A film about a Japanese-American family uncovering their forgotten history in World War II incarceration camps premiered at the Japanese-American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Written and directed by Paul Daisuke Goodman, “No No Girl” features newcomer Mika Dyo and Oscar winner Chris Tashima, as well as a cast of Japanese American talent.
Goodman, 30, developed the film with his own family in mind. His grandfather was among those incarcerated at Camp Rohwer in Arkansas and later enlisted in the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
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“A tremendous amount of ‘No No Girl’ is influenced by my upbringing as a Japanese American and the experiences of so many people in my life,” Goodman told NextShark of her second feature film. “It deals with the aftermath of the incarceration of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II and how this illegal decision impacted our community and our history. I grew up no only hearing stories of parents who were in these camps, but also the stories of all the parents and grandparents of my friends who were also incarcerated.
Goodman’s suffering during the production of “No No Girl” wasn’t limited to revisiting painful memories. In 2016, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which he has since battled with chemotherapy, radiation and, most recently, a bone marrow transplant from his sister Laurie, who later served as the film’s producer.
Prior to his life-changing diagnosis, Goodman had filmed for documentaries around the world, such as Discovery Channel’s “Whale Wars.” But he said continuing that work became unfeasible after his diagnosis, so he went down a different path, writing scripts in hospital and filming them in outpatient settings.
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“‘No No Girl’ was different because I started pre-production while I was going through some of the most brutal regiments of all my cancer,” Goodman recalled. “When the cancer relapsed, it had spread to my spine and my brain, and the initial prognosis was the most severe I have ever experienced.”
“They presented me with situations and figures that were difficult to understand. They told me it was a bone marrow transplant, otherwise I wouldn’t recover,” he adds.
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Goodman’s transplant presented its own challenges. But as he lay sickly in his hospital bed, the Japanese-American community was strong for him, launching blood drives “across California, Hawaii, Texas and even around the world.”
“My bone marrow transplant was unique due to the nature of the science behind the donors and my nationality. I am both Japanese and European/Ashkenazi Jewish, and to find a safe match for BMT, the donor had to have a similar racial identity,” Goodman said. “My brother, Laurie, would end up 50% matching and saved my life. We did ‘No No Girl’ together and I look back fondly on it.
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“No No Girl,” meanwhile, would become Mika Dyo’s big screen debut. The up-and-coming actress said most of her other credits come from live theater productions at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and California State University, Long Beach, where she is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts.
Dyo plays the lead role of Sue, the youngest member of the Hasegawa family, who “is never taken seriously,” Dyo says, so she “takes the step to find out about her family’s past” and eventually becomes the one who brings them together.
Being the newest among actors, Dyo had times when she doubted her abilities. But she says everyone involved helped and encouraged her.
“The biggest challenge I faced was dealing with impostor syndrome. This is my first professional film; everyone in the cast has been doing this for a long time. We have Chris Tashima, winner of an Oscar, for crying out loud. I was just a student with no one, trying to apply the lessons from my acting classes within hours of learning them,” Dyo told NextShark.
The rising star said there was “never a moment of arrogance” on her part and that she learned a lot from everyone.
“I was fully aware and honored to work with people who have made their way in this industry, so I could be here. Everyone was incredibly nice and supportive throughout the filming process. They trusted me when I doubted myself and encouraged me when I wanted to shrink.
Chris Tashima, who received an Oscar for the film “Visas and Virtue” in 1997, plays Sue’s Uncle Bob. The eldest of his siblings, Bob considers himself a patriarch and feels responsible for the family.
Bob is a Sansei, or third generation Japanese American. Tashima told NextShark he also identifies as one of them and relates to the film’s take on the unanswered questions about war.
“I found that there were a large number of Sansei whose parents, nisei, spoke very little about their WWII camp experience, if at all. As a result, there are many unanswered questions or secrets hidden from these children of camp survivors,” Tashima says.
“It’s not the main focus of the script – because that’s not what Sue is going through – but it was very easy for me to bring a lot of the burden to the surface while filming the film’s climactic reveal. . It was a moving moment which for me means a lot to the children of the survivors of the camp. It’s a healing moment for Bob that I wish more Sansei could experience.”
Goodman, who is a Yonsei – a fourth-generation Japanese American – said “No No Girl”, from Sue’s perspective, tries to describe what it’s like to be “removed” from the story.
“As Yonsei with half a century between me and the camps; identity, family and history are at the heart of “No No Girl”. The characters in our film discover that their ancestors, as many truly did at that time, chose to bury their valuables in their backyards instead of waiting to see them confiscated or destroyed while they were kicked out of their homes,” Goodman explained.
“Eighty years later, when ‘No No Girl’ takes place, this family must decide how to get her back or if they even should. Told from the perspective of the youngest in a multi-generational family, I Tried to talk about what it’s like to be estranged from something so historically defining and yet unable to recognize its influence.The camps are hard to understand and those from our past who survived them have almost all disappeared .
Industry veteran Tashima praised the film’s crew for their efficiency. He says he’s grateful to Goodman for bringing such a story to life.
“The fact that this film focuses on a Japanese-American family makes it unique and very special to me. Very little work has examined the aftermath of the camp and the impact of this experience on subsequent generations,” Tashima says. The post-war period was a difficult time for those who lived through incarceration, and the tendency was to keep it quiet, which usually made matters worse. I am grateful that there is Yonsei like Paul who takes the time to bring this out into the open and have a dialogue about the impact of our WWII concentration camps and the lives of Japanese-American families. .
For his part, Goodman says he hopes to make more films that highlight Japanese American and AAPI histories.
“There was a time when ‘No No Girl’ felt like it was the last thing I would do. But we did it, and now there’s more stories and more movies to be made and more “opportunities to look down on my cancer and succeed in spite of it. If there’s a hit coming from this movie, my goal is to make another one and share it again,” Goodman told NextShark “I’m just a filmmaker trying to tell these stories, but if I had the chance, I would tell every one of them.”
“It can’t be more difficult than cancer, can it?”
Featured image via Paul Goodman and Andrew Ge