Out of all of the season four episodes, the one that seemed to move “Hawaii Five-0” fans the most was the homage to the attack on Pearl Harbor, “Hoʻonani Makua Kāne” (“Honor Thy Father”).
Many fans were so moved that the conversation about the episode, and the questions it raised, continued weeks after its airing. Yet there was one group of fans who seemed to have been so affected, they went so far as to send their aloha all the way from France.
“Hawaii 5-0 France,” led by Christophe and Sandra Riot, wanted to do more than just discuss the episode amongst themselves. They wanted to reach out and pay their respects to the Japanese community.
“We’ve been deeply moved by the ‘Hawaii Five-0’ Pearl Harbor episode,” said Christophe Riot. “We learned about internment which is totally unknown in Europe.”
Riot contacted me in January about helping him translate a short video from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii about Japanese internment camps on Oahu. The video interviewed Harry Urata, who was interned at Honouliuli, as well as the adult children of several internees. Riot had been given permission by the JCCH to translate the video into French.
Riot wanted the translated video in order “to spread the knowledge about internment camps in France.”
“We wanted to pay tribute to the people who where interned in Hawaii, particularly at Honouliuli,” he said. “The episode about the camps was a true epiphany for us.”
Riot also asked me to deliver a card and flowers to the JCCH. He and his wife gathered 170 signatures and messages from French fans who wanted to share their thoughts and condolences after watching the episode and gathering more information on their own about the experience of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
I could think of no better ambassador to share their card and aloha than actor Dennis Chun, who was gracious and more than willing to work with Riot. He was instrumental in presenting the French fans message to the JCCH after Riot contacted JCCH President and Executive Director Carole Hayashino, who invited Chun to a Day of Remembrance Celebration on March 23.
The ceremony was held at the WWII Valor Theatre at the Arizona Memorial and was attended by distinguished members of the Japanese American community of Hawaii and Governor Neil Abercrombie, as well as surviving internees and their families. March marks the anniversary of the opening of the main internment camp on Oahu at Honouliuli, and the JCCH received permission from CBS to present a special screening of “Hoʻonani Makua Kāne” (“Honor Thy Father”) for their invited guests.
Actor James Saito, who played David Toriyama, and Luke Hagi, who played young David in the flashback scenes, joined Chun at the ceremony to answer questions about the episode. Saito flew in from New York for the event; Hagi is the son of Hawaii News Now weather anchor Guy Hagi and former news anchor Kim Gennaula.
Chun said Hayashino and the audience were deeply moved by the episode and its historical accuracy. One former internee said “Hawaii Five-0” got it “completely right.”
“The most moving thing that was shared was when Luke, who is 11 years old, was asked what he took away from his experience,” said Chun. “He said that there is still prejudice in the world and we must fight it and never let it happen again.”
Chun spoke to the audience about how the episode was very moving to watch as his father, original “Hawaii Five-O” actor Kam Fong, was at Pearl Harbor during the attack.
“That’s why we at ‘Hawaii Five-0’ are so proud of this episode, because this story must never be forgotten,” he said. “And we were able to tell it in such as way, that as long as this episode is out there, the story will not go away.
“It needs to be remembered, but it needs to be remembered not only because of what happened, but because of how their families faced this darkness. They faced it with faith, courage and determination with patience and patriotism. They turned this darkness into a little flicker of hope and aloha that lit the world.
“That flame is still flickering today. (Those interned) knew the answer wasn’t blowing in the wind, the answer is us. That’s the important thing we must always remember. Never to let this flame burn out.”
Chun presented a monetary gift from Hawaii 5-0 France and also read a few letters from the Riots and other French fans. He explained to the audience that he “wanted to share their words, because they wrote them for you.”
“It’s just a privilege and honor to carry the message from the French fans to the JCCH,” Chun said. “I want to thank them for their aloha and for allowing me to be their messenger.”
Riot was thankful Chun helped share the day with fans in France.
“This project concluded in a way we never hoped possible,” he said. “We wanted to send our aloha and honor the memory of those Japanese American citizens who had to go through internment and this event was perfect for it. We have been humbled and honored by the choice of the JCCH to include our contribution in such a marking event like the Day of Remembrance.
“Knowing that James Saito … was standing next to Dennis while he was reading our card moved us in a way you couldn’t imagine. James played his role so truly that you could think he actually went through those hard times himself. We are very proud and humbled at the same time that our project came this far. It’s an honor for us.”
“Five-0” executive director Peter Lenkov has spoken quite often about the importance of this episode, but I don’t believe he thought it would have made such a global impact. We now know the show has done more than just entertain fans — it has connected people in a much more memorable and more meaningful way.
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Hayashino shared her thoughts about about the Day of Remembrance via email.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to ‘Hawaii Five-0’ for telling our story and for the generous response by Hawaii 5-0 France,” she said.
“Let me begin by sharing there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience as the episode concluded its final scene on the USS Missouri overlooking Pearl Harbor. For those of us whose families were interned and for a community still coming to understand its own World War II history, we were moved by (the) sensitive tribute to Pearl Harbor survivors, Nisei soldiers, Japanese American internees and its message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
“For the past ten years, we’ve worked to document and share the story of Hawaii’s internment camps. We could never imagine that our history would one day find its way into a ‘Five-0’ storyline or that our experience would touch the hearts of people in France.
“We are deeply honored by the messages from our friends in France and the thoughtful gesture of support for JCCH’s work to preserve the Honouliuli Internment Camp and the story of Hawaii’s Japanese American internees. It is a chapter in history that has been overlooked and nearly forgotten. The donation from Hawaii Five-0 France will be used to support our continuing research on Hawaii’s internment camps and the oral histories of former internees. Their support will help to ensure that our history is shared and the lessons of Honouliuli are not forgotten.
“For this, I offer my sincere thanks and warmest aloha to our friends and partners in France,” she said.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.