When it comes to stories, I personally like interesting contrasts that put two opposing ideas against one another. It adds a little edge to a story’s simple narrative. In Richie Adam’s short film American, he takes on themes of camaraderie and patriotism and puts it up against the U.S. atrocity known as the Japanese American Internment Camps of World War II.
American is about a ninety-four-year-old U.S. veteran, Clifton Nakamoto (George Takei) who volunteers his time at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. He wanders the museum serving as a living resource for young and old about World War II and the internment camps. Clinton was incarcerated as a young man in the camps and fought with the 442nd Infantry Regiment as a way out of his circumstance.
While on duty, Clinton is approached by a young mother Liz (Rachel Michika Whitney) and her daughter Sarah (Araceli Prasarttongosoth). Clinton and Sarah hit it off, and he gives her an American flag when she tells him they don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. As Sarah wanders off to see the rest of the exhibit, Liz confesses that she’s really there to learn more about her grandfather, David Seki (Ivan Shaw), who died in the War. Upon showing Clinton a picture of her grandfather with his fellow infantrymen, he turns flush and runs home asking Liz not to leave until he returns.
“…a living resource for young and old about World War II and the internment camps.”
It was Liz’s photo that triggered Clinton’s memory of being interred in the camps, his anger with what his country did to his family, and his hesitance being on the frontlines for that country. What does the idea of U.S. Patriotism mean to a person, whose life at that time was taken away from him merely because of where his parents were born. For David Seki, he rose above it all to fight for the country that wronged him. Clinton, on the other hand, struggled to escape his oppression. Both learned the lesson of self-sacrifice.
American is a beautiful film shot at the actual Japanese American National Museum with an even more impressive score by Carlos José Alvarez. This score stood out almost too much, but impressive nonetheless. Also, how much do we love Geroge Takei? The man still has it. George Takei plays ninety-four very well. He fooled me walking around the reception room after the screening. As Clinton, he subtly but intensely portrays that internal fight between the love of country and the bitter pill forced on him as a child.
The Japanese-American Internment Camps were created because we feared people of Japanese descent believing they still held allegiance to the Japanese Emperor. Remembering the mistakes of the past is essential in that it challenges us never to make that mistake again. A lesson we’ve struggled with since 9/11.
For the most part, the war genre attempts to invoke patriotism and appreciation for those who served and gave their lives for U.S. freedom. American is a patriotic movie that calls out the tragic mistake we foisted upon our own citizens out of fear and racism. This patriotism is not without its blemishes.
American (2018) Directed by Richie Adams. Written by Richie Adams, Bar Gavigan. Starring George Takei, Rachel Michika Whitney, Araceli Prasarttongosoth, Ivan Shaw, Sahil Ganatra. American screened at the 2018 G.I. Film Festival San Diego Opening Gala featuring Nisei Stories.
7 out of 10 stars