American Pastime, the opener for this weekend’s Asian Film Festival, takes place during the sepia-toned days of pre-WWII Los Angeles. Teenager Lyle (Aaron Yoo) plays a mean sax and, with his killer pitcher’s arm, eagerly awaits a promised baseball scholarship to San Francisco State. But after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, his all-American family gets slapped upside the head and finds itself, along with thousands more, shipped off into the Utah desert to an internment camp. Lyle’s family is stunned and humiliated — they’re Americans, after all, how could this happen?
The film, directed by Desmond Nakano (White Man’s Burden), spins one of America’s worst moments into the stuff of a family’s abiding dignity and perseverance. Masatoshi Nakamura and Judy Ongg are especially effective as heads of the household whose innate goodness holds them all together until the storm clouds pass. Filmed on location at the actual Topaz Relocation Center near Abraham, Utah, the movie also features an unlikely romance of mismatched lovers, à la Romeo and Juliet. Variety called it “an engaging entertainment assembled with skill.” The film screens at 7 p.m. Friday.
The other films in the festival include Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, an amazing animated fairy tale (2 p.m. Saturday); Bruce Bereford’s Mao’s Last Dancer, the story of Houston Ballet’s former principal dancer Li Cunxin (6 p.m. Saturday); and Christina Yao’s Empire of Silver, a period epic about a banking dynasty falling apart during China’s Boxer Rebellion (5 p.m. Sunday.) Rice Media Center, Entrance 8 off University Boulevard. For information, call 713-348-5843 or visit www.asia.rice.edu. Free.
April 13-15, 2012