Written by Fantasma el Rey
American Pastime is set during World War II and is the story of a Japanese-American family’s relocation to an internment camp. Revolving around baseball, jazz, and family, it is a good-hearted movie that tells a wonderful tale but at times takes the all-too-beaten path in doing so. It's an enjoyable film and in some respects one could call some of the themes timeless.
Spanning the years 1941 to 1946 we see how the Namuro family copes with life in Camp Topaz, Utah. Attempting to make the place more than merely livable, they begin to fix the camp by giving it a feel of home. Youngest son Lyle (Aaron Yoo) loves jazz and baseball and aided by the latter was to be the first Namuro to attend college. Then along came Pearl Harbor, bringing Lyle’s dreams to an abrupt end. Lyle grows to hate baseball, rejecting his father’s offer to play on a camp team. Instead Lyle starts a swingin’ jazz band and, to help ease his misery, sells booze and gambles.
He also takes an interest in Katie (Sarah Drew), the daughter of the camp’s military supervisor (Gary Cole). This of course causes greater tension in the nearby town of Abraham. Lyle finds himself at odds with his father and now with Katie’s pop as well. As if that weren’t enough, rebellious Lyle and his respectful, older brother Lane begin to feud over right and wrong. To ease the tension between town folk and “prisoners,” a climactic baseball game is arranged that pits the local pro team, including Katie’s father, a former Yankees prospect, against Camp Topaz’s best. Of course, Lyle makes a return to the diamond in this ultimate showdown.
The Romeo and Juliet love story and the effect it has on the two different families is a story we’ve seen before as are the clashes that go on within the two lovers’ families. The squabbling brothers and the squabbling father and son, while the understanding mother tries to hold it together and play peacemaker, are very familiar plotlines as well. Not surprisingly, the game’s final outcome is decided between Lyle and Katie’s father. We’ve seen these formulas enough and I would rather watch a documentary on baseball and the internment camps, although I can see how it must be told this way in order to reach a wider audience, which allows for some fine performances from Aaron Yoo, Sarah Drew, and Gary Cole.
To his credit director Desmond Nakano does well in mixing actual vintage footage throughout the film. I do admire the fact that he also includes a scene where camp dissidents try to rally other internees to ask questions, like why other Americans weren’t put into camps. The Germans and Italians were also enemies of The U.S. Were they not interned because they were harder to spot, making them less of a target for violence? If that’s the case, then I guess it was for their own protection that the Japanese were locked away and forced on their “trail of tears.”
Overall, American Pastime has accomplished its goal in telling a story about a little known facet of our history and how baseball, that all-American game, played its part by presenting the story in an entertaining way everyone can relate to. When I’m in the mood or if it’s on television I will probably watch again, which is the mark of a good movie.