‘Blood Red Sun’ explores wartime friendship

Sep. 21, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Tomikazu "Tomi" Nakaji (Kyler Ki Sakamoto), left, and Billy Davis (Kalama Epstein) are friends in the 1940s. Their lives are changed with the advent of World War II in "Under the Blood Red Sun." (Courtesy Dana Satler Hankins)

Tomikazu “Tomi” Nakaji (Kyler Ki Sakamoto), left, and Billy Davis (Kalama Epstein) are friends in the 1940s. Their lives are changed with the advent of World War II in “Under the Blood Red Sun.” (Courtesy Dana Satler Hankins)

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

“Under the Blood Red Sun,” the film made from Hawaii author Graham Salisbury’s screenplay adaptation of his 1995 young-adult novel, is a movie certain to give many island residents the feeling of “We got this!”

It was made by a local production company, most of the major characters are played by Hawaii residents and it tells a pleasant and earnest story of friendship across ethnic lines in Honolulu.

‘UNDER THE BLOOD RED SUN’

Pearl Harbor Premiere

» Where: Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
» When: 6 p.m. Saturday book signing, followed by red-carpet entries; 7 p.m. screening
» Cost: Free
» Info: pacifichistoric-parks.org/phh_events.php
» Note: Lawn chairs, blankets and snacks in clear bags allowed; no purses, backpacks or opaque bags

The story takes place during the last four or five months of 1941. It includes the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, but it is more about a young man being forced by circumstances to assume adult responsibilities than it is about World War II or the internment of an ethnic Japanese in Hawaii.

THE ATTACK by the Japanese on Hawaii is the catalyst and backdrop, as are intimations of ethnic rifts.

Tomikazu “Tomi” Nakaji (Kyler Ki Sakamoto), Billy Davis (Kalama Epstein) and their friends are enjoying life in the fall of 1941 despite their awareness of the wars being fought in Europe and Asia, and despite occasional run-ins with the neighborhood bully, Keet Wilson (Bryce Moore).

Wilson holds extra power over Tomi because the Wilsons employ Tomi’s mother as their housekeeper and provide the Nakajis with a house on their estate.

Things change for everyone after the Japanese attack. There’s a curfew, there’s a blackout, there’s martial law. There are terrifying rumors that Japanese paratroopers have landed in the mountains and that some Japanese in Hawaii aided attacking forces.

Tomi’s father, Taro Nakaji (Chris Tashima), a fisherman by trade, is arrested and put in a prison camp on Sand Island — Japanese fishing boats were suspected of being in contact with Japanese submarines, and Taro’s boat wasn’t flying an American flag on Dec. 7. Tomi’s grandfather (Dann Seki) is taken away by the FBI for unknown reasons.

Tomi is left to comfort his mother (Autumn Ogawa) and younger sister (Mina Kohara), help hide family heirlooms from the FBI and endure Keet Wilson’s persistant bullying. Eventually he embarks on a risky swim to Sand Island in search of his father.

A parallel story line follows Billy’s experiences as a well-off mainland Caucasian transplant as he learns about island culture in general and Japanese culture in particular.

Billy pulls his weight aboard the Nakaji family fishing boat, stands by them after the Japanese attack and goes with Tomi and his mother when they visit the family of a Japanese-American who was killed in error by an American plane after the Japanese attack.

Sakamoto gives the film a solid foundation with his portrayal of a diminutive teenager beset by a bully and pulled between two cultures.

Moore, seen wearing the same black outfit in scene after scene as Keet Wilson, makes Keet a smaller boy’s worst nightmare.

Dann Seki (Grampa Ojii-chan) provides occasional comic relief as Tomi’s gruff and staunchly traditionalist grandfather.

Wil Kahele is a comforting presence as the Wilson family’s sympathetic gardener.

Ukulele virtuoso Aidan James (Mose) earns some laughs as Tomi’s wisecracking friend.

Hawaii audiences will also enjoy Tom Holowach playing against type as Keet’s belligerent father, and Howard Bishop as the no-nonsense FBI man.

Salisbury does a good job slipping in some little-known details — American anti-aircraft shells falling in Honolulu neighborhoods, for example.

There are no dramatic surprises. The stories of Billy, Tomi and his family play out to conventional outcomes. One major subplot ends abruptly, albeit in a “feel-good” manner.

On the other hand, “Under the Blood Red Sun” gives parents and children plenty of things to talk about — culture, personal identity, friendship, prejudice, dealing with bullies, what it means to be an American — after watching it.

As for content, the “J-word” is used in its historical context, but no other swearing is heard. There is also no nudity, no sexual activity seen or implied, and there’s a minimal amount of almost bloodless violence.

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