A wave crashes onto shore, washing over the sand, as we dissolve to an aerial shot soaring over the Hamakua Coast of Hawai‘i Island. We soar over waterfalls and over a hill, then dissolve to an endless field of sugar cane.
A TITLE reads: Hamakua Coast, Hawai‘i Island October, 1989
The camera booms down to reveal a man in a long coat riding a horse down a long dusty road that cuts through the field. We push to a CU of the man as he brings the horse to a stop and turns. The camera pulls back to reveal three men on horses approaching the man from all sides, surrounding him. They move in quickly and we cut to a CU of the man. His eyes show the fear and dread in his heart and we cut to black.
We fade up to a CU of hands pulling a rope in the darkness of night, lit by the moon, lifting a heavy object as we pan over to reveal a shadow of a body being lifted by the rope, hands tied behind the back, wearing a long coat that blows in the wind as the body is lifted into the air as we dissolve to the CU to reveal the face of KATSU GOTO – eyes closed, head hanging limp with a rope tied around his neck. We pull back to reveal his body hanging from a telephone pole in the moonlight. He is all alone and his long coat flaps in the wind. We fade to black. Our film begins.
MAIN TITLE SEQUENCE provides a montage of photographs of early Japanese immigrants arriving to Hawaii in the 1885-early 1900s, pouring off ships, numbered and wearing tags and then working in the harsh sugar cane fields.
The film will be broken into distinct chapters, beginning with:
We fade into a slow dolly shot into the gravesite of Katsu Goto, his name and time of death clearly visible on the tombstone as our off-camera NARRATOR explains – “Katsu Goto was on the first ship of 220,000 Japanese who immigrated to Hawaii during the Kanyaku Imin Government contract period.” The narrator will be the story teller and interviews with American and Japanese immigration scholars will help tell the back story of why so many Japanese came to Hawaii. The film will use artwork, drawings, and historical photographs to illustrate the story of the conditions in Japan at the time that led to the mass exodus by so many Japanese. We will learn how the Kingdom of Hawaii desired a relationship with Japan and how the new sugar plantations in Hawaii needed a huge labor force and how together these two interests would forever change the remote island paradise.
We will learn how the Meiji Restoration period in Japan would open up the closed Japanese society and inspire many to dream of a new life in a new world, beyond the confines of Japan. And how economic conditions made it logical for thousands to leave their homeland.
Location filming in Japan at Goto’s birthplace and in Yokohama Harbor where he worked will illustrate how he was inspired to go to Hawaii and was willing to work as a laborer on a plantation.
Born in 1862, Katsu Kobayakawa, Goto’s original surname, was the first son, the chonan, of three sons and two daughters born to Izaemon and Sayo Kobayakawa. He was to inherit the ancestral home and land. But young Kobayakawa had other plans. We learn how Katsu had caught tobei netsu, “abroad fever” like many young Japanese and how poor harvests had caused a severe recession in Japan and bold, eager men looked across the ocean to Hawaii and the Americas for greener pastures.
We discover that he was forced to change his birth name and be adopted by the Goto family in order to travel to Hawaii where he could one day earn money to send back to his family in Japan. And we visit his gravesite in Oiso, Japan that his father Izaemon erected next to his own gravesite, a place of honor. Engraved on the gravestone, is the story of Goto’s life in Japan, emigration to Hawaii and the unfortunate lynching in Hawaii.
PLANTATIONS IN PARADISE
Our narrator provides a summary of the events in Hawaii that led to the rise of the sugar plantations across Hawaii and how the Hawaiian Kingdom allowed itself to become a player in the new industry. We learn how Goto left Japan aboard the crowded ship City of Tokyo. He arrived in Honolulu on Feb. 8, 1885 with the first group of 26 shiploads of the Kanyaku Imin, Government Contract laborers. After 19 days on the open sea, Goto stepped foot upon Hawaiian soil. After three years of degrading, backbreaking labor under difficult conditions at the Soper, Wright & Co. Ookala Plantation along the Hamakua coast of the Big Island, he was finally able to fulfill his dreams.
Interviews with historians and our tarrator describe the harsh conditions of being a laborer in the fields and how Katsu had to remain in the field as a laborer for three years to fulfill his sugar plantation contract.
A HERO EMERGES
Our narrator explains the beginning of this new era in Goto’s adventure and how he began building a life as a store owner – and becoming the first Japanese immigrant to open a store in Hawaii. The narrator is joined by descendants of Goto who still live in Hawaii and they each discuss how Goto opened his own general store and provided Japanese grocery and other items for the Japanese workers who missed many of the comforts of home.
Interviews with historians explain how the Plantation Manager Robert M. Overend started to notice the young store keeper and it soon became clear that tensions were rising. They discuss how Overend and other plantation owners disliked the fact that Goto was becoming a community leader and was a living example of how the workers could leave the harsh life in the fields. Goto’s store soon became the commercial and social center of the fledgling Japanese community in Honoka‘a and because of his knowledge of English, Goto became an interpreter and liaison between the Japanese laborers and plantation management when there was conflict.
The narrator and Goto’s decendants talk about how Goto was becoming a hero in the eyes of many fellow Japanese workers and we learn how Overend soon banned Goto from entering his plantation, threatening his life because Overend felt that the Goto was behind the labor unrest among his workers.
The Narrator and interviews with historians re-tell the story of the incidental fire that would forever change Goto’s life. We learn that Overend would soon blame several laborers for the fire and fine them each $20. We learn how they went to Goto for advice and support. Footage of actual cane burning filmed for the documentary will help bring this pivotal event to life.
We learn through our interviews that Goto would organize a meeting with the accused plantation workers on the plantation – breaking the ban that Overend set to not step onto the plantation. Historians explain how plantation workers began to see the severe injustices of the system and eventually sowed the seeds of unrest and resistance. Whenever a new rule was unfairly announced, workers would tell the luna they were going to discuss it with Goto. The entrepreneur-interpreter soon became a bothersome adversary for plantation management, who wanted the system to remain unchanged since it provided cheap labor and immense profits. Further fueled by jealousy for his successful business, Goto became a marked man.
Narration re-enacted to bring to life the lynching based on the story from The Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser – Honolulu’s Newspaper, court documents and other documents, and we will discover the grisly details of Goto’s murder. Historians explain the timeline of events in detail. Goto was 27 years old.
We learn how Goto was ambushed and lynched on his way home from the meeting to help the group of Japanese workers accused of setting fire to the cane field and how his body was found the next day.
“hanging to a cross arm on a telephone pole about 100 yards from the Honokaa jail . . . the dead man’s hands and legs were pinioned and a genuine hangman’s knot under his left ear”
— Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser
Using actual transcripts from the trial, we will re-enact some of the crucial moments and demonstrate how justice was not served. Here we will meet Sheriff Hitchcock who would offer a $250 reward for those guilty of killing Goto and who had once owned his own plantation and understood the social dynamics of the case.
Through the narrator, interviews and documents on the trial, we will reveal how the incident shook the plantation industry and threatened to end the peaceful coexistence that existed between laborers and plantation managers throughout the islands and how it revealed racial tensions between Japanese and white plantation owners. It will also reveal how the guilty party, J.R.Mills owned the store that was impacted by Goto’s success and the other guilty parties who had direct ties to Overend and the plantation.Historians will explain how plantation luna Tom Steele and three others were convicted of lynching Goto in the well-documented trial and how two “escaped” from jail and reportedly left the islands for Australia and San Francisco and how Mills was pardoned and his civil rights restored by a joint session of the Executive and Advisory Councils of the Republic of Hawaii.
THE LEGACY CONTINUES
However, Katsu Goto’s legacy fortunately doesn’t end with his untimely death in 1889 at 27. Dr. Fumiko Kaya, Goto’s niece, was born in Honokaa and lived there until she was 5 years old. She was adopted by William Sekijiro Kobayakawa, Goto’s younger brother who took over the store after Katsu’s death for some 20 plus years. He and his wife moved back to Japan so Kaya could pursue an education; she eventually became a physician in Hiroshima.
Kaya only found out about the lynching of her uncle when she learned the history of Japanese emigration to Hawai‘i. Her family had never shared the incident with her. Instead of responding in anger or bitterness, she admirably turned a tragedy into establishing the Goto of Hiroshima Foundation to benefit Hawaii scholars and improve cross cultural communication. Her experience as an A bomb survivor led her to become a leader and an advocate of peace.
The Foundation was administered by JCCH and in 1993, I (Patsy Iwasaki) was selected as the first recipient, meeting Kaya and learning about Goto’s legacy for the first time. Kaya passed away in 2004 and the program continued on for a few more years. In 2007, it evolved into an annual scholarship awarded through the American Studies Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa that continues today through Dr. Dennis Ogawa, who was on the original Goto of Hiroshima Board. Goto and Kaya’s life inspired me to carry on their work through a graphic novel “Hamakua Hero: A True Plantation Story,” and now this documentary film. I feel compelled to share their legacy; their inspiring message of building bridges of friendship, collaboration and peace.
The narrator will lift us out of the sorrow of the lynching and lack of justice from the trial and describe how the legacy of Katsu lives on through many ways and how his life reminds all of us how one individual can make such a huge impact on so many when they follow their dreams and destiny.
In this chapter, Goto’s legacy will be remembered through the work of his adopted niece Dr. Fumiko Kaya who established the Goto of Hiroshima Foundation. Through interviews, we learn that when Fumiko was 5 years old, her adoptive parents, William Sekijiro and Yuki Kobayakawa (Goto’s younger brother) decided to return to Japan so Fumiko could receive a Japanese education. She did well in school and as high school graduation loomed closer, she was encouraged to continue her education. Her children explain how It was unusual in that day and age for a Japanese woman to be treated that way and why Fumiko credited her father’s character and progressive thinking for the strides she made. We learn how Fumiko became a physician, married Shigeru Kaya and settled in Hiroshima, Japan.
Her children and scholars describe how the atomic bombing of Hiroshima became a pivotal moment in her life and through her own words from her book “The Mushroom Cloud” we learn how she survived the horrors of the atomic bombing and became a distinguished community leader and advocate for peace.
Upon seeing a commemorative documentary on the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawaii in 1985 that discussed her uncle’s tragic death, Dr. Kaya learned the truth about his sacrifice helping the plantation laborers. Her father Sekijiro had never talked about the incident, wanting to shield her from the tragedy. Instead of responding in anger, Kaya sought to honor the memory of her uncle Katsu Goto, who had tried to create a bridge between Japan and Hawaii. Her goal was to create an organization that would help to improve communication and relations between the two lands. We learn how Dr. Kaya established the Goto of Hiroshima Foundation in 1992 to provide scholarships to foster volunteer activities and research designed to contribute to and promote mutual understanding and friendship between the people of Hawaii and Japan, through interviews with her children and Patsy Iwasaki, the first recipient of the annual grant. From 1993 to 2007, 15 scholars were awarded the annual grants. After Kaya passed away in 2004 at the age of 92, the Foundation evolved to become a scholarship fund, established in 2008, for students studying U.S. Japan relations at the University of Hawaii at Manoa American Studies department.
Footage of Dr. Kaya with the Japanese and Hawaiian recipients of her grant program will be an emotional and powerful reminder of Goto’s legacy. Interviews with the recipients of her grants will also help tell her story and the impact her foundation had on bettering their lives.
The film concludes with inspiring interviews with local residents and community leaders in Honoka‘a who share how Katsu’s life has inspired their lives and is helping future generations to understand cultural differences and find mutual understanding. We learn how his life helped inspire the creation of the annual Peace Day Festival and the establishment of the permanent Peace Pole in Honoka‘a.