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Mainstream - American Pastime


American Pastime
Aaron Yoo, Gary Cole, John Gries, Sarah Drew
Written and directed by Desmond Nakano
Warner Home Video 2007
106 minutes

I really can't say enough good things about American Pastime. This DVD is an interesting human drama that uses jazz and baseball as the in for an audience most certainly not aware of the treatment Japanese Americans received from their government after Pearl Harbor. The DVD wastes no time establishing the Nomuras as your basic American dream kind of family who overnight are dispossessed and sent to Camp Topaz, an internment camp in, of all places, Utah. Writer director Desmond Nakano cleverly uses archival footage to give the story some real history while managing to make American Pastime an entertaining, very human movie and not just another agenda heavy documentary hiding as a serious movie.

What is more American than baseball and jazz and who could be more American than Japanese American Lyle Nomura who, with a baseball scholarship, would have been the first in his family to go to college? Internment makes Lyle bitter. He is not the only bitter man at Camp Topaz; Billy Burrell, one of the guards at Camp Topaz was once scouted by the New York Yankees. Baseball is, here, just a story thread to achieve the great and greater canvas. American Pastime is really a movie about a hair cut.

Kaz Nomura (Masatoshi Nakamura), head of the Nomura family, starts an in-camp baseball league to achieve a semblance of normalcy. He dearly wishes his son Lyle would play but Lyle is too angry for that though he is still interested in playing jazz. This sets up the Romeo and Juliet style romantic interest in American Pastime when all-American Mom and apple pie girl Katie Burrell gets Lyle's taste for jazz.

What I liked most about American Pastime is it does not dumb it down for the audience (even if this means not always giving subtitles for the Japanese dialogue), does not paint it by numbers, and has interesting twists and turns. There are many simply stunning, original, scenes here that manage to say in a minute or two what many other writers and directors take two hours to say.

Writer director Desmond Nakano is brilliantly adept at handling the half dozen secondary stories that make this DVD such a fascinating movie. It is a shame American Pastime was not made in Japan; it would have won hands down the Academy Award for Best Foreign Movie. Unfortunately, this great human drama received very limited release before going to DVD and so will probably be ignored by the academy. Writer director Desmond Nakano has put together a great, original drama and was greatly supported by an absolutely solid cast.

If there is one movie where I wish there was a director's commentary track it would have been American Pastime. It would have been interesting to hear Desmond Nakano's ideas and get some background information. Still, there is a 10 minute behind the scenes documentary that gives a little background.

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