Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Passing Poston

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Japanese-Americans Reminisce about Internment in WWII Documentary

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. War Department ordered the removal of all Japanese citizens and aliens to internment camps. The Relocation Authority uprooted the 120,000 affected individuals and shipped them with little more than the clothes on their backs to ten different uninhabited locations in remote regions of Utah, California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas.
This picture focuses fairly narrowly on what transpired at Camp Poston, Arizona, a dusty desert area surrounded by barbed wired. About 17,000 Japanese from California had to make do living in barracks and eating in a mess hall for the duration of World War II. And to add insult to injury, they were forced to perform slave labor, building homes, schools, roads and the rest of an infrastructure for a town they would never be allowed to enjoy themselves.
Furthermore, upon return to the West Coast in 1945, many families found homes they owned either trashed or occupied by strangers. Understandably, children who witnessed such mistreatment at the hands of their own country during their formative years might never fully recover from the trauma.
That is the message convincingly conveyed by Passing Poston, a poignant documentary about a shameful chapter in American history. The film relies primarily on the reminiscences of four senior citizens still haunted by the experience 60 years later after the fact: Ruth Okimoto, Leon Uyeda, Kiyo Sato and Mary Higashi.
Ms. Okimoto speaks wistfully about the sadness, shame, anger and rage which have plagued her all her life since being sent to Poston at the age of six. Meanwhile, Mr Uyeda admits that despite being freed after the war, he has never again felt fully American, sensing that his rights might again be arbitrarily taken away in an instant.
Who would think that full-fledged citizens, born in the States, could have lost their homes and businesses, never to recover financially or even own another house? Finally, in 1988, the U.S. made a belated gesture acknowledging its exploitation by paying $20,000 apiece in reparations to the 62,000 camp victims still surviving. “For the first time in 46 years,” one beneficiary says wistfully, “I was proud of America.” Still, no amount of money could ever compensate her for the humiliation and the neverending nightmares.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 60 minutes
Studio: Fly on the Wall Productions

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