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Flashback focus

"Hawaii Five-0" recreates the Honouliuli Internment Camp

By Mike Gordon


The two women were chatting about the internment of Hawaii's Japanese when the van they were riding in left the paved street for a plantation road. It was an emotional detour that neither expected.

Carole Hayashino and Jane Kurahara knew the history of Hawaii's World War II internment camps, especially the largest one in Honouliuli Gulch. Both women had been to the site of the camp.

Hayashino, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, had given tours there. Kurahara, who volunteers at the center, had helped locate the camp at a time when many people feared its location was lost.

But whenever they pictured the camp, all they could see in their mind's eye were black-and-white photographs taken during the war. And, of course, the photograph that's been reproduced most often: a group of men playing mahjong while sitting at a table next to a barbed-wire fence.

On this day, as guests of the CBS TV series "Hawaii Five-0," Hayashino and Kurahara knew an internment camp was central to the episode being shot. That didn't prepare them, however, for what they found on the set that was built on land owned by Dole Food Co. in Helemano.

When the lurching van rolled past a sign that read "Honouliuli Internment Camp," Hayashino abruptly stopped talking. A moment later, when the van came to a stop, she gasped.

"Oh, my God," the 60-year-old Hayashino said as she wiped away a tear. "I wasn't expecting that. And it looks so real."

Black and white was replaced with living color.

A wooden guard tower built using actual military blueprints rose 27 feet above the pair. A machine gun was at the top.

There was a long barbed-wire fence.

There were six Army-issue tents with muddy, wood floors and vehicles that had rolled off assembly lines in the 1940s. There were cots in the tents along with tables, lanterns, suitcases and, in one, a wedding photograph of a woman in a kimono.

There were rifle-toting soldiers dressed in World War II-era uniforms and extras cast as internees.

And a group of men playing mahjong.

"To see this is overwhelming," said Hayashino, who brought copies of the internment photographs, including the one of the mahjong players.

"It's one thing to look at photos," she said. "Then to see it come alive — it's very emotional."

The 82-year-old Kurahara, a soft-spoken retired school librarian, nodded in agreement.

"I felt like we were being pushed back into time all of a sudden," she said.

THAT WAS exactly the idea behind the set "Five-0" created in October.

The internment camp was part of a flashback plot created by Peter Lenkov, the show's executive producer, and veteran TV writer Ken Solarz.

The episode, "Ho‘onani Makuakane" ("Honor Thy Father"), will air Dec. 13 and includes scenes of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. The show also went to Ford Island and staged explosions to simulate the attack for another flashback sequence in the episode.

The plot involves an elderly Japanese man who seeks revenge for a murder he witnessed while interned at Honouliuli with his family in 1943. Steve McGarrett's "Five-0" team winds up investigating the crime as a cold case.

The elderly version of the Japa­nese man is played by guest star James Saito, who was in the 1976 television movie "Farewell to Manzanar," about the California internment camp. The character is portrayed in flashback scenes by Luke Hagi, the 11-year-old son of Hawaii News Now weatherman Guy Hagi and former journalist Kim Gennaula.

Lenkov, who was on set to greet Hayashino and Kurahara, wanted to include the internment experience ever since reading about it while researching Hawaii history before writing the series pilot.

"Why not?" he said. "It's a powerful story. And honestly, it's a story most people don't know about."

The camp at Honouliuli, built on land just west of what is now Kunia Road, was the largest of several camps built in Hawaii during World War II. It housed Japa­nese, German and Italian internees from Hawaii as well as prisoners of war shipped to the islands. The declaration of martial law on Dec. 7, 1941, allowed military authorities to immediately imprison Japanese nationals and their children, even those youngsters who were U.S. citizens. By the end of the war, an estimated 1,800 people had been detained or interned.

But giving a history lesson on network television is far from routine, according to Lenkov.

"It's rare that you can break from formula and tell this kind of story," he said. "This isn't something you can do in the first year because you're establishing the franchise."

Halfway through the show's third season, Lenkov was reminded of the internment saga while watching a play produced by "Five-0" star Daniel Dae Kim, who plays Chin Ho Kelly on the series. The play, "Hold These Truths," tells the real-life story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Seattle man who took a stance against World War II internment camps on the mainland.

Lenkov knew it would take "Five-0" fans beyond the boundaries of the typical crime procedural but felt they were eager for that kind of departure.

"We found that audiences are hungry for different kinds of stories — telling stories outside the box, not the same thing week after week," he said. "So being able to do this is really a luxury because we're doing well and the audience is open to it."

KIM SAID he had a lot of questions when he first heard about the episode.

"At the time I hadn't read the script so I wasn't sure, frankly, how well it was going to be done," he said after arriving on the set for the first time. "I'm really happy to find out how sensitive they were and how well they explored the subject matter."

As Kim walked the set, and after meeting Hayashino and Kurahara, goose bumps kept rising on his arms.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "I keep getting chicken skin. It's really moving to me."

Director Larry Teng, who regularly helms "Five-0" episodes, was floored when he first read the script. He said it was the most important story in his five years directing TV episodes.

And a huge responsibility as well.

"This show has never fallen short of going after a big spectacle," Teng said during a break. "But here it's different. It's not an explosion. It's not an action sequence. This is cultural and social history that we're portraying. And we went to really great lengths to pay attention to details."

For Hayashino and Kurahara, the details tugged at every emotion the real camp had ever drawn from them. They kept thanking Lenkov, Kim and Solarz. "Five-0" had erased all distinction between fact and fiction and they couldn't get enough of what was before them.

As she stood in the shadow of the guard tower, Kurahara said she was feeling emotions she hoped others felt whenever they visited the real site. She wanted to share it. She wanted to bring them here to this ephemeral setting.

"I know this is fabricated, but it's coming alive for me," she said. "The feeling of being incarcerated is strong."

It took "Five-0" a week to build the camp, which it then used for a single day. Two days later, all of it was history.

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gtracer66 wrote:
It would have been nice if they had been able to leave the set up as sort of a museum site, to remind the current generations of what had been done in the past and what could be happen in the future.
on December 3,2013 | 01:57AM
manakuke wrote:
Though not as large as some continental U.S internment camps Honuulii Gulch reminds Oahu residents that here too camps existed.
on December 3,2013 | 02:05AM
Manoa_Fisherman wrote:
Mr. Lenkov, thank you.
on December 3,2013 | 02:34AM
RetiredUSMC wrote:
Sad and shameful past!
on December 3,2013 | 03:06AM
false wrote:
Hawaii does not have enough prison space… 5-0 built this in a week…. imagine how much prison space we could have in 2 or 3 months. ( except if the "State" tried to built it… they probably couldn't even put up a guard tower in 6 months, for less than $1 million dollars )
on December 3,2013 | 05:39AM
hanalei395 wrote:
This was a movie prop, a near replica of a concentration camp, not a prison.
on December 3,2013 | 06:01AM
buttery wrote:
on December 3,2013 | 07:29AM
MaLa wrote:
Buttery, the term "internment camp" was coined by the American government to try and distance itself from those concentration camps built by the Nazis, when in essence, they were actually one and the same, save for the mass killings and medical experiments. The dictionary defines a concentration camp as "a camp where civilians, enemy aliens, political prisoners, and sometimes prisoners of war are detained and confined, typically under harsh conditions." These camps definitely fit that definition. I have always called them concentration camps as a way to remind people what they truly were, and also to remind the government of the atrocities they committed. It would be nice if textbooks did the same.
on December 3,2013 | 08:00AM
DiverDave wrote:
One must put the time and place in context. We were viciously attacked by Japan on U.S. soil, and thousands killed and injured. So, there was of course a lot of paranoia, and over reaction to that. But, there can be no doubt that no race has been discriminated against more in these islands than the Japanese have. Chinese are a close second. They were brought here to strengthen Hawaii, and become part of the fabric of Hawaii. Now they pay reprobations via their hard earned tax dollars that go to Polynesian-Hawaiian only programs. How racist is that?
on December 3,2013 | 08:19AM
DiverDave wrote:
On November 24, 1882 John M. Kapena presented to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Japan, Inouye, a proposal to allow Japanese to immigrate to Hawaii. Sent by King Kalakaua, and the Board of Immigration, he read the following prepared statement. "We believe the Japanese and Hawaiians spring from a cognate race and that Japanese children growing up and amalgamating with our population will produce a new and vigorous race, which will repeople our islands. We wish to repeople our country with an orderly, laborious, civilized, law abiding and cognate race. Such we believe the Japanese to be and therefore our future lies here, and we ask you to help us with this end". Well we know what happened. 10's of thousands were paid to immigrate here. Their pay was $10 a month U.S. Gold Coin ( the official money used in Hawaii for "all debts public and private" after the Hawaiian Monetary Act of 1876). They were made to work 10 hours in the field or twelve hours in the mill, six days a weeks. So now 7 generations later the descendants of these immigrants are forced to pay reprobations to Polynesian-Hawaiians via their hard earned tax dollars? How wrong is that? Surely unconstitutional. However, in this state racism is alive and well and living in our State's government!
on December 3,2013 | 08:21AM
buttery wrote:
IRT MaLa: Thank you!
on December 3,2013 | 11:43AM
kauailawyer wrote:
Harry S Truman, disgusted with the idea of the camps, said that they were "concentration camps."
on December 3,2013 | 10:17AM
hanalei395 wrote:
That phony term, "internment camp", sounded better than concentration camp. The concentration camp at Guantanamo is called an "internment camp". It was formerly a torture camp until Obama put a stop to it. Right after he became Pres., he said that "the United States will no longer torture".
on December 3,2013 | 11:36AM
buttery wrote:
IRT hanalei395: I agree, it is a phoney term. I can imagine the discussion: OK folks we have too come up with a better label than concentration camp. A trivial pursuit question: who coined the term internment camp? Did he get a Bonus?
on December 3,2013 | 11:56AM
HanabataDays wrote:
We could just string barbed wire along the beaches -- this time not to keep out the Japanese Army, but to keep us all interned in a police state.
on December 3,2013 | 06:47AM
manakuke wrote:
Though not as large as some continental U.S internment camps Honuulii Gulch reminds Oahu residents that here too internment camps existed.
on December 3,2013 | 07:06AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Honouliuli was for the NICE prisoner's of war. The BAD ones got sent to Arizona.
on December 3,2013 | 07:10AM
cojef wrote:
Visited my uncle who was a WWI veteran from Hawaii who was rounded up in California and eventually ended up in the Sante Fe, New Mexico concentration camp, via the Tule Lake Camp. Although I was in my US Army dress uniform with corporal stripes, was treated as though an enemy alien with the guard accompaning me to meet with my uncle. We were allotted on 15 minutes in a small cubicle just enough to turn around. That's how bad our generation, was treated during that terrible time of our history. It is ironic that in spite of experiencing this kind of treatment, have reconciled myself that war hysteria does create many uncomfortable situations. My Country right or wrong, I still love Her.
on December 3,2013 | 09:15AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Those that do not cry in their beer and make do the best they can -- succeed. Those that complain and constantly blame others for their miseries -- stay stuck in the gutter.
on December 3,2013 | 09:28AM
readergirl wrote:
Thank you cojef - you are what makes this country the way we are...you are a true American and proud of it, a true hero standing for his country. Thank you!!
on December 4,2013 | 08:02AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
"Evacuees" That's a stunning use of a euphemism.
on December 3,2013 | 07:55AM
Waterman2 wrote:
Old wounds. The largest demographic now in Hawaii government : Japanese decedents. Please remember the times, I know a few elderly Japanese in Hawaii who agree that there were certainly some who needed to be isolated. A shame we mere humans couldn't have found a better way, but one of the great things about the Japanese is their loyalty to family and country, Unfortunatly in their transition from Japanese to Keiki ok a Aina some were caught between two loyalties. We all come from the same source, folks, I pray we remember that in our future on this crowded planet.
on December 3,2013 | 09:07AM
innocentBystander wrote:
Well said.
on December 3,2013 | 12:25PM
Waterman2 wrote:
Gotta love that spell check.....does wonders to the Hawaiian language. Keiki o ka Aina.
on December 3,2013 | 09:09AM
goodvibrations wrote:
As a history lover (books and tv) I am amazed how many knowledgeable people have written in about this topic! Most people my age and younger do not like reading about history or studying it in school!
on December 3,2013 | 01:15PM
june7 wrote:
I wish they could have left the buildings standing, so that visitors could come see it. Most Americans don't know Hawaii had such camps. Think of all the schoolchildren who could stand there and see history come alive.
on December 4,2013 | 09:04AM
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