“Farewell to Manzanar” release on DVD

After 35 years, Farewell to Manzanar will FINALLY be available for people to buy!

In 1976, the made-for-TV movie was shown on NBC, directed by John Korty from a screenplay written by the original authors of the book—Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her husband James D. Houston. It was a film made for a mainstream audience using Japanese American actors and many crew, something that is still pretty unheard of today.

There were several reasons why it was never re-broadcast, and only rarely shown after its initial viewing. It was also never made available for sale for the public, despite constant requests from the community, as well as from many educators who use the book in their classrooms as part of their curriculum.

Personally, I’m really excited about the release on DVD because I’ve never actually seen it. I do remember reading it in junior high school for a class assignment, and I’ve heard about the film version so many times. I used to work in the Museum’s Store for many years, and one of the most consistent (and persistent) questions I got year after year was whether we had it for sale. I’m so glad that I can now finally say “Yes!”


The Museum is doing a special screening of Farewell to Manzanar on Sunday, October 23 at 2pm in the Democracy Forum. Join special guests for a screening and Q&A. Tickets are $25 for Members or $30 for non-members, and includes Museum admission and a complimentary copy of the DVD. Purchase tickets for the screening >>

You can also order the DVD from the Museum Store >>


We asked Esther Newman, one of our volunteer writers, to write a series of articles about the film for our Discover Nikkei website. The first one was published today: Farewell to Manzanar on DVD—Timeless and Timely

Additional pieces will look at director John Korty and the actors in the film.

Vicky Murakami-Tsuda

Communications Production Manager at the Japanese American National Museum. I coordinate printed publications, manage web-based projects, and lots of other stuff. I also write an occasional column for our DiscoverNikkei.org project.

One thought to ““Farewell to Manzanar” release on DVD”

  1. Esther Ndungu
    Charity Akhidenor

    Remembering Manzanar
    The movie Farewell to Manzanar is based on a young girl named Jeanne Wakatsuki who was about eight years old during the time of the Nikkei incarceration. The movie begins with a grown up Jeanne Wakatsuki who bringing her husband and kids to view the Manzanar site long after the incarceration camps were closed. She narrates her experiences in camp Manzanar to them. She explains how life was before the incarceration and how life changed during and after incarceration. The Wakatsuki Family was living normal, peaceful lives enjoying everyday activities, going to work and school as usual. Then one day, Pearl Harbor, happened, an attack on American soil by the Japanese Government. Suddenly, Jeanne Wakatsuki, her family and others of Japanese ancestry became viewed as enemy aliens even though they had nothing to do with the bombing. Suddenly, the father, son and other family members who had a fishing business were now accused and suspected of being spies for Japan because they possessed fishing boat radios, maps, and other tools. If anyone had tools such as binoculars or telescopes they were also suspected and questioned or detained. The father was eventually detained and questioned. After the detainment he was so broken emotionally and psychologically by that experience that he never completely recovered.
    In the eyes of the U.S government, all Japanese people became enemy aliens. They became suspects of sabotage against the U.S government. Ironically, most of these people were U.S citizens. Soon radio and newspaper propaganda played upon people’s fear. President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 which relocated those of Japanese ancestry to incarceration camps. The Japanese people soon received posted notes instructing them about the process of evacuation and incarceration, they could take only what they could carry. The Wakatsuki’s were moved to Manzanar Relocation Center just north of Los Angeles. On the bus ride they had to wear tags like suitcases.
    The movie Farewell to Manzanar’s intended audience is such as: an audience interested in informative entertainment. This movie qualifies because it informs about the Nikkei incarceration while at the same time entertaining the viewers by weaving in an interesting fictional plot that is set on the real historical event as opposed to a documentary. Another intended audience is such as: an audience interested in learning about different racial minorities groups’ experiences in the U.S. Those who have limited knowledge or no knowledge at all about what took place in the incarceration camps can be informed. Generally speaking, there is not much serious focus on racial minorities groups’ experiences due to the eurocentric society the U.S is, so it’s valuable to have movies and text specifically about different peoples such as the Nikkei people. This audience can also include white Americans who are uneducated and should be educated about racism in this country, about what took place in the incarceration camps so that they can change their racist behaviors. Another intended audience is such as: historians and sociologists interested in studying how media portrays history influencing perspectives and creating biases based on how media portrays historical events. This audience would also be interested in how the need for movie popularity may influences what historical content is included in the movie and what is left out.
    Movie representations concerning the incarceration experience that we think were fair and accurate include: One Japanese person said that the U.S used Pearl Harbor as an excuse to take Japanese land, homes, and to put Japanese people in prison as if they were common thieves and not Americans. That was a fair representation because it showed that the incarceration was not a military necessity. U.S actions to incarcerate the Nikkei people was based on hysteria and political pressure, it was not a military necessity. The Nikkei people were taken advantage of not only by the U.S government, but also the U.S citizens who took this opportunity to take Japanese homes, land and property for extremely cheap prices. For example; one neighbor of the family offered to buy the family’s $300 expensive silverware for only $15, Jeanne Wakatsuki’s mom broke them rather than sell them at such a price. This showed how whites American were willing to take advantage of the predicament that the Japanese people faced. Another fair representation concerned the Loyalty Questionnaire. The loyalty questionnaire was asked to all of those in the incarceration camps concerning their loyalty to America. Many received it as an insult. One man said he would declare his loyalty to America only if he was free. Some refused to answer the loyalty questionnaire because the government was trying to pit them against their ancestral homeland in an attempt to Americanize them.This questionnaire demanded that the Nikkei people give unconditional allegiance to the US and forswear (renounce) any form of allegiance to Japan. For answering “no” to this question 27 and 28, one was assumed to be dangerous and anti-American. This question was a ridiculous because it left no room for someone to be neutral. Answering “yes” to question 27 and 28 meant that one was completely for America and completely against Japan and therefore “Americanized” enough to not be dangerous. Answering “no” to question 27 and 28 meant that one was completely for Japan and completely against America, therefore dangerous. This was a serious dilemma for the Nikkei people. They were asked by the U.S government to completely renounce their ancestral land or face persecution. There was no space for being neutral. This was a dilemma for the Nikkei people because human beings have a natural connection/loyalty to their ancestral land and to require one to renounce that connection has very negative effects, emotionally and psychologically. This natural connection and loyalty to their ancestral land did not automatically mean that they would be a danger to U.S. The U.S should have given the Nikkei people the option to be neutral. Also, since the Nikkei people were ill-treated due to the racism in the U.S, why would they be loyal to U.S in the first place? Why should the U.S have the audacity to demand Nikkei peoples’ loyalty when the U.S treated them so ill? Block meetings were also fairly represented. JACL leader Frank Nishi’s views of how the Nikkei people needed to show their loyalty by cooperating with the government was well balanced by the opposing opinion of how the Nikkei people should not cooperate with their oppressor. The December 6, 1942 Manzanar riot was also well represented. The escalation of anger caused by the fact that U.S soldiers stole sugar was shown to be what escalated the riot. It shows how the Japanese people were standing up for what was rightfully theirs, yet they were shot at and some killed by U.S police. This encapsulated the struggle of the oppressor against the oppressed and this portrayed the cruelty of the Nikkei incarceration.
    Movie representations concerning the incarceration experience that we think were unfair and misleading are such as: The unclear representation of the fact that people struggled to leave the camp. The experience after the incarceration camps should have been covered so that we can see the perpetual effects of the emotional and psychological pain that continued long past the time the camps were closed. The film should have showed the Nikkei people’s struggle of getting back to normal lives outside barbed wire fences and the struggle of getting back to a white majority society that had mistreated and wounded them so deeply. Another misrepresentation was such as: the misleading portrayal of the desire of the Wakatsuki brothers to die for their country, insinuating that that was the sole way of proving themselves to be “true” and “loyal” Americans.
    One way the text illustrates a historical memory is, in the reading by Tetsudan Kashima called Japanese American Internees Return, 1945 to 1955: Readjustment and Social Amnesia. Kashima talks about how the traumatic camp experience developed the need to those suppress memories and feelings amounting to social amnesia. When the father of Jeanne Wakatsuki came back from detainment a year later, he was so broken. He suppressed his feelings by drinking alcohol. Once, he also beat his wife because of his trauma and anger. This shows how deeply hurt he was, both emotionally and psychologically. This shows that negative memories from the incarceration experience may still have negative effects even today.
    The film Farewell to Manzanar was generally a good representation of what had happened in the incarceration camps because it depicted the issues of social injustice that occurred during the Nikkei incarceration. It showed how propaganda was used to manipulate people to fear the Nikkei people. It showed how the U.S government was so paranoid concerning sabotage by the Nikkei people that it would detain people simply for possessing tools such as fishing boat radios, maps, binoculars, and telescopes. The movie portrayed how the Japanese people were willing to fight against the illegality of the incarceration camps through both infrapolitics such as photography, sketching and writing and also via visible dissent such as protests, work-slowdowns and draft-resistance. This was well balanced with the portrayal of the fact that the Nikkei people were also strong in self-preservation, in holding on to dignity at such a time, overcoming such adversity. For holding on to hope no matter what. The Nikkei people never sabotaged the U.S government. Til this day, with the Day of Remembrance as a reminder, the Japanese people together with other racial minority groups, still continue to move forward in the fight for justice.

    Kashima, Tetsuden. “Japanese American Internees Return, 1945 to 1955: Readjustment and Social Amnesia.” Phylon (1960-) 41.2 (1980): 107-15. Web.

    Korty, John, Houston, James D., Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, Chihara, Paul, Shimoda, Yuki, McCarthy, Nobu, Kikumura-Yano, Akemi, Kusatsu, Clyde, Mako, Morita, Pat, Korty Films, Production Company, NBC Universal Television, Publisher, and Japanese American National Museum , Distributor. Farewell to Manzanar. Universal City, CA]: NBC Universal Media, 2011, 2011. Print.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.