A Military Secret Brought To LightIn MIS: Human Secret Weapon, Japanese filmmaker Junichi Suzuki brings to light a little-known aspect of the Japanese American experience during World War II. While vast numbers of Japanese American citizens were being detained at internment camps, a small, highly select cadre of some 6,000 Japanese Americans who were secretly inducted by the U.S. military to serve in an elite unit called MIS or the Military Intelligence Service.
The members of the MIS were considered America's 'human secret weapons' because the existence of their unit and the extent and nature of their services, so essential to the U.S. war effort, were kept so closely under wraps until long after World War II was over.
Those who served in the MIS unit were young to middle aged Nisei -- second generation Japanese-Americans -- who were completely fluent in the Japanese language, and who'd been raised with first hand experience of Japanese culture and traditions. Some of the MIS recruits had even been educated in Japan, where they'd been sent by their parents to live with other relatives while they were completing their studies. Others were the children of traditional Japanese families who'd moved to the United States and had become citizens, but who continued to live in primarily Japanese communities and had maintained a traditional Japanese lifestyle.
The MIS personnel's special job was to serve as interpreters for the regular army -- in support positions and on the front. They intercepted and translated sensitive information that pertained to Japan's military strategy and plans, and when Americans were victorious in battle, they played a key role in negotiating terms of surrender and convincing battalions of defeated Japanese soldiers not to commit hara kiri, as they'd been schooled to do as a measure of saving face and preserving their sense of honor. Using archival footage and vintage photographs, the film shows how the MIS team members, dressed in civilian clothes, were able to interact with Japanese prisoners of war and diffuse their potentially volatile behavior. Eventually, the MIS team was important in facilitating the American occupation of Japan, again preventing widespread hara kiri among Japanese civilians. According to the film, the MIS unit was responsible for saving over a million lives, with American GIs, Japanese soldiers and civilians counted among them.
A Matter of Loyalty, And Fitting In
During the course of the war and afterward, members of the MIS unfailingly showed great loyalty, allegiance and courage in serving the United States, but they were separated from the regular fighting troops and considered to be different.
As is well known, the U.S. had relocated most Japanese American citizens from their homes into concentration camps to prevent them from collaborating with Imperial Japan, as it was assumed that they would attempt to do. MIS: Human Secret Weapon includes on camera interviews with Daniel Inouye (who fought in Italy during World War II), Norman Mineta (who spent the war years interned with his family) and other prominent Japanese Americans to broaden the view and create historical context, but it doesn't focus in depth on the issues raised by ethnic profiling and the detention of innocent citizens. It does, however, elucidate the terrible irony of a situation in which the U.S. government and general population were benefiting from the heroic actions of unquestionably loyal Japanese Americans while it was keeping their loved ones -- their parents, spouses, children and extended families -- incarcerated because it was assumed that they would be disloyal. This was the cause of severe emotional trauma, as is clearly stated in MIS Human Secret Weapon by former MIS team members, now in their 80s and 90s, who are interviewed on camera and recount their personal stories, revealing their feelings not only about the harsh and unfair ways in which their family members were treated, but also about the fact that the significant role they played in the Allied war effort was kept secret to the point of denial, even after World War II was over.
The Personal StoriesAs former MIS members recall their experiences, it is evident that it is painful for them to revisit what was such a challenging period in their lives. But, they do so with great dignity. Not all of these elders are gifted raconteurs, but their stories are very important and it is wonderful that they're being recorded in this documentary.
Setting the Record Straight
MIS: Human Secret Weapon is one of a series of documentaries being made by Junichi Suzuki -- who was born and educated in Japan but now resides in Los Angeles -- about the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II. Suzuki doesn't present a neatly wrapped and entertaining package in MIS: Human Secret Weapon. The film's structure is sometimes shaky, and the various elements aren't always tightly knit. But that's true of history, too. And this film brings an important chapter in the history of World War II to life and to light.
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- Title: MIS: Human Secret Weapon
- Director: Junichi Suzuki
- Theatrical Release Date: April 6, 2012 (limited)
- Running Time: 93 mins.
- Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
- Locations: USA and Japan
- Language: English, some Japanese with English subtitles
- Production Company: MIS Film Partners
- Official Website
- Official Website