In the early 1950s, Lily Kawamura tells her pre-adolescent daughter Mini about her father and the life that she barely remembers, as the two of them are walking to a rural train station.
In 1936, Jack McGurn is a motion picture projectionist, involved in a campaign of harassment against non-union theaters in New York City. One such attack turns fatal, as one of his fellow union members starts a fire. McGurn’s boss, knowing that the feelings of guilt would likely cause Jack to go to the police, urges him to leave the city. Jack moves to Los Angeles where his brother Gerry lives. Jack’s role as a “sweatshop lawyer” strains an already-rocky relationship with Gerry who is willing to have any job, barely keeping his family afloat during the Great Depression.
Taking the name McGann, Jack finds a job as a non-union projectionist in a movie theater run by a Japanese American family by the name of Kawamura. He falls in love with Lily, his boss’ daughter. Forbidden to see one another by her Issei parents and banned from marrying by California law, the couple elopes to Seattle, where they marry and have a daughter, Mini.
When World War II breaks out, Lily and their daughter are caught up in the Japanese American internment, rounded up and sent to Manzanar, California. Jack, away on a trip, is drafted into the United States Army with no chance to help his family prepare for their imprisonment.
Finally visiting the camp, he arranges a private meeting with his wife’s father, telling him that he has gone AWOL and wants to stay with them, whatever they have to go through. They are his family now and he belongs with them. The older man counsels him to return to the Army, and says that he now believes that Jack is truly in love with Lily, and a worthy husband.
Returning, ready to face his punishment for desertion, he is met by FBI agents, who have identified “McGann” as being the McGurn wanted for his part in the arson of years before.
Finally, in the 1950s, the train arrives and Lily and Mini reunite with Jack, who has served his time in prison and is now returning to his family.