Director: Lane Nishikawa
Writer: Lane Nishikawa
Producer: Lane Nishikawa
Cast: Lane Nishikawa, Jason Scott Lee, Mark Dacascos, Yuji Okumoto, Tamlyn Tomita, Pat Morita, Jeff Fahey, Guy Ecker, Greg Watanabe, Ken Narasaki, Gina Hiraizumi
Running Time: 96 min.
This war flick was so indie, the producer originally had to sell the dvd off an official site, because no studio wanted to distribute it!
Based on a true story of former Japanese-American internment camp dwellers who joined the U.S. Armed Forces to fight the Axis, the lack of interest in Only the Brave is baffling, in light of recent similar films, such as “Miracle at St. Anna” and “Rendition”. You’d figure “one of Pat Morita’s last movies”, or “featuring that guy from The Crow: Stairway to Heaven and that other guy from “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”, might at least be good selling points for it; but the director had been forced to rely on WOM to boost interest in the movie. In fact, he had to accept set and costume donations from Universal Studios, just to be able to afford the production. But the project was important to him, since there were few of those vets left alive, and he wanted to tell their story.
Applying his experience in theater to film, Lane Nishikawa tells a story not exclusively about the war, but also about the Asian experience of discrimination in America in general, and even in Europe, where the civilians are initially disappointed that the brigade saving them doesn’t consist of white soldiers. Having to face segregation even before the war broke out, these Japanese-Americans do their best to make the most of their lives. However, in spite of being considered second-class, they still love their country enough to fight for it. And they all have different stories to tell of their lives and experiences back home. These pleasant memories keep them going in times of blood, sweat, and tears. But for those who survive, their eventual social acceptance comes with the price of traumatic moments on the field of battle-and in the operation room-which they can never erase from their minds. Thus “Only the Brave” becomes not just an indictment of discrimination, but of war in general.
While the actual production of “Only the Brave” is low-budget to the point that you can’t even discern what’s being said over the thick accents of the characters in certain scenes, the overall film is very ambitious. Taking place across different times, cities, and countries, there is plenty of attention to detail, when it comes to historical accuracy of outfits and weapons. What really adds impact, though, is that none of the actors genuinely look like soldiers as much as civilians. They don’t even look fit, which suggests how much the U.S. was in need of extra hands during the war. They’re not out of shape, but they’re not muscular or quick on the draw, either. They’re clearly out of their territory, and it unfortunately shows in their personal sacrifices.
Further adding meaning to the story is the way the soldiers embrace their cultural values to regain their bearings. While they come from different backgrounds, they all work together as a team and feel as a team. They all share a common experience which no one can take away from them, even after death.
“Only the Brave” is definitely not a jingoistic or positive endorsement of war. But it is a positive endorsement of heroism through action, not just archetypes. It’s also an indictment of those who place worth on someone’s race, rather than their contributions to society as a whole. And while the message may not as seem significant after a certain guy with a Kenyan father just became President, future generations can benefit-through the film-by understanding why that message is important in the first place.
Ningen’s Rating: 8/10