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Quote Unquote: Comic-Book-Writer-Turned-Filmmaker Shares Veterans’ Stories

Inspired by the World War II heroism of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the Japanese all-volunteer 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Stacey Hayashi spent thousands of hours interviewing veterans, then shared their stories in a comic book called “Journey of Heroes.” Illustrated by Bob’s Burgers artist Damon Wong, this 2012 publication won international acclaim and pushed Hayashi to her next project: finishing a feature-length film about the heroes.


Stacey Hayashi
Photo: David Croxford

MY GREAT-UNCLE, my grandfather’s younger brother, was with the original 100th Battalion, so that meant he was with the 298th Infantry, which [was] stationed at Schofield, so he was defending Hawai‘i on Dec. 7. I have another great-uncle on my mom’s side who was with the 442nd. But that’s not why [the comic was made], it’s just an important story that people need to know.


ONE NIGHT, I couldn’t sleep. It was 2 or 3 in the morning and I wrote the comic book in like an hour and a half. Really short, 30 pages, it was like an outline. It just kind of came out.


I’VE BEEN WORKING on this movie for 16 years now.


WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, my dad would say Uncle was with the one-puka-puka and it was the most highly decorated unit in U.S. history. I was like, I’m a girl. I’m 9, I don’t care. But somewhere between then and sophomore year of high school, I did start to care.


WE WENT THROUGH like three writers and three directors. My friend Titus Chong and I, after the third writer, he said, why don’t we write something? I knew the story and he knew how to write, what if we wrote a screenplay?


“I spent a lot of time with these veterans, thousands of hours. They’re dear friends and they became my family.”


BUT NOW IT’S 2009, the economy is in the toilet, nobody has any money to fund a film. But that’s when I thought, what if we did a comic book? We’d have to make storyboards for the movie anyway, right?


JAKE SHIMABUKURO is a friend from high school. He was supposed to write a soundtrack for the movie, but it’s hard to do with no movie. He was one of the first people I called. He said he loved it, let’s do it. “I’ll play, we’ll fundraise and get it done.” So that’s what we did.


THE GOAL WAS ALWAYS to donate half the print run to schools in Hawai‘i, but the story is sad and violent. It’s the story of war. You don’t want to clean it up, you have to do it justice, but how do you not show that? We used chibi (little and cute)-style characters. It immediately made them more accessible.


I SHOWED the chibi versions to the veterans [who were characters] and they were thrilled. Eddie Yamasaki, for example, with the big glasses, he says, “I look pretty cute, huh?” They liked it. They saw it and many of them got it immediately.


THIS ISN’T JUST ANY STORY. It means so much to so many people, you have to have the right people to tell the story and bring it to life or else it’s not a proper tribute, it falls short of what the veterans deserve.


To donate or to learn more, go to 442comicbook.com




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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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