In First to Go, a Japanese-American grandmother recounts her father's incarceration during World War II and the ramifications it had on her family. Weaving through her story, her grandson's experience, and archival footage, First to Go brings you and intimate, inspirational, and emotional story of the impact traumatic events can have across generations.

"Told with elegance and sensitivity, FTG is a story of happiness in hardship and of joy in  adversity. Both a beautiful family history and a compelling reminder of a past too easily seen in the present, FTG will touch your heart and move you to action."

Joi Tribble, Shorts Programmer, Sidewalk Film Festival

A couple hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, Ichiro Kataoka was the first San Francisco Japanese prisoner taken by the FBI from his hotel in Japantown. Through a series of unfortunate events, Ichiro would eventually reunite with his family roughly three years later in Topaz, Utah after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced all Japanese residing on the West Coast to relocate to desolate Internment Camps throughout the country. Their only crime was being of Japanese ancestry. 

Decades later, though a collection of footage and documents, this families story is being intimately told through a grandmother, her grandson, and relatives of what they had endured as well as many other Japanese Americans during this unjust time in American history.

First to Go walks us through the strength, compassion, and resilience of the Japanese Americans, while showing that a family can find love and happiness in the even darkest of places.


“This film is a must see. Not only does First to Go tell a story of a family’s journey, love story, and power of community, it also tells a story of resilience and cultural awareness that those in the Japanese community faced during WW2 battling racial injustice. It moves you. Educates you. It’s an experience that has lasting impact on those who watch.”

Travis L. Robinson, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging @ Spotify

“Matsuno does a brilliant job at humanizing the issue of the injustice that was brought upon his extended family to make it relatable, which makes for a touching, entertaining, and educational experience for viewers of his film. I highly recommend."

Bret Kofford, University Professor @ San Diego State University

"FIRST TO GO is a powerful film that should be required for all Americans."

Keith McDaniel, University Professor @ Carson-Newman, TN
Director's Commentary: 

When gathering information and filming my grandmother to document the process, she wrote in her legacy letter this sentence, “Just like my mother, I, too, have lived a life of Shiawase.” Shi-a-wase in Japanese means fortunate or happiness. To me, that's amazing to think about. Her mother, being kept away from her husband and family for roughly 3 years lived a life of happiness.

The incarnation of the Japanese Americans is something that’s glossed over in most U.S. history books that are taught in our educational system and it was rarely discussed within my own family. It wasn't until I read a printed copy from the San Francisco Examiner that my father has framed and hanging on the wall of his house that I began to dig deeper. The paper was published on December 8th, 1941 and the image is of my great grandfather handcuffed by the FBI that read "First S.F. Japanese Prisoner”. The story that I found on my family legacy is one that is touching, inspiring, and historical.

First to Go was initially made to capture my families story and to pass it down for years to come. In some ways, it’s somewhat of a glorified home movie. I believe it’s what helps make it, not only educational, but relatable. What started as a family project turned into something that has opened doors to educate people and bring them together to have honest and open conversations about the injustices that were brought upon the Japanese and relate that to help promote racial equality and misconceptions about immigrants today.

Through its rawness and vulnerability, my hope is that it continues to help inspire others to take action and make change through meaningful dialogue about race and equality, while hopefully sparking others to look into capturing their own families story and legacy.