Kojima sisters release Japanese prison camp documentary

AnnaLise Sandrich

“I don’t know what word you want to use, but we’re not using ‘internment’ camps to describe the ten prison camps we were held in. Euphemistic language really distorted what happened to us, so we’re trying to correct it,” said Satsuki Ina in the documentary “Relive To Remember,” produced and edited by junior Hina Kojima and sophomore Kana Kojima. To Japanese prison camp survivors like Ina, the distinction between “prison” and “internment” is an important one and demonstrates the need for survivors’ stories to be told.

Talking about her experience in “Relive to Remember,” Japanese prison camp survivor Akemi Ina speaks out.(Courtesy of Hina and Kana Kojima)

That’s exactly what the Kojima sisters aimed to do when they interviewed six survivors of Japanese prison camps for their documentary. They came up with the idea to create a project about the Japanese prison camps when Kana learned about them in her freshman English class. 

“We knew we wanted to apply [to the Dragon Kim Foundation], but we struggled to figure out what we wanted our idea to be. Kana came home and suggested that we do [a project] about the prison camps,” Hina said. 

Much of the project was made possible through the Dragon Kim Foundation. Based in Irvine, the Dragon Kim Foundation is a high school social entrepreneurship incubator that grants projects up to $5,000 in funding, provides leadership training and matches participants with mentors to guide them along the process. It is free to apply and participate in and was co-founded by executive director and marketing professional Grace Kim.

“We wanted to create a way for high schoolers to take whatever they are passionate about and find a way to change their corner of the world,” Kim said.

The Dragon Kim Foundation provided the Kojima’s with the necessary training and funding to make the film. However, even with access to sophisticated filmmaking technology, the editing process was still demanding. The Kojima’s had to edit 19 hours of footage into a film that was under 25 minutes. 

“We had no experience in film whatsoever, so it was really difficult to learn… but it was worth it in the end,” Hina said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic added challenges to the process as well because the Kojima’s had to find ways to connect with their subjects while staying socially distanced. As the program manager of the fellowship department of the Dragon Kim Foundation, Arie Lugo works closely with program participants and was able to oversee the documentary-making process for “Relive to Remember.”

“I’m really proud of the work they did to create this documentary even during sheltering. Given the sensitive topic, and the nature of wanting to have a very genuine interview, Hina and Kana worked really hard to make connections to find great sources who would speak personally on this topic and string it together in [a] way that felt very personal,” Lugo said.

Sharing the stories of Japanese prison camp survivors, “Relive to Remember” takes a deeper look at their impact. (Courtesy of Hina and Kana Kojima)

Although the Kojima’s did thorough research before conducting interviews, they were still surprised by the things they learned, particularly each source’s experience in the prison camps. 

“A big [thing we learned] is taking the time to hear out the stories of your elders, because they lived through so much… I’m really grateful that I was able to do this because, in ten, twenty years, most of the prison camp survivors won’t be with us anymore,” Hina said.

Each interviewee had a unique perspective to add and, after hearing the interviews, Hina and Kana changed their documentary’s structure dramatically to better share the different stories. 

“Everyone came out of the prison camps with such a different mindset. I knew I couldn’t structure it the way I’d planned, just because the way I’d structured it was so generic, and it relied on everybody’s story being the same,” Hina said.

Although it was a lot of hard work and time, the experience was rewarding for Hina. Since the film’s release on YouTube, the Kojima’s have received several comments from other people impacted by the prison camps sharing their own stories. 

“The best part about finishing it was all the positive support and encouragement we’ve received from strangers,” Hina said. “It was really amazing knowing how many people we were able to [connect] with our film.”

As a Korean-Japanese American, Lugo resonated with watching other Japanese people share such personal stories. She hopes that more people will see it and either learn something significant or feel more understood.

“I do think that the more we get the word out about this video in places where people need to hear these stories, it will continue to have the really poignant impact it’s had so far,” Lugo said. 

Click here to watch “Relive to Remember” and to watch Hina and Kana discuss their film.