When I heard through the grapevine that James Saito (“Eli Stone,” “Farewell to Manzanar”) was playing a former internee of America’s concentration camps on an upcoming episode of “Hawaii Five-O,” I was guardedly optimistic.

After seeing a preview of it Monday at CBS, where 16 members of MANAA, East West Players, the Japanese American National Museum, the JACL, and The Rafu were invited, I am pleasantly surprised and deeply moved. This special episode, which you shouldn’t miss, will air Friday, Dec. 13, at 9 p.m.

It all started with Jeanne Sakata, who wrote a play about Gordon Hirabayashi, “Hold These Truths,” which ran in New York and starred Joel de la Fuente (“Law & Order:  SVU”) as the civil rights leader. Sakata (who was there to see the preview of the “Five-O” episode) told me the actor had gone to New York University, where he became close friends with Daniel Dae Kim, who flew out to see the show.

Kim was impressed enough to sponsor the play for six performances in Honolulu, where he invited producers of “Five-O” to see it. They were reportedly moved to write an internment-based episode, and this is it.

Now, I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of everything that supposedly happened in World War II in this episode (e.g. I’ve never heard of the Japanese shooting down servicemen in the streets vs. just bombing the harbor and its ships there). But we see flashbacks of how the Toriyama family suddenly became “Japs” and were treated rudely by police, who came to their home and told them whatever they couldn’t carry became the property of the U.S. government.

Looking back on those experiences, the now 80-year-old David Toriyama refers to himself and his family as “Japanese” as opposed to “Japanese American,” so the uninitiated may get confused as to if he’s talking about Japanese nationals who attacked Hawaii or Americans of Japanese descent. However, there’s a powerful scene where the decorated Korean War vet angrily reminds Five-O — and the audience — that not one “Japanese American” was ever found guilty of treason against the United States.

In a very well-executed segment, Toriyama, McGarrett and Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) return to the site of the actual Honouliuli camp, where Toriyama remembers his mother planting vegetables in their garden, which we see from the ’40s, as he stands there on the soil as an old man. Most don’t know that Hawaii had five internment camps.

Also surprising: Unlike most episodes, there are no distracting subplots (e.g. McGarrett’s sister, mother, girlfriend, ad nauseum). The entire show is focused on the case of Toriyama, who tries to kill an old man he accuses of murdering his father in camp. So it’s intense.

Toriyama asks Chin Ho if he’s Korean (which is what actor Kim is). Chin Ho answers that he also has some Japanese in him, which is a surprise. In the original series, Chin Ho was supposed to be half Chinese/half white. So “Chin Ho” is now a Korean name?

Overall, though, this special episode was very moving. Please spread the word. And special thanks to executive producer Peter Lenkov and Ken Solarz for writing it.

The Honouliuli internment camp was recreated for an upcoming episode of “Hawaii Five-O.” (CBS)
The Honouliuli internment camp was recreated for an upcoming episode of “Hawaii Five-O.” (CBS)

Speaking of Whom Department: Know how I knew my last column was posted online at Lenkov sent me an email at 6:50 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21. He cited a passage in my column that accused the show of being racist against Asian Pacific Islanders. He wanted an apology. Lenkov asserted I hadn’t watched the show or else I would’ve known that half of the six regulars are Asian Americans.

Well, if I hadn’t watched the show, then how could I have asserted what I said in that passage he excerpted? “Daniel Dae Kim is the only regular with any kind of API presence on this show, and he’s not enough to balance the portrayals of Asian good guys vs. bad guys.”

The following Wednesday, I wrote back explaining that I had watched every single episode of his reboot and was therefore confident of what I’d asserted. I won’t repeat everything I wrote, but longtime readers of this column know that compared to the 1968-80 series, where on average there were at least 10 locals given speaking parts per episode — and as people in powerful and positive positions like cops and judges — when locals appear on this new version, it’s usually as suspects or villains.

Lenkov shot back a quick and short response saying he refused to believe I watched the show beyond the opening credits and named a few Asian guest stars to prove that he’d employed a lot of APIs. He also insisted there’s racial balance on his show. He didn’t want to engage in further discussion, feeling that although I seemed like “a nice, educated man,” I hadn’t done my homework. Wait, don’t educated people do their homework? Isn’t that why they’re educated? Well, as an Asian American who was well-liked by all the well-liked teachers in Hawaii for always doing his assignments and understanding them to boot, I’m offended!

It’s a shame that some people insist on resisting the truth and believe what they want despite evidence to the contrary. Intelligent and secure producers know when they’re out of their element when it comes to cultures outside their experience and try to learn from those in that culture instead of imposing their familiar, comfortable, but limited frame of reference upon that community (sigh, that’s why so many Hawaiians hate tourists).

That’s why Rob Cohen, who co-wrote and directed “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” (1993), did such a fantastic job of capturing the discrimination Lee experienced as an Asian man. Cohen told me he insisted those around him tell him when he got things wrong because he knew he wasn’t Asian American and didn’t want to screw it up.

In any case, I know it’s not personal. In the past, Lenkov sent angry emails to the legendary Wayne Harada of The Star Advertiser (who’s written about entertainment since the late ’50s and regularly also criticizes the show for not accurately reflecting the 50th state), so I’m in good company.

Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Wheadon
Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon

Nice Gals Finish First Department: As I’ve said in the past about ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the show hasn’t lived up to the hype of critics who voted it the best new series of the television season. It’s directionless and most episodes lack a strong villain. In fact, this is more like “X-Men,” where Professor Xavier and his students sought out other mutants who were just coming into their superpowers and not knowing how to control them. Supposedly 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the term “mutant,” so it can never be uttered in a production that doesn’t come under their banner.

I always thought it strange that Ming-Na Wen was billed second in “S.H.I.E.L.D.” yet seemed to get the least amount of screen time of the six regulars. Well, last week, the focus was finally on her character, Melinda May, and it was co-written by Asian American Maurissa Tancharoen and her husband Jed Whedon, who, along with brother Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Avengers”), are the executive producers of the show.

It was becoming a joke that May rarely smiled and usually looked annoyed, like she didn’t want to be wherever she was. This week, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) explained that she used to be warm. She’d get into trouble, think rules were made to be broken, and pull pranks. But years ago, without a gun, she had to save a bunch of their agents and civilians in Bahrain. She wouldn’t explain what she did to accomplish it, but it clearly forever changed her.

Well, at the beginning of this episode, we learned that she’d just slept with one of the 20-something agents (yuck!), so she’s not dead from the waist down. And in the closing scene where one of the techs complains about a prank that leaves shaving cream on his face, everyone in the room denies being the culprit. The camera cuts to May and she smiles. So there’s still a little bit of the “old her” still there.

Around 2002, I had dinner with Maurissa and her talent agent friend whose last name was Cho (can’t remember her first name!) of ChoBusiness in West Hollywood. We talked about the business and what I did with MANAA, and I later attended shows where she and other Asian Americans performed their work in showcases sponsored by Cho. At the end of the evening, we said our goodbyes. Then Maurissa turned around, ran toward me and asked, “Can I hug you?!”

OK, so how can I not think of her as a sweetheart? Well, that’s my disclaimer.

Maurissa’s the cover story of the latest issue of Occidental College Magazine (our alma mater), which reminded me that she was part of the Motown girl group Pretty in Pink, which reached #96 in 1991 with “All About You” when she was just 15. With Jed, she later co-wrote the online cult favorite “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” and the Fox series “Dollhouse.”

Her brother Kevin directed Britney Spears’ 2004 tour and even hired her sister and Jed to write the singer’s between-song banter! If that’s not enough, her immigrant father serves as transportation coordinator for Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams.

I may not yet love “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” but I’m happy for Maurissa Tancharoen’s success.

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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  1. As someone that loves Hawaii and that has been there a lot of times, I was hoping this show to be a good thing for Hawaii, a show that showed the world the beauty of it.
    The premiere managed to be in the Top 20 of the Nielsen Ratings but soon viewers started dropping and only four years later the show has been sent to the worst slot on television, Friday.

    The show is always about someone being tortured and ridiculous explosive gun battles. That is not Hawaii. It makes look Hawaii as a dangerous place.
    I think the show has moved into the expensive action scenes due to the bad acting and bad writing. They need to distract the viewer.

    Hawaii “The fresh, floral air energizes you. The warm, tranquil waters refresh you. The breathtaking natural beauty renews you Look around. There is no place on earth as Hawaii ” According to this show you should pack a bulletproof vest instead of a sun cream protection.

    If you take the time to check tweets you read ridiculous things as “I am running around in shorts and flip flops because of Hawaii 50” . That and some fangirls adding to their tweets “Mahalo” or “Aloha” or “we need tighter swim trunks”. That is all the show has taught the world about Hawaii. Nothing. sigh

    I think it is time for CBS to think about why Blue Bloods that airs after Hawaii 50 is able to get 2,5 more million viewers each Friday than this remake.
    It is too late for this show. Most viewers left 3 years ago and they won’t be coming back.

  2. Even though I’m glad that you obviously like the upcoming episode, I find it quite sad that a couple of writers (you and Wayne Harada) repeatedly write with such ignorance and utmost negativity about a show that is watched and loved around the globe!
    I happen to be a huge fan of “Hawaii Five-0” in Germany and I feel personally insulted by people who call us fans a fanatic minority because that’s a far from the truth as it could be.

    I’ve been following the show for several years and can assure you that there are many regular and recurring cast members who were either born in Asia or whose parents are Asians: The wonderful Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Masi Oka, Brian Yang, Ian Anthony Dale, Will Yun Lee etc. – and the majority of them play “good guys”.
    There are also quite a few Hawaiian actors on the show. Only recently, a Hawaiian friend mentionned to me that one of the reasons why she enjoys watching the show is the fact that she can always “spot” her own local friends and relatives on the show. The most prominent local actors – the fan-favorite Dennis Chun and Taylor Wily – are both loved by fans abroad, too.

    I wished you and Harada would see and appreciate what a positive impact this show has had around the world where fans like me have not only fallen in love with the show and its actors but also with Hawai`i and its people. Why would you or Harada want to destroy the positive image of the islands and the Hawaiian people that the show has left with us international viewers?

    And that’s to Jan who commented above: While we, the fans, admittedly don’t mind seeing AOL shirtless occasionally, those scenes are definitely not the primary reason why we watch the show. I’m a fan of Alex because of his personality, his support of charities and his great talent as an actor – and I like him just as much when he’s fully dressed.
    To accuse us fans and fansite admins of being obsessed and “hot” about Alex is quite insulting. By the way, I do have a fansite for Alex and H50, too, but in contrast to the a.m. writers, I try to keep the posts on my site positive, truthful and – most of all – respectful!

  3. Thanks go out to Guy Aoki for his column. Thanks for reviewing the upcoming Hawaii 5-O (reboot) episode.

    CBS had a big winner with the original Jack Lord 5-O series. Rebooting these classic shows is a natural impulse for big media. But, can you really reboot a classic and legendary show?

    No way.

  4. Poor Mr. Aoki.
    I see it didn’t take long to two of the obsessed Alex O’ Loughlin fans to come here and trash the article. As someone well known in Hawaii said once, ” these woman cannot care less about the show, they just have the hots for Alex”. Sadly the actor has a small bunch of “mature” ladies running a fan site that have dedicated their lives to bug anyone saying anything negative about him and his show. Sad world we live in.
    And of course they kiss Peter L. on tweeter all day long and he loves that, begging him for more Alex shirtless scenes.
    It is very sad a show that should had been awesome considering all the money CBS has invested in it has ended being a nonsense shirtless show with a pretty face and zero substance,.
    But of course the bad ratings of the show have sent it to the worse spot on television , the Friday Graveyard or the Friday Death Slot. So even if a few group of obsessed viewers keep posting everywhere the show is the best thing in TV loved by millions of viewers and 100% perfect , numbers don’t lie , and the show has been downgraded to Friday by CBS because of the weak numbers .This still gives me hope in the future of television. Good television . Most viewers are still intelligent enough to watch what it is worthy and dump what it’s just a big joke.

  5. i know this wont get past moderation but im going to comment anyway- your repeated insistance on the accuracy of the show is silly. its a tv show , its entertainment, and its loved by millions. would you prefer it cancelled? does the show not provide millions in revenue to our 50 th state?
    why Mr. Lenkov has to be consistantly criticized for his REBOOT of Hawaii Five-o is beyond me . The show is as accurate as it’s going to get. The show is entertainment and most of us do not watvch the show to pick out inaccuracies – we also do not count the number of asians with speaking parts or how many of them are villans or how much dialogue they have. I understand you are entitled to your ‘opinions’ , but when you write negative and often times inaccurate information about the show and its showrunner, actors, and the many many local crew members, you insult all of us who love and respect their efforts. Please consider this the next time you feel the need to criticize a man who loves the state and has always respected it’s culture. thank you

  6. Having followed Hawaii Five-0 closely since it began, and having quite a few friends in Honolulu, I can tell you that there are usually about a half dozen local residents, or Hawaii-born actors in each episode, and not just as criminals. Some have smaller roles, maybe a truck driver, or a receptionist, and some have larger roles like those filled by Taylor Wiley, Dennis Chun , and Mark Dacascos. Or are they not local enough or Asian enough? Have you looked at the police department on the show? It’s filled with local actors who are playing good guys. And let’s not forget the Asians who aren’t local, such as the amazing actors Will Yun Lee, and Ian Anthony Dale who’ve had recurring roles. So, I have to agree with Peter Lenkov, you aren’t watching Hawaii Five-0. Or perhaps you’re watching the show, but you can’t see past your own bias.
    As far as “the legendary Wayne Harada,” you have got to be kidding me with that remark. First of all, Harada hates the show because it’s not the original show that he loved. And that is what he criticizes about it, not that it doesn’t reflect Hawaii accurately. But of course it doesn’t. Do you think CSI or NCIS LA accurately reflect those states? I grew up in Miami, and I’ve never seen a show set there that looked anything like my life. This is not a documentary – its entertainment. But back to Wayne Harada, he has so few readers because he’s so out of touch, and frankly doesn’t even keep up with the show he reviews. Almost every one of his posts contains inaccuracies that are evident to anyone who watches the show. Maybe he was a legend at one time, but now he’s an angry man who phones it in.
    I’m glad you enjoyed this episode, but if you continue to watch the show, try and remember that there is no other show on American television that comes close to having this many Asians on screen. You should be celebrating that, not bashing it.