Defiance comes in different forms.
Sitting in the front of a racially segregated bus.
Heihachi Ishikawa holds a string of golden trout, likely caught during an unauthorized fishing trip outside the Manzanar War Relocation Center in eastern California in the mid-1940s. A documentary about the treks outside the camp that held Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens during World War II, titled “The Manzanar Fishing Club,” is currently showing at the Kaahumanu 6 Consolidated Theaters.
A documentary playing at Kaahumanu 6 Consolidated Theaters through Thursday, "The Manzanar Fishing Club," chronicles fishing expeditions by internees, who escaped their World War II relocation camp in eastern California for trips of a day or more.
Writer and co-producer Richard Imamura, grandson of the founder of the old Kawaharada's restaurant in Haiku, said Thursday that he realized the significance of the fishing expeditions when he heard internee Archie Miyatake describe being outside the barbed wire of the camp in an interview for the documentary.
"The air just tasted better on the outside of the wire," Miyatake said.
"It was more than a fishing movie," Imamura recalled thinking at the time. "It was much, much bigger."
The history books often portray beaten-down Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens on the West Coast going meekly to the relocation camps, he said. But the fishing expeditions represented a form of dissent. It said to the authorities: "I am going to take back at least a day's worth of freedom," said Imamura, whose parents and grandparents were interned at the relocation camp at Gila River, Ariz.
"It was definitely defiant," he said.
Some, like Fred Korematsu, refused to go to an internment camp and were arrested. Korematsu's case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1944, when the court essentially ruled against him in a landmark decision.
"Everybody can't be Fred Korematsu," said Imamura. "This was other people's ways of saying, 'I'm going to fight back as well.' ''
In 1942, the U.S. government ordered more than 110,000 men, women and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps, the Manzanar National Historic Site website said. The Manzanar War Relocation Center in eastern California was one of 10 camps where Japanese-Americans and resident Japanese citizens were interned during World War II.
"Locked away in the desert 200 miles from home, a handful of the 10,000 prisoners at Manzanar - the vast majority of whom were American citizens - decided to risk all to go . . . fishing," a news release about the documentary said. "In the process, they found freedom, challenge and adventure amidst what is now recognized as the largest mass roundup in American history."
The fishing trips to the streams at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and in the mountains began shortly after the camp was opened in 1942, said Imamura. The fishermen knew about the fish-filled streams and brought hooks, leader lines and tackle boxes with them to Manzanar. They improvised with sticks for poles.
The avid fishermen would slip under the barbed wire at night, go fishing and slip back in at night. Those who were caught were led back into the camp at the point of a rifle bayonet and put in the camp jail, he said.
It was seven miles from the camp to the streams at the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Some of them went another two or more miles up and over the 12,000-foot peaks.
"We don't know exactly where they went," said Imamura. "These guys went quite a ways, and of course, there were no roads."
Imamura, a longtime trout fisherman, knows that some fishermen went over the mountains because of a photo he saw of a man holding a string of golden trout.
"You can't catch that on the plain" where the camp was, he said. "You have to go to the mountains to catch that."
Those long trips kept internees away from the camp a week to two weeks, he said. Others would just leave camp for the day. They'd wrap the fish in a bedroll or blanket to keep their catch insulated, he said.
"Keeps it surprisingly fresh, as long as you didn't open it," he said.
Imamura, an editor and writer in the entertainment industry, was brought into the film project by Cory Shiozaki, a childhood friend. The documentary began as a book on trout fishing in the Sierras and evolved into a short documentary after Lester Chung and John Gengl, who own a video production company, proposed interviewing the surviving internee fishermen.
Imamura was brought on to write the script for the proposed 22-minute documentary, but after he pored over hours and hours of interviews, he expanded the project into a feature-length documentary.
"His script brought together what Shiozaki had intuitively known all along - that all of the fishermen's stories touched, in one way or another, on a yearning to be free," the documentary website said.
Editor/co-producer Chung has a Maui connection as well. His great-grandfather landed on Maui in the late 1800s and ran a general store in Wailuku.
Imamura visited Maui often as a child. His grandfather, Makiso Kawaharada, first arrived on Maui in 1906 and later started Kawaharada's in Haiku in the 1920s. The restaurant, known for its tasty saimin and little cakes, remained in operation until the early 2000s.
His grandfather, who was a leader in the community and a liaison to the Japanese Consulate, spent seven months in a Wailuku jail after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he said.
His mother, Hazel Kawaharada, left Hawaii on Nov. 7, 1941, to further her education on the Mainland. She was staying with her sister Jane and her husband when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. She was whisked away to the Gila River relocation camp.
She met her husband, Seigi Imamura, in the camp.
Imamura's father was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. After the war, the family eventually relocated to California.
During one of his trips to Maui, Imamura said he caught a 12-pound ulua, "barely beyond a papio."
Nabbing an ulua in Hawaii or a golden trout in the Sierra Nevadas, fishing can be more than just catching fish.
"Fishing is solitary generally," said Imamura. "It is a personal quest. You are out there in nature . . . away from the crowd. . . . It's a time to contemplate."
Fishing offers a chance to clear the mind; it's an escape from life, from the barbed wire of the camp.
"It's being out there, being in the open and getting there, and using your wits to catch a fish that, in this case, were part of normal life," said Imamura. "It was so hard to be normal in the camp."
The documentary opened Friday and shows at the Kaahumanu 6 Consolidated Theaters through Thursday. Movie times are 11:10 a.m., 1:10, 3:10, 5:15, 7:15 and 9:35 p.m.
* "The Manzanar Fishing Club: www.fearnotrout.com.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.