Yoshitaro Nomura is most closely associated with a series of gritty crime thrillers that dug deep into the dark heart of post-war Japan. It may seem surprising therefore to see him helming this generally cheerful if occasionally melancholy musical romance created as a star vehicle for singer Yukio Hashi in commemoration of 100 years of Japanese migration to Hawaii. Curiously pitched, Rainbow Over the Pacific (夜明けの二人, Yoake no Futari) arrives somewhere between extended tourist reel and accidentally colonialist soft propaganda that nevertheless never shies away from the complicated relationship between the two nations.
As the film opens, hero Hideo (Yukio Hashi) is a something of a slacker working in a photo studio with a crush on an aspiring model. When she shows up late to what he thought was a date and then tells him she’s getting married before dumping her fiancé’s ex on him, he finds himself taking pity on the jilted girlfriend while they drown their mutual sorrows in the beerhalls of post-war Tokyo. Audrey Reiko Misaki (Jun Mayuzumi) is a third generation Japanese-Hawaiian who loves all things Japan and is becoming quite fond of Hideo though he abruptly tells her that it’s been fun but they live in different countries so it’s best they call it quits. Reiko goes back to Hawaii and tries to forget about her double romantic heartbreak in Japan while Hideo continues to be an unserious man berated by his grumpy granddad and exasperated mother not least because of his reluctance to get married. A year later his mentor takes him with him on a trip to the US stopping over in Hawaii where finds himself hoping for a fateful reunion with Reiko.
Before that, however, he and his boss are met by a Japanese-American man who takes them on a tour of the island and explains that all the swanky hotels are owned by Japanese companies. “Anything you can find in Japan you can find in Hawaii” he insists, at once exoticising the environment and trying to sell it as a place that the growing Japanese middle classes might feel comfortable going on holiday because it is almost like being in Japan only of free of the intense atmosphere of the era of high prosperity where everyone works all the time. But then something a little strange happens, Sakata (Hiroyuki Nagato) points at the elephant in the room and begins talking about Pearl Harbour before visiting a cemetery where many men of Japanese descent who lost their lives fighting for the US in Europe are buried. Even so, he quickly points out that the Japanese community continue to dominate the political realities of the island with several Japanese-Americans elected to the Senate one of whom he actually interviews on camera.
As for Hideo, he is at times a fairly crass tourist who accidentally mocks the traditional singing of a middle-aged Hawaiian. Much of the narrative appears to have been designed to take in most of the important tourist sites on the islands which are each marked with onscreen katakana as are several important landmarks in Japan in the later part of the film which almost does the same thing in showing off historical Kyoto and the Nara deer. After re-encountering Reiko, Hideo finds himself sucked into various kinds of romantic drama, accidentally coming between a local girl and her boyfriend whose relationship is strained by his wealthy father’s disapproval (much like Hideo he is thought to be an unserious man) and then getting into a dangerous situation with a rival suitor whose cool exterior masks a volatile intensity.
Ironically enough, through his Hawaiian adventures Hideo becomes a “serious” man resolving to buckle down and work hard though seemingly abandoning his dreams of romance out of a kind of misplaced bro code that in a roundabout way undermines the message of solidarity between Hawaii and Japan in implying that Reiko must choose between the two but then refusing to respect her choice. Further parallels are drawn in the reunion of Hideo’s great uncle who has since become a respected teacher at a Japanese school and his grumpy grandfather who is exposed as a dissolute layabout who returned to Japan in disgrace after giving up in the face of the harshness of life for Japanese migrants, Nomura utilising stock footage to demonstrate the many difficulties they faced in trying to make new lives for themselves in Hawaii. Of course, this being a star vehicle for Hashi, he gets several opportunities to sing including a rendition of the title of song while the film at times turns into a musical though the melancholy, foggy conclusion perhaps plays against the expectations of the genre. In any case, the film appears to be a fascinating document of an increasingly globalising Japan which nevertheless looked for itself even while seeking escape.