Uploaded by Priscilla Abel

American Pastime - Priscilla Abel

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Authenticity of Topaz Relocation Camp Forgotten
After living in the United States of America for almost 5 years, I have met many Americans
all over the country (East Coast, West Coast and Mid-West). I have come to realize that there are
two groups of people; one group feels entitled to be an American and others who do not. No
country is perfect, and it is okay to embrace its country mistakes as long as the country learns from
its flaw through history and time. Slavery that happened in the United States has been detrimental
to the country and even be heartfelt today. It was a dark time for America, but they managed to
succumb through the darkness and rise about all else. One example of the treatment of slaves since
the 17th century and the internment of Japanese Americans in relocation camps during World War
II. The movie American Pastime was directed by Desmond Nakano, a third generation Japanese
Americans (also known as Sansei). Nakano wanted to depict a time in American history that either
was forgotten or never been talked about. The actuality and reality of the struggles that was gone
through by Japanese Americans could never really show and explained in just one hundred and
five minutes. However, Nakano tried to deliver a satisfying message that caught many viewers
attention. While American Pastime seeks to show a shattering and forgotten time in one of
America’s history, it falls short by creating unrealistic ideas about the times in the internment
camps as well as the members characters towards the horrible situations at that time.
American Pastime, a 2007 film set that tells the heartbreaking true story of the Topaz
Relocation Center in Utah, home of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II. The
story was focus more of the life of the Nomura family, a typical American family of Japanese
descent in 1941, composed of Japanese-born parents (Kaz and Emi) and American-born children
(Lane and Lyle). Following the infamous Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, they were forced to leave their home in Los Angeles. With many other Japanese-
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Americans, they all were interred at a desolate desert camp. Kaz Nomura, a former professional
baseball player formed a team with members of the camp including his talented son, Lyle. As for
his other son, Lane, he enlists in the American Army to prove that is he just as much American as
any other white Americans. Billy Burrell, one of the guards of the camp, has been trying very hard
to be a professional baseball player for so many years. Over the period of the Japanese Americans
living at the camp, Lyle and Katie, Billy’s daughter bonded with sharing their interest in music,
eventually leading to a romantic relationship that was kept as a secret. Ultimately, the Topaz
baseball team challenges Billy’s team to a game, where the prize was for either $2500 or a simple
haircut. In the finals out of the game, Lyle steals home, knocking over Billy behind the plate
leading him to evidently dropping the ball. At first, the referee calls him out but after some thought,
Billy insisted that he was safe because the ball had dropped out of his hands. The Topaz team won
the game and the crowd celebrates with joy and cheers. The final scene symbolically shows Lane
receiving his haircut in front of all the other Japanese Americans members of the camp.
The storyline of American Pastime dominantly shows the regretful decisions that the
United States government has made in the past while bringing both sides; White Americans and
Japanese Americans, struggling during these times and how they have endured it. Looking from
the White American perspective, the Burrell family whose son was killed while serving in the war,
they were constantly in fear for their safety. This was because their country was being attacked by
the Japanese from Japan. On the other hand, the Japanese Americans, who were Japanese heritage,
born and raised in the United States of America, pledging allegiance to the country and were ripped
out of their home because the country was in fear of them. As an audience of this film, the storyline
interpreted as a moment of clarity. This is said because, in the final scenes of the movie, Billy
Burrell acknowledge that the people of the internment camp are just as much “Americans” just as
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himself, his family and in fact, the rest of the county. While their skin colour may not be the same,
however, the values that they share such as family and country, it is not different after all.
In many senses, American Pastime fails to present the true sorrow and misery that the
Japanese Americans experienced at the internment camp. Desmond Nakano, the director of the
film chose to use romance stories, the passion for jazz music, a love for baseball and the loyalty
for the country of wanting to fight the war to give a perspective of the terrible time in the American
history instead of using authentic details of the reality of the trial and tribulations they went
through. This can be seen in the beginning of the movie, where the Nomura family was forcef to
leave their home upon signing the Executive Order 9066. There was very little resistance showed
from the family. For a family that considers themselves as American citizens, they are being told
that because of their Japanese heritage, they must give up everything due to the country’s fear.
Upon arriving at the camp, all of the Japanese Americans seem to follow every order without any
question or resistance. These scenes made me think of the history during the Holocaust, where the
Jews were forced into concentration camps, yet the only difference was there was little authenticity
on what really happened during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The quality of the internment camp is
also contentious. This is because only at the beginning the members were shown sad about their
living condition, but they were rarely seen unhappy about their new living quarters in the rest of
the movie. They simply accepted all the circumstances handed to them and learnt to live happily
with it.
A foundational theme that is present in most American/Hollywood movies that is almost a
must for most audience is romance. In American Pastime, we get to observe the love story of Lyle
and Katie. Romance, baseball and the jazz music was prevalent in the movie that at times surpass
the true meaning of this film. Both baseball and jazz music, which Lyle is very talented at, and
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also known to be American favourite. However, there was no role in the film defining him as a
“true American” yet separating him further away from that conclusion. Throughout the movie,
Lyle is often mocked by Billy Burrell for his talents and because of his appearance, he made out
to be less of an American and a person. It was very prominent that the people of the internment
camp were treated very hard-heartly and unjust. With all this, the real question is why it is not
portrayed that way then? Well, the real answer lies in the core of the movie. The film was created
in a way to be informative and factual but got distracted by using the film to entertain the audience.
Pretty sure Nakano wanted to portray the film to provide deep and insightful meaning of the movie
to the time greatly impacted his ancestors. However, using the classic themes might have shifted
the true meaning of American Pastime.
Conclusively, American Pastime established relatable figure between White Americans
and Japanese Americans through baseball, an American classic while illustrating a time in
American history that was either forgotten or resisted against. Through using the dominant
American film themes, audiences are introduced to the relocation camps during World War II and
how the Japanese Americans were treated during that period of difficult time. The story of the
Burrell and Nomura families allowed two different perspective to be illustrated in the movie.
Through their lens, it gives the audience a better understanding of the United States at that time of
history. Even though the 2009 film, American Pastime teaches the audience of vary backgrounds,
through its narrative storyline about the heartbreaking American history. Yet, it fails to provide an
authentic and real situations and stories of the Japanese Americans lives and experienced during
their time in the internment camps.