WHAT IS THE NISEI PROJECT?
A ballet conceived and choreographed by Marla Hirokawa
Written by Nancy Matsumoto
In 2001, Marla Hirokawa conceived and choreographed Nisei in honor of her late father and his comrades of the Japanese American Segregated units, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regiment. Together they formed the most highly decorated unit and suffered the greatest number of casualties of any unit in American Military history. Their members, many of whom were released from U.S. government prison camps to fight for America, were the epitome of the Japanese spirit of gaman (patience, endurance, perseverance), exhibiting courage and dignity and proving with their blood that they were loyal citizens and heroes.
Nisei tells the story of a young Japanese American boy whose happy, mulitcultural upbringing is shattered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II. Like many World War II-era Japanese Americans, he feels caught between the worlds of Japan and America.
Hirokawa's choreography, performed by both Japanese and American performers, fuses ballet technique with swing/jazz and modern/contemporary dance, utilizing the traditional narrative ballet form to create a tale that ranges in emotional scenes of discrimination and separation to an intense, action-packed battle scene.
As a way of extending Nisei's message of gratitude to all American veterans, in the final scene of each performance, living veterans of U.S. wars are brought on stage to be thanked and honored.
Following the ballet's 2001 premiere in Brooklyn, Nisei Project 2003 was founded by Hirokawa and her sister Laurie Hamano. They staged a three-week tour of Nisei to Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island and Maui in July 2003, honoring over 200 Nisei and other veterans living on the Islands and reaching thousands of islanders. Through the educational programming component of the project, over 2,000 youths experienced dance for the first time and learned about this chapter of their state's and country's history.
In August 2014, Nisei was selected to be performed at the New York International Fringe Festival. A revised score included ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro's "Go For Broke" composition and multiplatinum singer/songwriter Harold Payne's song "Quiet Heroes." The six-piece live band, including traditional Japanese koto and shakuhachi instruments and new choreography gave the ballet a fresh sound and look, resulting in sold out shows and rave reviews. World War II Nisei veterans Mr. Kaz Yamaguchi, Dr. Saburo Koide, and Mr. Satoru Tsufura were among the veterans honored at Fringe Festival performances.
NISEI PROJECT WEST
The Fringe Festival confirmed Nisei's relevance and the need to continue telling this story as new generations grow up knowing nothing of the Japanese American World War II experience. So Nisei Project West was launched, a West Coast performance tour to honor the role of Japanese Americans during World War II with public performances as well as offering educational shows and programs for public schools.