"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Record of a community destroyed

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Dec. 7, 1941, is a day that will live in infamy for more than just the attack on Pearl Harbor. The events of that day, coupled with racist sentiments long existing in U.S. society, led to a dark chapter in that nation's history: The internment of an entire community of U.S. citizens for no other reason than their ancestry.

David Neiwert's Strawberry Days (Palgrave Macmillan, 280 pp, 29.95 dollars) is an examination of the internment of Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent on the U.S. West Coast. In the book, Neiwert combines extensive historical research--hundreds of primary and secondary source documents and broad-ranging interviews with numerous internees--to trace the history of the Japanese-American community in the town of Bellevue, Wash., a former farming community that is now a suburb of Seattle.

In an e-mail exchange with The Daily Yomiuri, Neiwert explained that Strawberry Days grew out a series of articles he wrote as news editor of the Bellevue Journal-American on the long-term effects of the internment on the local Japanese community.

Strawberry Days is really three books in one: A detailed historical chronicle of the whos, whats, wheres, whens and hows of the internment and the events leading up to it; a series of personal anecdotes and emotional reminiscences from internees and those who knew them; and an insightful, well-reasoned analysis of why the internment happened and what its ramifications are.

Neiwert tracks the history of Japanese immigration to the United States beginning in 1884, just two years after Chinese immigrants had been barred. The first came mostly to work in the Hawaiian sugar industry, later moving to work on rail gangs and in sawmills and canneries in places like Washington. The number of Japanese living in the United States swelled rapidly from about 2,000 in 1890 to more than 24,000 in 1910, according to census figures quoted in the book.

Most of the Japanese immigrants came from rural prefectures, and by the turn of the century many were working in local farm fields. In some areas, including Bellevue, issei and nisei leased or even bought land that they cleared and started truck farms on.

Just as with the Chinese decades earlier, the Japanese immigrants became the target of racist campaigns up and down the coast, led in the Seattle area by Miller Freeman, a publisher and businessman who later became a key figure in Bellevue. Neiwert catalogues various anti-Japanese campaigns including a 1906 move by the San Francisco school board which, under pressure from the Asiatic Exclusion League, ordered all Japanese students to attend the city's Chinese-only school, a slight that led to U.S.-Japanese saber-rattling that resulted in a de facto ban on immigration from Japan.

Miller's role in whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment dated back to as early as 1904 as a proponent of the "Yellow Peril" conspiracy theory, which held that Japanese immigrants had been sent to the United States as secret shock troops and spies for a coming invasion, a theory that was given much credence by those calling for internment years later. Miller continued to lead his Anti-Japanese League, wielding significant political clout in Seattle and pressing successfully for anti-Japanese legislation.

"These groups were really as mainstream as could be. White supremacism was part of the cultural air that Americans breathed back then. The campaigns emanated from the core of power politics, i.e., both the moneyed and the working classes. And there was a clear connection between those campaigns and the internment; many of the same figures emerged to promote internment--Miller Freeman being a classic case--and nearly identical arguments were heard throughout, especially those that painted a portrait of Japanese-Americans as likely traitors," Neiwert told The Daily Yomiuri.

Despite all this, Bellevue's Japanese community thrived. Specializing in strawberries, they were so successful that by the 1930s Bellevue's annual June strawberry festival was attracting 15,000 visitors to the town of fewer than 2,000 residents. The Japanese truck farmers there formed a very successful farming cooperative and community association and their berries were shipped all over the country from their own rail siding. Times were good.

With the coming of war, all this changed. Japanese-Americans were hounded from jobs and constantly suspected of espionage in the wave of hysteria following Pearl Harbor. Worse followed in the actions and attitude of Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, commander of the West Coast defenses who called for Japanese, citizens and immigrants alike, to be removed from the region. In May 1942, Bellevue's entire Japanese population--about 60 families comprising more than 300 people--were evacuated and interned along with about 120,000 other nisei, more than two-thirds of them U.S. citizens by birth. Most lost any personal possessions they couldn't carry.

Strawberry Days most harrowing chapters deal with internees' personal experiences of the evacuation and early period of internment. The most heartbreaking deal with their return after the war to find the farms they had been forced to abandon overgrown or sold for development. In Bellevue, one of the major developers was Freeman.

In one wrenching anecdote, Neiwert relates the story of Kiyo Yabuki, a Bellevue native who volunteered for the U.S. Army while interned and was badly wounded in France serving with the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team during the nisei unit's famous rescue of the so-called Lost Battalion. After spending most of a year in Vancouver, Wash., hospital, Yabuki took his army uniform to a Bellevue laundry for dry-cleaning. The shop refused to serve him because he was Japanese.

To Neiwert, the historical issue is still a timely one for a number of reasons: "First is the overarching lesson of the internment: That Americans, in times of great national stress, were willing to completely discard the rights of our fellow citizens--so long as it wasn't us. We also were willing to assume that race or ethnicity itself was cause to suspect others of treason. I don't think these propensities have gone away; in fact, they've been resurfacing a lot since 9/11...[the internment] gave the military the precedent it sought to enable it to arrest and detain civilians in a non-battlefield situation without any recourse to the courts. That precedent has come back to us in the form of military tribunals and 'enemy combatant status' instituted by the Bush administration since 9/11."

When the U.S. Supreme Court gave the constitutional seal of approval to the internment in its notorious Korematsu vs United States decision (in which U.S. citizen Fred Korematsu unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for the "crime" of refusing to leave his home), Justice Robert Jackson wrote in dissent that the precedent was "a loaded gun" that could be turned on the rest of the populace at any time.

"That warning, " says Neiwert, "has now come home to roost."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Operation Enduring Blogger
Canadian current affairs uber-comic Rick Mercer (This Hour has 22 minutes, Monday Report) has done some great stuff over the years - getting Pierre Berton to show us how to roll a joint, having Margret Atwood demonstrate how to keep goal in the NHL - now he's gone to visit Canadian troops in Afghanistan with Guy Lafleur

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In your ear
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Paul Weller
As Is Now
V2 Japan, 2,520 yen

As the driving force behind the Jam in the late '70s and early '80s Paul Weller inspired many musicians who went on to form the core of the Britpop scene in the '90s.

As Is Now has Weller painting in bold strokes from his broad palette of stylistic colors, from the white-boy funk/rock of "Blink and You'll Miss it" to the acoustic Led Zepplinesque hippie pastoral of "All on a Misty Morning." While those tunes represent the stylistic extremes of the album, Weller is at his best when wearing his '60s British invasion and soul influences on his sleeve, summoning up the ghosts of the Kinks and the Who on rockers like "Come On/Let's Go" and "From the Floorboards Up" and echoing Small Faces on "Paper Smile."

Recorded mainly live off the studio floor over a couple of weeks in the spring, As Is Now has a cohesive sound that bodes well for any tour plans. The production and arrangements have a very '70s commercial pop feel with fat dixieland horns on the melodic piano-driven "Here's the Good News," a song that sounds like one of the better outtakes from an early Wings album.

On the other hand, the sweet strings and backing vocals on the ponderous "Pan" make it sound like a Spinal Tap leftover. Weller's fondness for jazzy soul and funk is admirable, but the seven-minute "Bring Back the Funk" makes one long for George Clinton and makes a compelling case for long jail sentences for anyone not from the American South who uses "y'all" unironically.

Despite these occasional overreaches, the quality of the songs and the performances are of a fairly high standard. Weller shows he still has the songwriting chops and voice that made the Jam one of the most popular bands of the early '80s. While composed entirely of new material, As Is Now sounds like a collection of hit singles and B-sides that span Weller's 30-year career in pop music.

Royal Albert Hall, London May 2-3-5-6, 2005
Warner Music Japan,
3,480 yen

Seminal power trio Cream reunited for four concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall in early May, 37 years after Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker played their final show together there.
The result is an excellent live double CD that puts the classic in classic rock. Cream dust off the classic blues tunes, like "Spoonful" and "Crossroads," that they helped repopularize back in the day, along with milestone originals such as "Badge," "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room."

Producing four albums from their formation in 1966 to their breakup in 1968, Cream, along with contemporary Jimi Hendrix, largely invented the blues-drenched genre of heavy rock and ushered in the era of long jams and virtuoso playing in pop music, making an international star of Clapton in the process.

Their reunion album shows that all three have come through the fires of the last four decades with their impressive talents intact. Baker may be over 60, but his lengthy drum solo on "Toad" shows he can still thrash the skins with the best. Bruce's voice has lost a little range in the upper register, but still has plenty of power and an almost operatic timbre. And the other guy hasn't played with this kind of verve in years.

A studio album of new material from this trio of similar quality just might qualify as the second coming of Clapton.
(Oct. 20, 2005)

Bridges' brilliance lifts melancholy Irving adaptation
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

The Door in the Floor
Three and half stars out of five
Dir: Tod Williams
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, John Foster, Elle Fanning

The Door in the Floor is a European art film masquerading as a Hollywood melodrama.

It has all the elements loved by Hollywood studios: a big-name cast, complete with a doe-eyed child actor; a script adapted from a bestseller by a famous author; wealthy WASPs cavorting in an exclusive resort area; and plenty of sex and death. The catch is that none of the characters are very likable, the script only covers the first third of the book it is taken from, the resort is East Hampton, N.Y., instead of some exotic tropical paradise, the sex is sad, not steamy, and the deaths are tragic and offstage rather than showy action-movie slaughter.

The result is a complex and melancholy film more likely to please fans of Ingmar Bergman than Jerry Bruckheimer.

Jeff Bridges gives a detailed, layered and often subtle performance as failed novelist and successful children's author and illustrator Ted Cole, while Kim Basinger proves her Oscar for L.A. Confidential was not a fluke. She is nearly note perfect as Ted's wife, Marion, a fading beauty so paralyzed by sadness over the deaths of her teenage sons years earlier in a car wreck that she is incapable of caring for her 4-year-old daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning, younger sister of the omnipresent Dakota).

The book the film is based on, John Irving's A Widow For One Year, is Ruth's story, and her childhood is only a small part of the novel. Director Tod Williams, who also wrote the screenplay, has switched the focus from Ruth to her parents and 17-year-old Eddie O'Hare, an aspiring writer that Ted has taken on as an assistant for the summer at the behest of his sons' alma mater.

Ted has coped with his son's deaths by drinking more and more and increasingly by philandering--using his fame to talk local women into posing as life models for him to paint and then seducing them. As Ted's affairs continue, his drawings become more and more degrading, until his portraits of his mistresses degenerate into crude renderings of their genitals.

It is an open question whether Ted is simply a misogynistic rat or whether his cheating and loathing of both himself and his lovers is a reaction to Marion's withdrawal from the world.
When Ted suggests a trial separation in which the couple will alternate days at the house, Marion wearily agrees.

Eddie develops an instant crush on Marion, awakening feelings in her both sexual and maternal. The graphic sex scenes between the two are shocking for their cold, matter-of-fact lack of eroticism and for their sadness.

Ted uses these feelings to his own selfish advantage, pushing the two together and then using their affair to gain leverage over Marion in their undeclared marital war of wills. Ted, though fearful of breaking with the past, wants to move on with life, whereas Marion is trapped in the past, unable to see a way forward without her sons.

For all his self-indulgence and drunken womanizing, Ted is a good father to Ruth and there is a sympathetic side to his character that shows through as he tells Eddie about the death of his sons and when we see him comforting Ruth when she wakes in the night. He uses Eddie and trashes the teen's attempts at writing, but all the while seems to take pains to protect and teach him.

This being a John Irving story, the pervasive gloom is leavened with humor, often at the oddest moments, such as Ted mistakenly adding the frozen squid ink he uses for his illustrations to his scotch instead of ice during one of the film's more somber scenes.

Bridges fully inhabits the loose-living Ted, even providing the illustrations for his character's Freudian children's books. The Door in the Floor is worth seeing for his brilliant performance alone. A lesser actor would have spoiled the film by trying to make Ted more of a likeable rogue, but Bridges isn't afraid to let the character's darker side show, sketching him as a vicarious philanderer who inhabits a moral universe of deep shades of gray instead of Hollywood's usual black and white.

The movie opens in Japan on Oct. 22.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Smoke'em if you got'em
Now we learn the pernicious weed may inhibit cancer

Just say Mo'
Study shows pot helps grow brain cells, improves memory. Hell, the next thing you know, scientists will be telling us that whisky is good for the liver.