Narration: Janice Tanaka, Michael Shibata, Ken Takemoto, Robert Yamate, Nelson Yamaguchi.
Documentary by Japanese-American filmmaker Janice
Tanaka is a moving, if uneven, story of her reunion with her father after more than 40 years.
In 1989, when Tanaka’s mother died, the filmmaker began a search for her father, whom she last saw when she was 3. The search ended at a halfway house for the chronically mentally ill in Los Angeles. There, she discovered that her father, Jack Koto Tanaka, spent 10 years in mental institutions, where he had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had undergone shock therapy.
Tanaka’s goal in the documentary is to link several disparate themes through the life of her father, including the injustice of the internment of Japanese-Americans at the Manzanar camp during World War II and the political, economic and racial biases in the treatment of the mentally ill.
For most of the piece, Tanaka seems to be struggling to link her father’s mental illness to the injustices he suffered during the evacuation. The connection between the story of this individual and the fate of an entire ethnic group seems tenuous, and Tanaka undermines her point by laborious slow-motion sequences that are soft and impressionistic, adding to the fuzziness of the themes.
However, in the hourlong film’s final segments, in which Tanaka conducts extensive interviews with her father, his estranged brother and her own children , she presents a moving and honest portrayal of a family that has been torn apart by the tragedies of the past and the torments of mental illness.
In the end, the love Tanaka develops for her father thankfully shines through the more pedantic political issues in the piece.