Last week I wrote about the latest news in the long-running coverage of the journey of the 1976 telefilm “Farewell to Manzanar” to DVD via the Japanese American National Museum, with that latest development being the ability to choose Japanese language subtitles in the setup menu. (One thing I failed to mention was its cost, which is $24.95.)
I noted that “FTM” was one of the few times major Hollywood entities — Universal Television and NBC, in this instance — bothered to tell the story of “internment.” Interestingly, those two entities became NBCUniversal, which is owned by telecom giant Comcast.
In that column, I wrote that the only other times I could remember when a Hollywood major dramatized the WWII experiences of mainland Japanese Americans of the West Coast were 20th Century Fox’s 1990 “Come See the Paradise” and Universal Pictures’ 1999 “Snow Falling on Cedars.” (The latter was post-WWII, actually, but the incarceration experience is a big part of the subplot.)
So, the funny thing is, I happened to be in my local Big Lots store — I can’t do all my shopping at Nieman Marcus, after all — and there was a DVD of “Come See the Paradise” for $3, which I bought. (Tax-deductible!)
Not to sound like I’m defending Hollywood, but the reasons why studios might be wary of this subject matter, important as it is, are many: it’s depressing, it makes ’Murica look bad — and it loses money, the last probably the biggest reason.
It’s pretty safe to say that when it came out in December 1990, “Come See the Paradise” was a box-office dud, pulling in to date less than a million dollars, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. And, when the movie studio behind it makes it available on a DVD nearly two decades later (it has a copyright of 2008) and it ends up in a discount retailer for $3 (way less than the 1990 ticket price), what does that tell you?
I saw it theatrically at the Century City mall in 1990 — but I don’t remember being particularly engaged by its story, although I do recall seeing some older Japanese Americans in the ticket line and hearing some sniffles during certain parts of the movie.
Rewatching it, my feeling is similar — overall, it’s not super-engaging, but there are scenes and set-pieces that do carry some emotional heft. Also, compared with “FTM” and its meager TV budget, “CSTP” is gorgeously shot and you can see that money was spent on locations, sets, costumes and all that. Furthermore, this may be one of Tamlyn Tomita’s best roles, and Dennis Quaid does solid, journeyman’s work.
But, compared with “FTM,” meager budget aside, like its box-office, “CSTP” didn’t quite deliver emotionally either, the way “FTM” does. Director Alan Parker, who appears to be mostly retired at this point, was famous for many movies, including 1988’s “Mississippi Burning,” another civil rights-themed movie. And, like “Mississippi Burning,” “Come See the Paradise” puts the spotlight less on the aggrieved parties (African Americans and Japanese Americans) and more on the enlightened, crusading white male savior types (Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Quaid).
But at least give Parker credit for tackling a subject that many American filmmakers (he is British) have shied from telling. If you want to read his take on the making of the movie, go to http://tinyurl.com/y73qfk7y. It’s one long paragraph, which makes for tough reading, but if you make it to the end, you’ll learn why this movie got its title. And, if you have three bucks in your wallet and happen to see a copy at Big Lots, “Come See the Paradise” is an interesting artifact to buy. Or, for a bit more, you could instead buy a Slim Jim, a Pepsi and some Tums.
Universal Writers Program Dept.: Speaking of Universal, I was forwarded by the stalwart Dan Mayeda a news release that Universal Pictures has launched its Universal Writers Program, which supersedes its Emerging Writers Fellowship. This redesigned program is no longer targeting novice writers, and is committed to “discovering unique voices and developing writers on the cusp on breaking through.” With all the talk of Hollywood embracing diversity and inclusivity, this is actual action — it sounds like a great opportunity. Visit UniversalTalentDevelopment.com to apply.
And, speaking of Dan Mayeda, he has an essay on HuffingtonPost.com titled “Lessons From the World War II Experiences of Japanese Americans for Today’s Muslim Americans.” Read it at http://tinyurl.com/yd3wl2sc.
Capt. Obvious Dept.: Every now and then in the news is some story about a study proving that “fire is hot” or “it’s dark at night.”
The L.A. Times had an article by the redoubtable Greg Braxton titled “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders remain underrepresented on television, study finds” in its Wednesday paper. Not to mock the study, but yeah, we know.
Still it’s good to know that science — or something science-like — gives evidence to something anyone with a couple of working brain cells already knows. Read it at: http://tinyurl.com/yd6holq4.
Vietnam War Dept.: OK, I have a feeling Asians (and at least one Asian American in Vince Okamoto) will get plenty of representation on “The Vietnam War,” which premieres this weekend. I wrote about it a few weeks back (http://tinyurl.com/y7gd6pgs) and this Sunday, Sept. 17 is the premiere of the much-anticipated PBS documentary, a 10-episode, 18-hour behemoth from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Check your local listings.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2017 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.