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American Pastime

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American Pastime

The movie American Pastime is a dramatic narrative but is based on actual events at the Topaz Concentration Camp. The story starts by showing the Nomura family and their life in east Los Angeles before the war. The family has two sons, Lane and Lyle who are typical American teenagers. Then the family is sent to the Topaz camp and the movie follows their life there. The movie does a great job showing the bleak conditions of the camp and the efforts the Japanese prisoners went to in order to make the camp more livable. Kaz Nomura, the father of the family had been a baseball player and so he starts a league so they will have something to do. The guards in the camp treat the Japanese horribly and there are issues between them that eventually lead to the prisoners challenging the guards to a baseball game. Woven through that main plot are several smaller subplots that help to depict more of life in the camps. Lyle Nomura joins the army as a way of getting out of the camp and serves in the 442 Regiment. Before he leaves his mother presents him with a sash that has 1,000 red knots tied into each - each mother in the camp tied one of the knots. Having just seen a few of the real sashes at the Japan America Museum helped me understand the symbolism of this sash. Also seeing the pictures in the "Before They Were Heroes" exhibit helped me know what Lane went through. The movie also includes a love story to kind of add to the intensity of the plot and tension between the guards and the prisoners.

This is an incredible movie that I am going to show to my U.S. History class along with some other activities to teach about the Japanese Internment. The movie is well done and has a way of bringing the historical events to life that allows the viewer to get a better idea of what the internment was like for those who lived it. While the movie is told through the experience of a Japanese-American, it does a good job of portraying all points of view. Although the title is American Pastime and it does deal with baseball, it has something for everyone - sports, romance, drama, and even some comedy. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but loved the movie!!!

If you haven't seen the movie I encourage you to do so - even if you never plan on using it in your class. It is available for $10 on and is well worth the money. There are some teacher's guides and activities that go along with the video that you can get online.