Jimmy Murakami – Non Alien


Best documentary Sacramento Film Festival

Jimmy Murakami, the Oscar nominated Animator of ‘Snowman’ and ‘When the Wind Blows’ fled his native America to Ireland, for reasons that had haunted him from his childhood. In this film Jimmy confronts a dark chapter in his childhood that began when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Jimmy, a young boy of 8, was arrested alongside his brother and sisters and his Japanese born Father and American born Mother.

More than a hundred thousand Japanese American citizens were stripped of their citizenship and deemed ‘Non Aliens’. Jimmy’s family were uprooted from their small farm and taken to the notorious detention centre, Tule Lake Camp, in the wastelands of the California desert. The family spent four years in the camp while WW2 raged beyond their prison walls. Four long years, where they suffered all kinds of deprivations and his sister Sumiko died of leukaemia.

barracksOur film begins as Jimmy, now in early retirement, creates a series of heart wrenching paintings that illuminate his memories of prison life. As he goes through the process of creating them he reflects on this tragic part of his life. As the director Sé Merry Doyle was filming Jimmy’s painting, an invitation arrived inviting Jimmy  to take part in the annual pilgrimage to Tule Lake alongside survivors of the camp and their children. With funding from the Arts Councils Reel Art scheme the filming began in earnest.

While the older Jimmy brings us on the real journey back to Tule Lake, the boy Jimmy, in animated form, brings us into the world of the camp. Along the way, Jimmy meets up with other former internees and through their recollections, this strange chapter of history unfolds Here is the story of a young boy who one day was helping his parents trying to establish roots in America as poor dirt farmers in San José. He was suddenly forcibly moved to a detention centre, growing up in harsh prison-type conditions without any charges being made, a trial being had, or any retribution offered. Jimmy is one of the few people alive who has cogent memories of this time in American history.

The pilgrimage Jimmy makes back to ‘Tule Lake’ forms the central part of the films drama. The outrage of Japanese-Americans who underwent such a violation of their rights has echoed down through the corridors of the last six decades and stands as a blot on the pages of American history. Jimmy has since moved on, he is no longer bitter towards America but still he gets goose pimples when he sees television images of American activity in Iraq and sees so much of his own experience in modern day footage of Guantanamo Bay.

The films title “Non Alien” refers to the status imposed by the American Government on Japanese American people during WW2. In the eyes of the law they were neither Citizen nor Alien and therefore had no rights! In the camps they were branded as “Disloyals” if they refused to sign forms of Allegiance to the American Government. After 4 long years they were finally released and returned to Los Angeles with only the suitcases they arrived with. Then the young Jimmy had to endure the taunts of being called ‘Jap Boy’ and he grew up getting in to endless scraps.

Although justifiably angry at his stolen childhood, Jimmy manages to tell his story with passion, grace and often light hearted good humour that is mirrored in this visually inspiring documentary. In time Jimmy’s life changed and ultimately he went to college where he excelled in art. This change in life saved him but he found it hard to forgive America and he headed for Europe and ultimately Dublin, where he raised his family and made some of his finest animation. In his most personal film ‘When the Wind Blows’ he worked with David Bowie and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd to create the classic film about Nuclear Holocaust and for all the children of the world he put his animation skills to majestic heights with the evergreen .‘Snowman’

Sé Merry Doyle’s film is an intriguing mix of live action and animation, telling the story of how this kind of unimaginable horror happened to ordinary people caught up in the middle of politics and public hysteria that was beyond their control.

REVIEW :The title refers to way interns were classified as ‘non-aliens’ as a semantic dodge to ignore their Constitutional rights as citizens. Murakami passed away in February of 2014, leaving this docu as a powerful testament to a person born in America, who nevertheless considered himself a man without a country. Savant

Jimmy Murakami passed away in 2014. This film is a remarkable testament to a man who overcame adversity and who through all his life believed fervently in freedom from injustice for all the people on the planet.

The film was funded by REEL ART – The Arts council of Ireland

Producer: Vanessa Gildea – Music: Ger Kieley – Cinematography: Patrick Jordan Director: Sé Merry Doyle