Concept art for the screenplay Bonneville by John Sun Lew
A screenplay excerpt (pp. 56-74)
by John Sun Lew
EXT. TOPAZ INTERNMENT CAMP, CENTRAL UTAH – DAY
TITLE CARD: Topaz Internment Camp, Central Utah, September, 1942
A convoy of busses approaches a dusty compound, ten football fields broad, containing a grid of 42 identical blocks of 12 tar-paper barracks. As their bus passes under the main arch, Danny looks through razor wire and guard towers in the fore to the snow-capped Mount Topaz.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – DAY
As Danny helps Mitsu down the last bus step, a crack of wind stuns them and whirls up a cloud of fine white dust.
A brave band of BOY SCOUTS plays drum and bugle music, but it’s a little flat, out of rhythm, and so very pathetic.
Mitsu’s tears trail through the dust on her face — like kabuki theater. As Danny takes this all in, the cacophony of wind and music fades. Then…
This is what you get when you mess
with us, you filthy sneakin’ Japs.
Danny looks up.
WHAT HE SEES. From a guard tower, Corporal PATRICK “BUZZ” BOYLSTON (18), trains his machine gun.
Danny’s eyes blaze.
What did you say, you dumb White
son of a bitch?!
Buzz’s grip on the machine gun tightens.
You must be an idiot to be in Utah
guarding us. C’mon, war hero, take
John pulls Danny into a GROUP waiting outside their bus for their luggage — cityfolk by their fine dress and manner.
Among them, the OKAMOTO family: daughter, RUBY (17), father, HANSHIRO, and mother, TOMOE.
Dumb hick, get us all killed.
Ruby stares at Danny, intrigued.
EXT. TOPAZ – BLOCK 29, MESS HALL – EVENING
A line of INTERNEES wends around the long, shoddy building.
Danny and John poke at their food: huge, bouncy, blue liver. Mitsu takes a small bite, then pushes her tray away.
I miss our clean home… and fresh,
Danny turns and leaves before Mitsu sees his face. John follows him out.
John SEES Danny punch his fist through the tarpaper mess wall.
What’s the matter?
Danny’s jaws clench.
I never once heard Mom complain.
Headlights sweep over the brothers. Danny turns.
WHAT HE SEES. A Model A roadster rumbles in through the front gate and idles outside a staff garage. Buzz Boylston steps out, lifts the door, then drives inside.
Danny glares: I’m gonna get that guy.
INT. TOPAZ – SHINODA’S PLACE – NIGHT
A barrack of cheap pine, 100 feet long, divided into six rooms with thin walls riddled with holes.
John and Mitsu sleep next to each other against the cold night.
Danny rises from his cot, already wearing his jacket and shoes. He kneels and fishes around under his cot.
John’s eyes wink open. He SEES Danny pull out a crescent wrench, then slip out the door.
John looks scared for him.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – NIGHT
Danny stands in the shadows at the corner of a barrack.
WHAT HE SEES. Fifty yards away, the same garage where Buzz parked his roadster. Just above it, Buzz and another MP sip coffee and look down from the gun tower. Danny takes quick breaths, then bolts into the light, sprinting toward the garage door.
EXT. GUARD TOWER – NIGHT
As a second MP climbs up to Buzz’s perch, Danny flashes in then out of the light, unseen.
You’re done, Boylston. Take first
watch tomorrow with Calver.
Buzz starts down the ladder.
INT. ARMY GARAGE – NIGHT
Danny unlatches, then folds over the hood, leans into Buzz’s engine compartment, wrench in hand. He gives the set-up a long look, then starts pulling parts.
Danny works quickly, crosses wires, pulls hoses.
Back the hell away.
Buzz points his rifle at Danny. His MP buddies rush in. Danny steps back, arms raised, drops the wrench. As Buzz approaches, his eyes flash recognition.
You. Thought you’d wreck my car,
Buzz drives his rifle butt into Danny’s belly, dropping him to his knees. The other MPs chuckle.
Who’s the dumb son of a bitch now?!
Buzz gives Danny another good shot, opens his cheek. The other MPs lose their bloodlust.
Buzz breathes hard, then backs down as MP1 hurries Danny to his feet and to safety.
Buzz inserts the key, flinching as if it might blow up, then turns it. The engine comes alive.
Damn, Buzz. Sounds a hell of a lot
better than —
Just shut up.
INT. COMMANDING OFFICER’S OFFICE – NIGHT
Buzz enters with a queasy look on his mug.
LT. COLONEL NICKOLAS THOMAJON, an older career-soldier without pride of commission, steps out. Buzz, snaps to a salute.
I came to ask about the boy with
the cut cheek… Oh.
Buzz sees Danny slumped on a bench on the back wall.
Doc just sewed him up.
If I choose not to press charges,
will you let him go now?
With great pain, Danny sits upright, dignified.
(laughs at him)
This punk’s on the first bus to
Danny slumps again.
Sir, let’s call it a misunderstanding.
That’s not your concern, Corporal.
(stares him down)
Buzz holds his ground.
Sir, no sir. You can bust me down,
but I can’t leave till you let me
return this boy to his mother.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – NIGHT
Buzz escorts a weak, but defiant Danny into the compound.
Danny’s cheek, sutured and swollen.
What’s your name?
Danny says nothing. Buzz bars him with his arm, turns Danny to face him.
Patrick Boylston, but my friends
call me Buzz.
Go to hell.
Danny turns and walks away.
Wait. Why’d you fix it?
Danny turns and gets right up in his face.
Guess I love cars more than I hate you.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – DAY
Danny dips his bare hand into a can, slathers parts of a water pump with axle grease. Cheers erupt and Danny turns.
He’s working near the sidelines of a football game.
John’s SQUAD breaks huddle and forms up near their OPPONENT’s goal line.
John lines up under center, takes the snap. He fakes a handoff and runs bootleg, untouched for a score. His teammates rush the field and mob him.
Danny smiles, goes back to work.
Danny looks up. John flips him the game ball.
John sprints out as Danny rears back, heaves the ball…
It parts John’s outstretched hands and thumps a young woman in the chest. She stumbles back and falls.
Danny pushes past the guys huddled around her; he’s awestruck.
WHAT HE SEES. It’s Ruby Okamoto, a fair Nisei beauty in a chic sweater set.
Danny takes her arm, helps her up.
Are you okay? I’m really sorry —
She shoves him away and shows him her sleeve.
Look at this.
A big greasy handprint.
Here, let me —
Danny takes a bandanna and daubs the stain. Freezes, mouth agape.
The crowd points and laughs. Ruby looks down at her chest.
WHAT SHE SEES. A glob of grease seeping deep into cashmere.
I’ll pay for a new one, I promise–
But I chose this at I. Magnin’s on
my sweet sixteen…
She takes in this desolate camp and starts to cry.
How will I replace it, now?
She turns and runs away.
(to no one)
I’m really sorry.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – DAY
Change around the camp: the dust bowl, now alive again with little gardens.
Buzz Boylston, boredom in his eyes, looks down over the sad, peaceful prisoners. He sees someone and perks up.
Danny passes below.
Hey, Danny. Wait up.
Danny turns and looks, then starts walking again. Buzz climbs down and runs to him.
Buzz, awkward, reaches into his chinos, offers a nasty plug of tobacco; Danny refuses it.
My deuce is running real good, now.
I rerouted the exhaust.
Ford flathead’s got trouble breathing
through the water jackets.
Uh, the water —
Up here in the high desert, you
need more air to make horses.
That two-port Alexander’s not getting
You gotta tune her for me.
C’mon, man. I know you wanna twirl
the iron again.
Not with you.
Danny turns and walks. Buzz follows him.
I’ll do anything —
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – DAY
Danny, hair greased and combed back, sets off from his barrack with purpose… and a bouquet of desert flowers.
Danny scans the yard teeming with folks and looks overwhelmed.
COMPOUND – POST OFFICE
Ruby steps up to the counter, hands through a slip of paper.
Package for Ruby Okamoto?
The postal CLERK hands her an envelope and Ruby lights up.
INSERT – ADMISSIONS LETTER
The envelope’s embossed, Cal Berkeley Admissions, and rubberstamped, Department of War, Cleared 23 June 1943.
She opens and reads it eagerly.
…Pleased to announce your
acceptance to the class of 1947.
To ensure your place, reply no
later than June 1st.
BACK TO SCENE
Danny enters and SEES Ruby just as she gets her bad news. She presses the letter against the cage.
What’s the problem?
This is two months late.
Well, you got it now.
Next in line.
But this is official college mail.
It’s not even from another Japanese —
Take it up with your block council.
I’ll take it up with your
supervisor, now —
And I say there’s bigger problems.
Ruby doesn’t budge; groans and gripes spread down the queue.
Move, or I’ll call the MP’s to —
To what? Put me in jail?
You sneaky Japs got what you deserve.
Ruby shoves the clerk’s scale. It thumps his chest and crashes on the floor. Uproar.
Jesus Christ, you crazy bitch!
Ruby yanks a Coke bottle from a KID in line, swings it back like a tomahawk.
Danny dives between them and takes Ruby’s mighty chop on the collarbone. Danny grimaces, then drags her out, fast.
Danny’s flowers, trampled.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – DAY
Let go of me!
Danny wraps Ruby up to stop her from going back.
You trying to get sent away?
Lose your family?
Ruby stops thrashing.
Look, I didn’t come to mail a
letter. I had flowers for you.
Ruby blushes, averts her gaze.
Say, did you hear? They’re trying
out day passes to shop in Delta?
Better stand in line now.
Danny just manages to stay cool as he hands her two passes.
We won’t have to.
Ruby squeals and jumps up and down.
EXT. TOPAZ – COMPOUND – MORNING
A camp bus rolls toward the main gate.
BUS – MOVING
Ruby looks out the window as she and Danny pass beneath the guard tower. As they clear the barbed wire, she exhales deeply, sneaks an admiring glance at Danny.
EXT. DELTA, UTAH – DAY
Danny and Ruby step off the bus. Danny looks across the street.
WHAT HE SEES. A pair of Okie DRIFTERS. One leers at Ruby, then nudges the other. They start to cross the street.
Like a bodyguard, Danny draws Ruby near. Ruby blushes and thinks it’s their first intimacy as he hustles her inside a store.
INT. MERCANTILE – DAY
Ruby drags Danny by the hand to a pop machine, pulls out a bottle; Danny watches her relish it. Then something catches her eye.
WHAT SHE SEES. On the glass display, a single jar of fancy, ladies facial cream.
Ruby takes it up and holds it to her chest.
God, won’t the others be so jealous?!
Danny nods, happy.
How ’bout you, Danny?
What do you miss most?
Danny leads her to produce and picks out the most beautiful apples.
They’ll make Mom so happy.
Ruby’s taken aback.
That’s so sweet… you must think
I’m awfully vain and selfish–
Don’t be silly… we all left home
with so little.
She opens a paper bag for him.
Danny shines one up and brings it to her mouth. As Danny leans in close, a Drifter shoves him from behind.
Danny falls awkwardly, knocking over the basket: apples bounce and roll all over.
Danny gets to his knees before he gets a kick in the gut and crumples.
The Drifters grab hold of Ruby and try to grope her.
Get the hell out of here!
The Drifters laugh, then run out the door.
Danny gets to his knees, murder in his eyes, but Ruby shakes her head, “Don’t.” He puts his arm around her and steadies the shaken girl.
Store owner, ROBERT CALHOUN, hurries over.
You alright, miss?
Ruby nods. Danny starts to gather apples.
You don’t need to do —
Calhoun’s eyes widen. Danny sorts out the bruised apples and stacks the rest with impressive speed. Ruby’s also amazed.
That’s quite a gift.
My people are fruit growers. Been
stacking fruit since I was six.
They’re starting a work furlough
program at the camp. Come see me
about a job, okay?
Calhoun bags up the bruised apples and hands them to Danny.
And take these, no charge.
Danny nods, escorts Ruby out.
INT. TOPAZ – SHINODA’S PLACE – DAY
Danny enters with the bag of bruised apples. Mitsu sits in the dark, frail and listless.
Danny opens the sack for her: the smell of apples lifts her.
You told me you missed fresh,
I got a job at the grocery in town.
From now on, you’ll have all the —
Danny frowns; Mitsu’s smile fades.
Still no word from Dad?
No answer. Danny hides his worry and peels an apple for her.
MONTAGE – DANNY NURSES MITSU WITH FRUIT
— Danny, short pants and sleeves, delights Mitsu with summer stone fruits.
— Danny, in heavy woolens, empties a paper sack of pears and walnuts. Mitsu’s mind and body better now.
INT. TOPAZ SHINODA QUARTERS – DAY
Danny opens the door. Wind blasts dust inside. He shuts it fast.
Mitsu warms by the wood stove. A thousand-mile stare.
Danny pauses, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a letter, scotch-taped closed and stamped War Department.
Mama. This came for you.
It’s Pop’s writing.
Mitsu snaps back to the present.
Ah, it is.
She opens it. When she slides out the letter, confetti rains down.
Is Father playing a joke?
Danny sees her amused look fade. The pages look like a child’s snowflake. What hasn’t been cut away is blacked out. Just the greeting and closing. She can’t choke back her sobs.
Danny takes Mitsu’s head on his shoulder.
I’m sorry it couldn’t be more.
He called me his blossom and that
he loves me… he hasn’t called me
that since we were so young.
Danny feels her worry.
INT. ARMY GARAGE – DAY
Danny works on the roadster as Buzz enters, looking glum.
You can hop up my deuce all you
like, but I can’t get gas ’cause of
You a drinking man?
Buzz shoots Danny a quizzical look.
MONTAGE – GAS CRISIS
— Buzz follows the OWNER of a local juke joint out back to a still. The owner looks stunned as Buzz hands him several dollar bills; he hands Buzz bottles of homebrew.
— Danny opens a parcel: racing carburetors. He reads the enclosed note; it makes him smile and remember Walt.
— Danny replaces the old Winfields with the new carburetors.
— Buzz lifts out a bottle of moonshine, takes a pull and winces; Danny takes and pours it into the gas tank.
— Buzz turns the key: the engine explodes and settles into a powerful idle. Buzz pumps his fists.
— Buzz escorts Danny to the barbed wire fence: not another soul up and down the inside perimeter. Buzz waves up at the guard tower, and the MP’s touch their helmets in an “okay” sign. Ruby sees this.
When Buzz pulls away through the gate, she risks the restricted zone and joins Danny’s side.
What are you doing?
Buzz races along the road just outside the barbed wire — it’s really booking!
I did a few things to that deuce.
Ruby’s thrilled. Danny puts his arm around her shoulder and pulls her closer.
Ruby’s mother, Tomoe, SEES them together… and disapproves.
EXT. TOPAZ, TOY LOAN LIBRARY — DAY
Danny carries a box to a tarpaper building where:
KIDS (4-7 years) fidget as they wait in a long line. They look eagerly to the entryway. A sign above it reads “Toy Loan Library.”
Children relish the last minutes with their loan toys.
— Girls jump tandem rope to a nursery rhyme.
— A boy pulls his little Sib in a Radio Flyer.
— A boy lost in a kaleidoscope.
A child up front starts to cry. It sets off a chain reaction of tears down the last of the kids in line.
Ruby sees that all the best toys are out… just some very tired hand puppets.
She quickly slips them on and smiles.
Gather round. Princess Kaguya will
now grant you audience.
Danny watches Ruby with adoration as she “sells” them with an impromptu show.
They crowd in, vying for the magical puppets.
The children run off. Ruby and Danny, alone at last.
You were just great.
Oh, you saw that…
Danny hands Ruby the box: it’s a dozen model cars.
I’ve never seen anything like
these! Where’d you ever–
Well, you wouldn’t have… you see,
I made them.
INT. TOPAZ – SHINODA’S PLACE – DAY
Ruby sports saddle shoes below her knee-length skirt. Smoothes her hair, her face made up pretty.
She parts a rude curtain.
Danny lays out his car models, their bubble tops, gull-wing doors, and jet-engine lamp housings predate a tail-fin era to come.
Danny gets shy, nods.
She lifts a rocket-car close to her eyes to get the proper scale as she flies it.
A Jules Verne rocket.
A what rocket?
You know, the French novelist?
“From the Earth to the Moon”…
I don’t read many novels… but
cars, every book and article I can
get my hands on.
She puts the car down.
What you working on now?
Aw, you’re not really interested in
this stuff, are —
He flips open a footlocker and pulls out a model two-seater sports car, its hood slopes from its center spine like wings.
I call this one Stingray.
Ruby brushes Danny’s hand as she takes the model.
Aw, go on.
Why, I bet someday they’ll be
rolling off an assembly line in
Danny puffs up with pride.
Ruby pulls out a world map from her handbag, unfolds it on table.
A classmate of mine trained to fly
planes from the plants to the
lines. She just flew here.
(Points to Borneo)
Can you imagine? I wanna fly, too.
See the world. And she didn’t even
make good marks.
Look at all the places we’re fighting.
She looks into Danny’s eyes.
When all this is over, will I ever
see the temples of Kyoto?
No answers, only awe of a world at total war.
EXT. TOPAZ, BLOCK B – EVENING
As Danny walks Ruby, their shoulders come together, like magnets.
They pass a building and hear… jazz!
They peak inside. HIGH SCHOOLERS rehearse their big band. Glen Miller’s ballad String of Pearls.
Danny swings Ruby around and brings her close for a slow dance. The moonlight waltz casts a spell.
A magical first kiss.
INT. TOPAZ, SHINODA AND OKAMOTO BARRACKS – NIGHT
Danny and Ruby wear smiles as they each enter their crowded family barracks. All in their cots, bundled in blankets and overcoats.
But all’s forgotten when you’re in love. Danny and Ruby fall asleep… and dream.
END OF EXCERPT
About the Author
John Sun Lew is a Korean American screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He was raised in Mansfield, Ohio and schooled at Phillips Andover and Yale. He studied film production at the International Photographic Workshops in Rockport, Maine then moved to San Francisco, where he worked in film production and the theater. There he met his mentor, Philip Kan Gotanda, a celebrated playwright and indie filmmaker. He earned his M.F.A. in screenwriting at the AFI Conservatory in 2003.