Judge Neal Masri wonders what the Un-American pastimes are.
How a love of country and baseball kept the American Dream alive.
Go for Broke!
Facts of the Case
The Nomura family is living the American Dream. The patriarch, Kaz (Masatoshi Nakamura, Hinokio) owns a small business in Los Angeles. The youngest son Lyle (Aaron Yoo, Disturbia) has two loves- jazz and baseball. He is getting ready to head off to college on a baseball scholarship when the attacks at Pearl Harbor change everything for the Nomura family.
Soon after America enters the War, Kaz, his wife, Lyle and Lyle's older brother Lane (Leonardo Nam, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) are rounded up and sent to an internment camp in Utah. There, they are met with suspicion and humiliation at the hands of the camp staff and the locals. One guard, Billy Burrell (Gary Cole, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) is a talented baseball player who almost made it to the majors. Burrell's daughter eventually becomes romantically involved with Lyle, much to Burrell's chagrin.
There is conflict and mistrust between the Japanese internees and the 'Real Americans'. What the prisoners and the camp staff do have in common is a love of baseball. Eventually, the prisoners organize a team and wind up playing some local professionals (Burrell among them). Can the healing power of sport bring everyone together in the end?
We often look to the movies to right historical wrongs. Re-examination of painful historical events (at least in popular culture) will very often start with film. Case in point: With the benefit of hindsight, Japanese internment camps are obviously anathema to the freedom our nation fought to preserve in World War II. I'm sure that, at the time, it seemed like a reasonable (if not prudent) course of action. (Even if you didn't see too many Americans of German or Italian descent being rounded up and imprisoned.) Film puts a human face on the American citizens imprisoned in these camps allows one to take a different perspective (with the obvious benefit of hindsight).
The film opens when we meet a quintessentially American family in their home in Los Angeles. An incredibly diverse group of friends (perhaps a bit too diverse for the United States in 1941) is sitting down for a cookout consisting of hot dogs, hamburgers and sushi. Within five minutes of the films' opening, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurs and the Nomura family is rounded up.
In short order the family finds themselves in the Utah desert in Camp Topaz. They are thrown together in co-ed dormitories and forced to dress and undress without any privacy. Their fellow citizens, now their guards, treat them like criminals and things are just generally unpleasant. When one of the earliest scenes in the camp featured that old standby of the searchlight moving across the walls at night, I thought that I was probably going to be in for every cliché in the book…I was mostly right.
We've seen these stories before. Burell is a talented athlete who coulda been a contender. Burrell is bitter, but hides a big heart. Lyle and Lane are siblings who love each other, but have an unresolved sibling rivalry. Both kids have an ambivalent relationship with their father, partly from the clash of old world values versus those of the new. And so it goes with several other very familiar storylines. Oh, did I mention forbidden love?
As far as the presentation of the film, this is a technically solid disc that does the film credit. Visuals are represented well from Norman Rockwell look of the early scenes to the vast, empty desert surrounding the camp. Sharpness is solid with no big visual issues. Sound is somewhat subdued but appropriate for a film of this type. The surrounds are reserved for a few atmospheric effects and to accentuate the music.
A making of documentary is the sole extra here. Director Desmond Nakano (American Me), who reveals that his parents were internees at one of the camps, is obviously passionate about his subject. The piece is less about the making of the film than it is about the history of the camps and how the experience of real life internees inspired the film. It is a fast moving 10 minute feature and certainly worth a look.
A bit of personal disclosure is now in order. I must confess that I do not worship at the altar of baseball like so many of my fellow Americans. Consequently, baseball movies have never held much romance for me (with the notable exception of Field of Dreams which still makes me cry like a baby). That said, the baseball scenes are some of the strongest in the film. But when the big baseball game finally starts in the third act, it's too little too late.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Japanese internment camps of World War II are a rich yet largely ignored film subject. Other than Come See the Paradise, I haven't seen another non-documentary movie about the camps. Kudos to the filmmakers for educating a generation that may not even know these camps ever existed.<
American Pastime is yet another movie about the redemptive and almost magical powers of the game of baseball. The fact that the baseball movie is wrapped in a heavy-handed history lesson is unfortunate. The story of the American citizens imprisoned at the internment camps should make for a better film.
This is the hardest kind of review for me to write. American Pastime is one of those movies that I can't wholeheartedly endorse. But, I can't trash it either. While not to my liking, the movie has merit and deserves to find an audience.
Hung Jury. This is earnest and heartfelt movie making, but not the great film that this subject deserves.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Go for Broke: Behind American Pastime"
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