to service in the arts.

From National Endowment for the Arts theater program director to dramaturg, Asian American Theater company co-founder to film producer, the Walnut Creek resident has starred in a plethora of advocacy roles.

This time, however, Hayashi is nurturing a project that hits very close to home.

Hayashi is currently producing “Only the Brave,” an independent film that tells the story of the WWII-era all-volunteer Japanese-American 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The film screens March 21 at San Francisco’s Kabuki Theatre as part of the Asian American International Film Festival.

For Hayashi, producing the film has been a labor of love. His involvement also carries much personal meaning. Both Hayashi and his longtime friend, “Only the Brave” writer, director and actor Lane Nishikawa, had uncles who served in WWII. In fact, Nishikawa’s uncles fought with the 100th/442nd unit, and their stories, particularly of the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of Texas soldiers, served as direct inspiration for the complicated, layered and poignant film.

Q: It sounds like you feel very connected, personally and culturally, to “Only the Brave.”

A Very much so. For the last 30 years, ever since I started doing this creative work, we’ve always said there should be a story talking about the rescue of the Lost Battalion from Texas, because that was one of the penultimate stories for this unit. We would hear rumors that Hollywood was doing this and then something would fall through. Finally, at a certain point in time, Lane decided that he wanted to tell the story of the Lost Battalion.

We thought, “Do you really? Do you think we can handle this?” because we knew it was historical drama, costume — they’re all in military uniforms — people firing weapons, stuff that costs money. But we said, “We think we can do this.” After all, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it? We’ve waited 30 years.”

Q: At times while watching “Only the Brave,” the staging and pace reminded me of theater. The focus seemed to be on characters and dialogue as opposed to scenery and context. Was that effect intentional?

A Deliberately so. Lane took his time in developing the journey that his and the other characters are on. It was a conscious choice because of the story of this military unit. And ultimately, Lane wanted to show the sheer love and sacrifice and trust that this squad of male characters have for one another. When you go into a dangerous situation and you’re in a combat zone like that, each life is so important, so the loss of one single person is going to affect the life of the whole.

Q: Can you describe your role in producing the film?

A Right now I’m one of three producers on the film. Each of the producers have their strengths and their contacts, plus Lane, who is the writer and director of this film, is also a producer.

Lane and I were doing the fund-raising, so we raised all the money. We traveled around the country, by phone and in person, to talk to small groups of people about the project and why the story is important and to solicit help.

Q: Has the film been screened by any veterans, and what has the reaction been like?

A There have been a series of mini-screenings to help raise money and finance the back of the picture, and it’s been phenomenal. You’re talking about a generation of people that are pretty stoic. They’ve been coming out wet-eyed and giving standing ovations. It’s amazing. In a way, we’re also doing it for our direct relatives. We’re trying to honor all of that. It’s also been very rewarding to me to meet the actual sources.

Q: So why do you think you’re drawn to the production and advocacy side of arts as opposed to the creative?

A I acted in one show, professionally with the Asian American Theater, but after that I realized that everyone wanted to act — nobody wanted to do the backstage stuff, nobody wanted to produce the business. It’s was an organic step that I took. I realized that I liked having the big view. Producing was challenging for me, but I’ve been a producer ever since.

“Only the Brave” screens at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at the Kabuki, 1881 Post St., S.F., and 6:45 p.m. March 25 at Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 South Second St., San Jose, as part of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival. $7-$10. 800-225-2277.

Reach Jennifer Modenessi at jmodenessi@cctimes.com or 925-977-8483.

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