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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

'Pastime' blends love, baseball and World War II internment

The score is tied as the runner leads off third base, the batter tenses and the pitcher gets ready to deliver. The crowd in the small-town ballpark holds its collective breath as the battle between two local rivals comes down to the last inning and the last pitch.

A little earlier, the lovers, who had been separated by her father, share a tender, hidden moment under the grandstand.

Except ... this is 1944, the game is between the local community’s ballclub and a team of Japanese Americans interned in a nearby relocation camp in rural Utah, and there’s a lot more at stake than a game of baseball.

American Pastime, a new movie released last week on DVD (Warner Home Video, $19.98, not rated) and enjoying a limited theatrical run in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Fresno, Salt Lake City and Tokyo, is set in Utah’s Topaz internment camp during World War II. Beginning early in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent—of whom about 75 percent were U.S. citizens—were forcibly removed from their homes and locked up in camps in isolated parts of the country.

To help themselves survive, many of the internees played their favorite sport—baseball....

Baseball was important to the internees, says [Kerry Yo] Nakagawa, “because it raised the spirits of the people and brought normalcy to a very abnormal condition and situation.”

For Nakano, although “baseball was a way that could let an audience into the movie,” he “wanted it to work on a level where a general audience would be able to understand the story....”

Both Nakano and [writer-director Desmond] Nakagawa have high hopes that their film will help educate all Americans—particularly young people—about the internment camps yet also reveal parallels to contemporary American society.

“I think our film really resonates today,” says Nakagawa. “We now have Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, Muslim Americans really feeling the racial profiling and hatred after 9/11. And currently, Mexican Americans are having to deal with xenophobia. ... We hoped that we would have learned the lessons of the past and therefore wouldn’t repeat them.” [Link]

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