Friday, April 6, 2012

MIS: Human Secret Weapon--Junichi Suzuki offers an eloquent, surprising documentary

MIS stands for Military Intelligence Service, which, during World War II, was secretly formed by the U.S. Army to train and then use second-generation Japanese- Americans (known as Nisei) to help us win the war against Japan. We've seen over the years documentaries and narrative films about the internment camps, into which Japanese-American citizens were suddenly tossed after Pearl Harbor. But the new documentary, MIS: HUMAN SECRET WEAPON, directed by Junichi Suzuki (shown below), is the first TrustMovies has seen (or even heard about) that covers this military operation.

One of the most moving and surprising segments comes early on, as a now very aged former MIS member speaks about those times. Then we hear from his Caucasian son-in-law, who tries to explain to us what the old man means. The son-in-law shows us how, to this day, his father-in-law is affected by the racism of that time, which still informs what he says and how he thinks, speaks and feels about himself. Hearing the anecdotes told by these old men about their service to the USA makes it clear how much our country owed them in terms of winning that war. Even at the time, our military estimated that two years were knocked off the fight due to the MIS -- who comprised a force of approximately 3,000 during the war and another 2,000 post-war, whose job it was to help Japan back into some kind of normalcy (and this, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

The MIS did so many different things, with its ability to communicate in Japanese a primary force in helping our military understand the strength of its adversary and what its goals, immediate and longer-term, might be. The ex-MIS men tell of questioning the Japanese POWs (below), and their stories reveal irony and heartbreak. Hearing these men today, while seeing photos of them as young men is both enthralling and sad.

There is even a little humor now and again -- particularly keen in the tale of how the Japanese soldiers used the leaflets dropped from the air which told the men that, if they surrendered, no harm would come to them. The stories that come out of the occupation of and battle for Okinawa (below) are among the film's most poignant.

We see an interesting glimpse, too, of post-war Japan, and how in the first democratic election held there, Japanese women were able to vote for the first time. The movie ends by telling us of those Nisei who were especially conflicted by their actions, experiences and memories of the war -- having in some cases returned to a country where they had close relatives, only to make war on it. Nonetheless, and despite the enormous prejudices of that time (some of which remain today), the were no cases of MIS soldiers going AWOL during the entire war.

MIS: Human Secret Weapon (100 minutes, distributed via UTB 18.2) opens today, April 6, in New York City (Quad Cinema) and Los Angeles (Laemmle's NoHo 7). Click here to see all currently scheduled theatrical showings of the film.

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