November 30, 2011: “American Pastime”

November 30, 2011

There is this prejudice I just have to get over, and that is that I have it in my mind that I hate any film that has a sports orientation. Although a rather harmless one, and certainly only affecting me,  like most prejudices they exist only in the mind, have little to do with reality, and invariably limit growth. So, there were these two movies on the library shelf that I have been avoiding forever, even ‘tho I was pretty sure that a part of me would really like them. The first was “Invictus” that I saw last month. Loved it. C’mon. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela? One of my most favorite poems in the title? Why did I wait so long? And, after that experience, why did I wait another month to try “American Pastime?” Why? Well, that’s the part of myself  I struggle with.

“American Pastime” begins as a an American utopia: it’s title sequence uses a blend of documentary footage of 1941 combined with movie stills to tell a quick story of a group of young integrated friends as they grow up in California. The movie starts as these friends are hanging out upstairs, talking about their loves: jazz, baseball, and their favorite movie stars. Their parents are downstairs organizing a cookout for them all. I love the quick pan of the food on the table where you get to see corn on the cob, spaghetti with sauce, and riceballs (and what I think is okonomiyaki!!!) all together on one table. This is an America that was supposed to be. Unfortunately, December 7th, 1941, the “Day of Infamy,” changed all of that.

Within the first few minutes of the film, the Nomura family (father, mother, and two teenage brothers) are packed up, along with 120,000 others of Japanese-Americans, told to sell all they own, and are shipped off inland, the Nomuras to Utah to be interred in the Topaz Relocation Center.

I’ve written about this black chapter of American history before in my article “Kiri’s Piano” and I readdress it here, because I still find it hard to believe that America interred it’s own citizens with no proof of collusion with an enemy. Yes, America was at war, but we were at war with the Germans and Italians at the same time, yet only Japanese-Americans were interred.

The Nomura family, along with their fellow internees, try to form a sense of normalcy in their new and rather bleak surroundings. The deal with the bigotry of not only their guards, but also a few of the townspeople, as they go into town to buy supplies to improve their camp. One of the things I like about “American Pastime” is that the bigotry is dealt with in a realistic way. They show people the way they really are: not every one of the townspeople is hostile, some of those who are, change to the better. Some will simply, never let go of their hatred. The bond that all the people have in common is the game. Baseball is the cultural glue of the American people and as long as you play well (physically and ethically) it doesn’t matter what your heritage is. Dignity and mutual respect can be achieved through excellence.

“American Pastime” is not a perfect movie. It tries a little too hard to stuff many worthwhile topics into the film: bigotry in time of war: issues between fathers and sons, between brothers, between lovers: all very noble topics, but a little too much for one film. Still if you like dramas based on real life, or (unlike me) have no issues with sports films, “American Pastime” could be the film for you.

Check out the “making of” part of the DVD. They interview some of the Japanese-American heroes of the 422nd Regimental Combat Team (the  most decorated in US Armed history.) They also interview the actors, and to quote one who sums up well the notion that dignity can come through a game says, “There are more important things in life, but sometimes it takes a game to understand them.”


One comment

  1. I’ll have to check this movie out! I remember going to baseball games in Osaka–baseball is a big deal over there

    Steve, just FYI, I nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award.

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