Under the Blood Red Sun

Courtesy Tim Savage

An award-winning tale of courage and friendship, Graham Salisbury’s “Under the Blood-Red Sun” is transformed into a locally made film. 

Set in Honolulu during the fall of 1941, a handful of young boys walk out of a plantation store to sit and eat their melting ice cakes. Under the shade of Roman-like pillar palm trees, the five friends smile and joke with one another, celebrating their recent victory over a rivaled baseball team. Other than the boom microphone hovering above their heads, and the eyes of more than 10 film crewmembers staring opposite them, one could mistake the scene for a flashback of old Hawaii during its historical sugar plantation beginnings.

Soon after the boys attempt to take a bite out of their nearly liquefied ice cakes, director Tim Savage shouts, “Cut!” and then asks them to reset.

“You can’t eat it just yet,” says Savage, playfully scolding the young actors. “If you do, your mouth will turn red and then it’ll show up on camera.”

The boys respond in mischievous giggles while walking back in Waipahu’s historic Hawaii Plantation Village’s plantation store – a setting that takes the cast and crew back to author Graham Salisbury’s award-winning 1995 historical novel, “Under the Blood-Red Sun.” The story revolves around a young Japanese-American boy named Tomi Nakaji whose world is turned upside down after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, causing every Japanese-American to become suddenly treated as treacherous enemies of the United States.

“It’s a personal story about Hawaii,” Savage says. “Our goal is not to do a history lesson yet it’s an important component to this project … so that people don’t forget. That they’re reminded of what happened.”

Producer Dana Hankins agrees. Soon after moving from Los Angeles to Hawaii nearly 25 years ago, Hankins became fascinated with Salisbury’s work and grew a specific attachment to the highly acclaimed book “Under the Blood Red Sun.” With prior experience in film, Hankins got together with longtime friend Savage to talk about a possible movie deal.

“All of Graham’s books are very filmic,” Hankins says. “You can immediately see it as a story. ‘Under the Blood-Red Sun’ speaks to a lot of people because it covers the same issues that are relevant today. Bullying. Discrimination. The responsibility and the integrity that one holds to their families yet what the outside world is telling us otherwise.”

When Savage and Hankins pitched the idea of a movie to Salisbury, they were surprised to find out that no one had optioned it yet.

“We asked (Graham) if he wanted to partner with us even though we couldn’t offer him anything,” Savage chuckles. “But he believed in the book. Believed that it could be told in a film and has been a full-blown partner throughout the entire process.”

From casting the perfect actors to finding generous investors and reducing the budget “tremendously,” the process – though it took nearly six years and a third time around of production – became well worth the wait. People who were approached about the film project were not only excited to see the history come alive in (literally) their own backyards, communities rallied together to help make “Under the Blood-Red Sun” an authentic post-WWII film.

“People by in large wanted to do what they could to help,” Savage says. “Communities like the 100th Batallion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, people who owned properties, people who owned vintage cars … every time we approached people, they understood the scope of what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it.”

Even the actors, says Savage, were “on the money” when it came time to call “action.” As “Under the Blood-Red Sun” is primarily about the discrimination and displacement of thousands of Japanese-Americans, Savage lauds the work of all the actors in this film for their emotionally charged performances.

“So many times we were shooting and I was almost completely convinced that these actors were their characters,” smiles Savage. “There are a lot of deep, powerful, emotional scenes and I think they all handled them very well and appropriately for the film.”

Actor Dann Seki – who plays Tomi’s grandfather in the film – says although his own father was in the 100th Battalion, it was hard for him to channel his character’s feelings during that particular time.

“My father never talked about the war,” Seki says. “Like many Nisei men of that time, it was hardly brought up. I cannot imagine the emotions that one would be going through in that situation.”

Since Seki, along with most of the actors, was not born until years following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he praises Savage and Hankins for “plowing through” the difficult times in order to keep this film on track to get made.

“Those two are the driving forces of this film,” Seki says. “I don’t think we would be where we are now without them.”

Savage, however, claims it’s the book’s storyline and moral integrity that has caused hundreds of volunteers to devote countless hours of enthusiastic work to their beloved project. No blockbuster film can top that, he says.

“We had so many people just giving themselves and working hard,” says Savage, shaking his head. “You can’t put a number on that … But having a little less money means you just have to do a lot on your own and make it happen. And we finally did.”

“Under the Blood-Red Sun” will premier on Sept. 14 on video on demand. For updated information, visit underthebloodredsunmovie.com

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