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Docurama presents
Unfinished Business: The Japanese-American Internment Camps (1986)

"In the spring of 1942, over 110,000 men, women and children were evicted from their homes on the west coast and placed in concentration camps. The great majority of these people were American citizens of Japanese ancestry."
- narrator (Amy Hill)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 15, 2006

Stars: Amy Hill, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui
Director: Steven Okazaki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 58m:05s
Release Date: December 26, 2005
UPC: 767685975435
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C+B- B-

DVD Review

In the dark days immediately following September 11th, 2001, the thought of rounding up any and all Middle Eastern-looking individuals—American citizens or not—was an emotional kneejerk reaction by many to a catastrophic event brought against our country. Hindsight and common sense reinforce the notion that a group think/lynch mob mentality like that is wrong, but it's one of those horribly flawed desperate measures that seemed to many like the only viable reaction.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941—an event that certainly ranks up there as one of the most significant attacks on U.S. interests—our government actually responded in much the same way, only this time it involved west coast Japanese-Americans being rounded up and shipped off to what were kindly dubbed "relocation centers," in most cases for over 3 1/2 years. That's the subject, in short, of Steven Okazaki's 1986 Academy Award nominated documentary Unfinished Business, a film that tries to tackle this wideload of an emotional subject in under an hour.

That's a tall order, and Okazaki steers his narrative through the eyes of three rather remarkable men—Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Min Yasui—who took it upon themselves to challenge (generally unsuccessfully) the U.S. government on its decision to imprison American citizens for no reason other than their ancestry. Okazaki spends the first thirty minutes or so covering the basics of the forced internment, simultaneously dipping into the lives of the three men, and why they chose to do what they did, as they butt heads with the government on the grounds that unjustly imprisoning someone based on race is nothing short of wrong. The second half looks at the attempt to reopen their cases and have them heard, more than 40 years later, in order to try and clear their names.

The history lesson, brief as it is, is sadly disturbing, yet the remembrances of Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Yasui are all spoken with a calmness that is almost disarming. The prospect of a court case would certainly not win back the time spent being "relocated" against their will, but the quiet dignity shown by all three is the emotional center of Okazaki's documentary.

The 60-minute runtime seems far too short to adequately capture and convey the scope of this ugly black mark on our history, and considering how the subject of Japanese-American internment hardly gets the same kind of play other injustices get, I think a more in-depth look is in order. This is still worth your time, but I'll wager you will want to know more.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 full frame transfer has very soft, almost faded coloring, and the added presence of heavy specking and grain really make this look older than it is. Consisting of interviews and archival footage, the transfer's flaws don't impact the flow of the content terribly, but the print itself has obviously suffered some age-related damage.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio has been issued in a workmanlike 2.0 mono presentation that delivers clear voice quality, though the overall sound doesn't offer much in the way of a broad range in fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Lost In La Mancha, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hill, Touch The Sound
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not much here, but what has been included is interesting, from an historical perspective. Japanese Relocation (09m:28s) is an early 1940s U.S. government-produced short touting all the good things that can come with "relocating," and darned if they don't make it look almost pleasant. In other words—another lie.

A batch of Docurama trailers and a short text bio of director Okazaki make up the rest of the meager supplements.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A fascinating and generally pushed-under-the-rug subject is given what ultimately appears to be a cursory glance in this program, running just under an hour. The three men outlined chose to buck the system, yet the resolution of their respective cases is handcuffed by a runtime that really should have been expanded to fully tell their stories.


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