A Q&A with “Valor With Honor” Director Burt Takeuchi

We were lucky enough to have a Q&A with “Valor With Honor” director Burt Takeuchi. His film, which features more than 35 interviews with WWII veterans who served in the 442nd, is now showing on Vimeo in honor of Asian American Heritage Month.

Q: What inspired you to produce “Valor With Honor”? 

A: The original idea was to make a short dramatic independent film on the 442nd. During the research phase in the film’s development, it was important to me to capture as many of the veterans’ interviews as possible before their story was lost. Their stories are an invaluable record of history and I wanted to make sure that we were able to preserve and document what they went through and sacrificed for our country. After a long and drawn out process to complete the film, “Valor With Honor” was completed in 2010.

Q: What was the most difficult part in making this film?

A: The most difficult part was learning to develop an effective interviewing style that would work with Nisei WWII vets. Most veterans in general do not like to give interviews about combat. It’s just too painful and they fear it might trigger PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder]. I had to find a way to help them open up about their experience, recognizing that I had to balance addressing an emotional issue and asking questions to prompt their memories.

Raising the funds to produce the film, as well as editing down the film were additional challenges. The first rough cut was about 6 hours long! It took months to get it down to 2.5 hours. At that point I felt I had something to show. It was like a sculptor chipping away on a giant rock until finally it develops into film.

Q: Was there anything surprising that you learned from the interviews?

A: Each interview was different for each veteran I spoke to. Each had their own personality and take on the war. Some vets were happy to talk about their “army days,” others were more guarded, some were hilariously funny, others shared stories that could not be used in the film because they were too gruesome.

Q: What was most inspiring to you when sitting down with these JA veterans?

A: The most inspiring interviews were the ones where the vets were willing to share the most terrifying battles because I felt that it probably took as much courage to talk about the war on video as it was to fight. I was honored that they trusted me enough to share and relive an incredibly intense and difficult time in their lives.

Many veterans suffered terrible nightmares for years from PTSD and depression. The modesty and heroism of the veterans I was able to sit down with was very inspiring.

Q: What has the response been to your film?

A: The response has been positive for “Valor”. The film is now available on Vimeo online so anyone can watch the film almost anywhere. It is a huge hurdle to get an independent film advertised, and I’m thankful for this opportunity through Vimeo.

Q: What do your hope is people’s biggest take away from your film? 

A: I hope people will have a better understanding of the 442nd: what the issues were that veterans faced on the battlefield and at home in the U.S. The 442nd is not just a Nisei or a Hawaiian unit, but an American unit that is the most decorated for its size and length of service in U.S. Army history. It’s my hope that people will come away from the film with a better understanding of the Nisei experience, through the personalities shown in the film’s detailed interviews. In the future, my goal is to produce a dramatic independent film on the 442nd.