Oahu filmmaker’s Stacey Hayashi’s lifelong dream to tell the story of the 442nd, the WWII Regimental Combat Team made up of Nisei Japanese-American soldiers, began with a comic book. In 2012, Hayashi and illustrate Damon Wong published Journey of Heroes. Hayashi’s initial achievement led to a far more ambitious plan, in which her 45-page graphic novel became a full length motion picture. The result: Go For Broke is an acclaimed festival favorite.
So far, Hayashi’s film (which she wrote and produced while Alexander Bocchieri directed) has won Outstanding Feature Film at the 2018 Normandy WWII Film Festival, the Movie Maker Award at the 2017 Hawai‘i International Film Festival and was voted Best Hawaiian Film 2017 by the Hawai‘i Film Critics Society. I caught up with Hayashi before her film premieres on Maui, in the same theater that coincidentally opened with the star-studded gala premiere of From Here to Eternity in 1953. We discussed the film’s origins, her thoughts on the 1951 Go For Broke movie and collaborating with Jake Shimabukuro.
MAUITIME: When did the idea of making the story of the 442nd into a movie first come to you?
STACEY HAYASHI: In 2001, I was a software engineer and Hawai‘i created a bunch of tax credits for IP industries, including film. I thought, hey, that’s a great idea–Hawai‘i has so many stories the world should hear, the Nisei vets topping that list, but, from their perspective. Being young and naive and having absolutely no idea how impossible it is to make a film of this scope and how difficult a task to tell this story correctly, I set out to make it happen.
MT: Was the comic book always a part of the process or was it a means of creating storyboards for your film?
SH: In 2008, the economy was in the toilet and I was working on a previous 442nd script with a friend. It was sad to think that all the time spent on the project would go to waste and the movie would never get made, and my vet friends were passing away… that’s when it dawned on me that a comic book would be a smaller, more feasible project. In the end, Go For Broke is our own comic book movie, but the heroes and characters in it are real people.
MT: The notion of making Journey of Heroes as a motion picture is so ambitious. What were the first steps you took in making it a reality?
SH: Finding the right people was the hardest part. Most of the people on the Go For Broke crew were relatively new, as in I’d known them five years or less. The majority of people who provided services and donations–wardrobe, uniforms, vehicles, locations, food, time–were friends I’d made long ago, some as far as 17 years ago when it all began. Securing the funding was a miracle. While it might have seemed like a large sum, in reality, it was a painfully low amount for a feature length film of the quality we had in mind. But we made it work, thanks to the generosity of many people. It’s a special film. If anything, it’s all heart.
MT: Have you seen the (out of print/public domain) 1951 Go For Broke movie?
SH: I’ve seen the film and it was progressive for its time. But, I’ll always remember what some of the vets said: “the haole guy gets the girl, and we get the pig.” I thought we could tell something more true to life.
MT: How did you select your director, Alexander Bocchieri?
SH: I met Alex while we were both working on our friend Matt Nagato’s documentary for the Dept. of Health: OLA: Health is Everything. He was still in film school and I was working on the comic book. He asked if he could make a documentary on the comic book for his class at UH, and I said sure. It showed a lot of promise. Then, a couple months after the comic book came out, Senator Daniel Inouye passed away. At his funeral, I saw my friends in the legislature and commented that it was too bad that the grant they’d approved years earlier for a movie had lapsed (Governor Linda Lingle never released the funds), and they encouraged me to put in another application. So, we did, and I said to Alex, let’s show them what could be possible.
MT: What sort of changes did your screenplay go through during the initial drafts into filming?
SH: We were writing and shooting last scenes up until August, actually. Alex’s perspective was very valuable; because I’m so close to the story and know it so well, it’s hard to see where the audience might need help identifying who the different parties are or their significance, for example. My biggest fear was that there were so many characters and the story was so complex, that people would get confused. And, while I wanted to make a film that local and Japanese American people could appreciate, I didn’t want it to be something a mainland audience couldn’t relate to. It’s still a very dense story and people have told me that they’ve watched it several times and every time they see or hear something they’d missed before, so I’m glad they’re doing that. There were a lot of people who gave very valuable feedback and that made it a stronger film.
MT: Did you always envision Jake Shimabukuro creating the score?
SH: Jake is a dear friend from high school, and several years ago (maybe 10?) I’d asked if he’d write the soundtrack, and he agreed. Jake was instrumental and always supportive of all my other vet projects and events since, and he was one of the first people I called when I had the idea for the comic book. He was like, “I love it! I’ll play, we’ll fundraise, we’ll get it done!” And as for Jake playing Saburo Maehara, he was great! I knew he’d be great; the camera loves him and the lines I wrote for him are pretty much what he says to kids when he visits schools anyway–I wrote the role with Jake in mind, and that was fun and a natural fit. What I didn’t know was how nervous he was about it–he was trying to get out of it the day before we shot his scenes! I was like “Oh my god, don’t do this to me” and finally what it came down to was, I told him that I was positive that if he didn’t do it and I told the vets later it was supposed to be him and he’d backed out, that they’d be very sad. So he did it and the rest is history. As for Jake and the score, watching him record the soundtrack was really one of the highlights for me. Alex had put in temp tracks since that’s what you do before you have your actual music, but, as Jake recorded what he’d written and I could see the scenes we’d shot playing out while he recorded, I knew instantly that the score would dramatically elevate the film and bring out the feelings of that scene like only Jake could.
MT: Is it too early to ask about a sequel?
SH: Go For Broke: An Origin Story is supposed to be a pilot, really. The dream is a 10-part limited series, following the guys you meet in Go For Broke, as they make their way through training and fighting overseas with the 100th Battalion, the 442nd, and the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific, and the China-Burma-India theater. But there are also many stories about the home front, and the civil rights debacle of the Japanese incarceration and how brave young Japanese Americans volunteered to serve their country from behind barbed wire. But, it’s always the funding that’s the issue, so if that happens, we can do it. If not, it’ll end here.
MT: How have WWII veterans and Hawai‘i’s Nisei community responded to the film?
SH: They’re pretty happy in general, which is what makes it all worth it for me. They feel comforted they won’t be forgotten, and they know their sacrifices are appreciated. And, for the vets who are in the film (their stories, as well as actually being in the movie, in cameos), it was fun to update them along the way, especially during shooting. It was wonderful having them on set, and our crew really enjoyed meeting them, the real life heroes whose stories we were telling. Introducing the actors to the vets they were portraying and their families was also very special to me. I’m very grateful we were able to get the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka in the film, too… he was always very supportive, and that meant the world to me.
Cover design: Darris Hurst
Cover photo courtesy Go For Broke