Based on true events, Resettlement - A Chicago Story, directed by Reina Higashitani, depicts the hardships of the Yamamotos, one family attempting to rebuild their lives in Chicago after being unjustly incarcerated in concentration camps during the Second World War. It will be screening at 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 2 as part of Shorts Program #1.
As the short film opens, viewers are introduced to the Yamamoto family. Working in a dry-cleaning business beneath their home, the Yamamoto family of three each experience their individual struggles while restructuring their new lives in America. The young daughter in the family lives with her mother and her grandfather as they collectively battle with racial discrimination, cultural shifts, and lack of necessary funds.
While the daughter dreams of attending a dance competition and yearns for a sense of unity within the American culture, her mother grapples with the inability to provide various luxuries for her daughter as well as her reluctance to conform to modernity. Behind closed doors, the mother of the family worries about the number of expenses she must account for, extracting money from her minimal savings to simply make ends meet. Her father simultaneously suffers as he pictures a time prior to the war and the grave trauma he has obtained from it.
The short film’s portrayal of racial prejudice and discrimination tugs at one’s heartstrings, as the mother must face the expectations and berating manner of her residence’s owner at the dry-cleaning business. While her daughter refuses to accept the unfair treatment that her mother is receiving, the mother remains silent and conforms to ruthless societal norms as a means of survival and protection, shielding her family from further harm. The brief interactions that the family has with others contain painfully honest depictions of the judgment and disrespect that they receive as a Japanese family living in Chicago after World War II.
Higashitani incorporates little dialogue over the course of the film, highlighting the hardships of the Yamamoto family through unsaid symbolism and brief word choice. Her choice of slight conversation within the short film is representative of the family’s ability to read one another’s emotions despite not having spoken about them. Higashitani showcases the love and care that the three family members hold for one another through this cinematic technique, emphasizing the depth of their emotions through silence and the power of their following behaviors.
Shifting between black and white and color scenes, the short film also places a heavy significance on joyous moments that the family experiences. The colorful shots throughout the duration of the short film are symbolic of breaches from everyday life, whether the family members are imagining happier remembrances and possibilities or experiencing them at the time. As they embark on their journey into the cultural disparities and craft new lives for themselves, the shifts in color tone overlays provide an excellent read on their emotional states, their typical lives seeming gray in comparison to the beaming colors of their memories and dreams.
Through the use of emotional storytelling and powerful familial relations, Higashitani’s short film pulls back the covers on a sample of hardships that Japanese immigrants would go through when attempting to form new lives in America following World War II. By sharing one family’s story, the short film starts the conversation about countless more and raises awareness for the grave injustices that people from Japan were unfortunate to face during the second half of the 20th century.
For a heart tugging piece that not only speaks for the experiences of the Yamamoto family, but many others, don’t miss Resettlement - Chicago Story at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 2. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets are available for purchase here.