Helen Goggins: Japanese Internment

   After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were rounded up and forced into internment camps. David Tatsuno and his family were relocated to Topaz Internment Camp. They were removed from their homes and were not allowed to bring many personal items with them. Tatsuno was forced to give his camera away to a friend because it was illegal for him to have one. With the help of Walter Honderick, a War Relocation Authority staff member, Tatsuno was able to contact his friend and have his camera secretly sent to the camp.  After receiving his 8mm home camera, he shot footage around the camp, capturing images that provided insight into Japanese internment. The film was able to convey a sense of life in the camp, but was unable to capture the entire span of interment since all of the recordings were shot in private.

   Tatsuno’s video from the camp provide a unique insight to life of interned Japanese Americans, even if the film does not capture every moment of his time there. Some historians consider home movies a form of historiography because they capture a specific history of peoples not always present in popular history. Tatsuno’s history captures immigrant history and how being perceived as an immigrant can cause life altering consequences. There are critics who disagree, and believe home movies are skewed interpretations of a singular persons experience. Tatsuno edited his own footage and music, and interviews were added in later, creating a more ominous tone. Historical conclusions that are drawn from his movies must take into account that the footage was not created with the intent to be shared with the world. The footage serves as a primary source which can help us understand Tatsuno’s personal perspective, but cannot speak to the feelings and emotions of all interned Japanese Americans.

   Tatsuno’s forty eight minutes of home movies from his three years in the camp were inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996 because it was considered “culturally, historically, or esthetically important.” The footage provides an insight into an horrific time in American culture, but also only captures snippets of what life was truly like. Tatsuno said, “I hope that when you look at these [movies] you see the spirit of the people; people trying to reconstruct a community despite overwhelming obstacles.” His intent for his film was to bring light to a terrible time in American history while showing the resilience of Japanese Americans. The film is one of two home movies that hold this honor, the other being a film which captures the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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Fox, Broderick. “Home Movies and Historiography: Amateur Film’s Re-Vision of Japanese-American Internment.” The Spectator 26, no. 2 (Fall, 2006): 9-21. http://login.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/docview/1503664146?accountid=14826.

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