I feel conflicted here. While ‘Come See the Paradise’ could be educational to people who have never heard of the concentration camps or know little about them and, as Chico pointed out, might be reluctant to watch a film like ‘Rabbit in the Moon,’ its didactic storytelling slips in some troubling ideas.
The white savior narcissism of Dennis Quaid’s character aside, the film is full of American apologetics and racial stereotyping. Lucy is an all american girl with the one tragic flaw of being born Japanese. While Dennis Quaid loves her and makes a big show of accepting her despite her race, he consistently punishes her for any display of Japanese-ness that does not fall within his idealized notion of Japanese American Culture.
Lucy herself is equally ashamed of her culture, her interactions with Japanese characters that have not been sufficiently Americanized are consistently negative. Her mother and father shun her for marrying a Irish american man instead of being sold to a caricature of an older Japanese man. Her father down on his luck after being captured and tortured by the american military (the violence of which is very downplayed by the film) Joins his family in the camp and is shunned and assaulted by young Japanese american men. One of these men, Lucy’s brother, is portrayed as violent and irrational for resisting the injustice inflicted on him by his country. While Lucy’s brother who remained loyal to the united states is portrayed as level headed and heroic for fighting and dying for the United States military industrial complex.
Though the camps are shown and consistently explained to be unjust and unconstitutional at their core, the conditions of the camps are surprisingly homey. Every cabin is decorated, there is singing, dancing, sports, and work. Mentions of food theft by camp officials are raised, and then dismissed by Lucy’s loyal brother as legitimate shortages. White officers are shown to enforce unjust rules imposed on prisoners, and then they relent without any violence when confronted with Lucy’s rigid moral backbone. In fact the only threat to the life of a Japanese American prisoner shown is other Japanese Americans, specifically those who are allied with resistance to the United States. They are shown starting fights, throwing rocks, and jumping innocent J.A.C.L. members in the night.
Meanwhile, Dennis Quaid’s feeble attempt at asserting his loyalty to Japanese American prisoners is met by an understanding and seemingly goodhearted Commanding Officer who says “maybe they were safer in prisons?” A stance that is never fully combated by Quaid.
In the end Lucy is allowed to continue her life without much trauma from her imprisonment. Everyone who held her back from her true calling as an american housewife is dead or overseas! Yippee! Now she can tell her daughter that America only dropped one atomic bomb on Japan. It may seem like a small inaccuracy but I feel it is symptomatic of the essential message of the movie:
“America is sorry for it’s treatment of Japanese Americans…
… but… …like, really it wasn’t that bad anyway?
Most Americans liked Japanese people. They’d probably fuck them if they had the chance. and also Japan was like really tacky anyway… and weird… like SO weird… who would want to be Japanese? Probably weird violent sexist people.
So… Sorry? Sorry that you feel like America wronged you, Japanese Americans.
And if you’re a white person watching this movie, you’re probably cool and not racist even a little bit, like sexy Dennis Quaid.
Who is even responsible for that weird “internment camp” idea? because definitely none of the white people were. probably Satan and weird strangers you don’t even know.
You’re fine now though. Satan’s dead. So you don’t have to think about your privilege or inherent biases any more. Racism is something that happened in the past.
Now go sign up for the American Military.”