Go for Broke


Why were tens of thousands of Japanese on the West Coast sent to internment camps, but few were similarly mistreated in Hawaiˋi? Go for Broke: An Origin Story, directed by Alexander Bocchieri, answers that question without specifically identifying the puzzle. The film begins a few days before Pearl Harbor and ends when members of the highly decorated 442d Regiment return home to the Islands.

The aim of the early part is to highlight particular heroes in their daily lives, including those involved in businesses, fishing, schools, and martial arts, though filmviewers do not encounter much depth in their portrayals. Daniel Inouye (played by Gregory Suenaga) is among them. Smiles abound, as the Japanese Americans are seen as happy and very loyal to the United States. Meanwhile, an FBI agent is going over a long list of Japanese to determine their loyalty, with Honolulu Police Department officer John Burns (Ramee Opperude) certifying that some are loyal and upstanding Americans.

When Pearl Harbor Day arrives, albeit without loud noises in the film background, the Japanese are eager to help but turned away by Caucasian authorities. Soon, some are incarcerated, both at Sand Island and at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, but remain calm. Although Japanese students at the University of Hawaiˋi seek to enroll in the army, they are turned down, whereupon they form the Varsity Victory Volunteers and quit college to do whatever they can, with muscles bulging prominently, to help build military defenses. When Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy (Howard Bishop) observes them, he realizes that their talents could indeed be used on the European battlefield. Recruitment for the 442d Regiment soon begins, and thousands volunteer, far more than expected. After the final scene, when survivors of the war return home, the film highlights several members of the 442d Regiment, including Inouye (who died in 2012) as well as others featured in the beginning who are now in the 90s.

Although the events are well known in the Islands and have been featured in other films, the Political Film Society is pleased to nominate Go for Broke as best film exposé of 2019 because the depictions are true to the spirit of Hawaiˋi. 

(A footnote: Instead of the derogatory word “Japs” that was often used to denigrate Japanese, the term “Americans of Japanese Ancestry” was developed in the Islands with an emphasis on all three words in the abbreviation AJAs.)  MH