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Come See The Paradise

Reviewed on April 12th, 2008 by Eric Renderking Fisk

While watching this movie, I was constantly reminded of the review that I wrote for "Snow Falling On Cedars." The connection between the two are easy enough - both time-lines occur during World War II and tackle the issue of the Japanese-American's who were interned in camps after President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. Both involved the Japanese-American neighborhood and their involvement with other Americans in the surrounding communities, and both movies have a Caucasian leading man who's bitter about the way the world is and fights to find a way to make it better while being in love with a Japanese-American young woman.

It's easy to draw parallels between the two for those reasons and a few more. But there are aspects of this movie that separate it from "Snow Falling On Cedars." and it might be possible to say that these two films are perfect "bookends" for the movies that were released between 1990 and 2000 - a great decade that observed the 50th Anniversary of World War II and had a resurgence in Retro-Wear and Nostalgia for one of the most climatic periods of American History.


Released in 1990

Dennis Quaid - Jack McGurn
Tamlyn Tomita - Lily Yuriko Kawamura / McGann
Sab Shimono - Hiroshi Kawamura
Shizuko Hoshi - Mrs. Kawamura
Stan Egi - Charlie Kawamura
Ronald Yamamoto - Harry Kawamura
Akemi Nishino - Dulcie Kawamura
Naomi Nakano - Joyce Kawamura
Brady Tsurutani - Frankie Kawamura
Elizabeth Gilliam - Younger Mini McGann
Shyree Mezick - Middle Mini McGann
Caroline Junko King - Older Mini McGann
Pruitt Taylor Vince - Augie Farrell
Colm Meaney - Gerry McGurn
Becky Ann Baker - Marge McGurn

Written and Directed by Alan Parker.
Produced by Robert F. Colesberry - producer
Nellie Nugiel - associate producer

Original Music by Randy Edelman
Cinematography by Michael Seresin
Film Editing by Gerry Hambling
Casting by Lisa Clarkson
Production Design by Geoffrey Kirkland
Art Direction by John Willett
Set Decoration by Jim Erickson
Costume Design by Molly Maginnis


Dennis Quaid stars as Jack McGurn, and upright idealist who is involved with the wrong crowd in a Labor Union movement and is party to an act of arson when the smoke bomb that's set-off in a theater gets out of control. The protest is in behalf of projectionists hoping to have their own organization and the plan was to scare people, not burn the theater down...

After being treated for his burns, Mr. McGurn is let go from the Labor Union movement and is forced to leave Manhattan because we are told via the dialog that he's too much of an idealist, a "do-gooder" AND trouble maker. He's given a few hundred bucks and sent on his way.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to the Kawamura family in Little Tokyo in Los Angles, California. We're immersed in the sub-culture of the Japanese-Americans who are trying to combine aspects of both cultures, such as the kids doing an all-Japanese version of Shakespeare and large multi-family gatherings that make this ethnic group enviable because of their tight-nit nature and camaraderie. We're introduced to Lilly, the daughter of the Kawamura's who is old enough to marry but hasn't found the right man yet and will soon be betrothed to a friend of her fathers who's willing to pay off Mr. Kawamura's gambling debts.

Jack McGurn is hired as the projectionist for one of Mr. Kawamura's theaters, and he learns the language, mannerisms and cultural aspects through the films imported from Japan. By watching the same movies over and over again from the projection booth, he learns one of the songs sung in these movies and we as audience members see his hard edge taken off and learn what a charming character Mr. McGurn is and how he is able to win Lily's heart so easliy after their first kiss during their first chance meeting.

Lilly and Jack have a whirl-wind romance that alienates the Kawamura family, and soon the two flee to Seattle where Jack finds work at a fish processing plant. There are aspects to this that echo the labor movement struggle that was featured in the Marlon Brando classic "On The Waterfront," struggling for fairness and better working conditions with bosses rather then union leaders.

Another protest gets out of hand and Jack winds up in jail that's the result of getting kicked by a policeman's horse. Lilly takes their little girl Mini back to Little Tokyo while Jack serves some time before following them...

Fate turns a hand after Pearl Harbor and Jack is separated from his family again as The Kawamura's are sent off to an interment camp in some undisclosed location in the desert and he's drafted into the armed services. He sees his family twice before being broken for being absent with out leave and his past deeds as a labor union protest organizer catches up with him. All the members of the Kawamura family have their own story ark, one of Lilly's brothers signs a paper saying that he's loyal to the United States and goes to fight and die, while Lilly's other brother protests the internment and is eventually repatriated to Japan - "sent back" to a country where he's never been to before. The rest of Lilly's family contends with issues such as conflicting loyalty, questions about one's honor and premarital sex and pregnancy.

The family is finally reunited on a farm far from L.A.'s little Tokyo, perhaps a metaphor for how far they've come and how far back they've been pushed since the beginning of America's involvement in World War II and due to the prejudice, racist and paranoid reaction to Pearl Harbor. The ending of the motion picture and the final reunion is both sentimental and bitter-sweet as the sun sets as the train arrives with Jack's train arriving at the station as if to say: "this chapter in American History is over, tomorrow hope, liberty and justice is renewed again."

Some of us know for certain that this isn't the end, since the Red Scare and the Communist Menace will most likely draw Jack back into conflict because of his prior involvement with "pinko" organizations... but that's not explored and no sequel was never planned or filmed. Those of us who know full well what history has in store for those people after the war.


Ren's RantsThere are some genuinely winceful moments through out this film that feels as bad as getting your eye caught on a hook. It's hard to imagine that something like the internment of Japanese-Americans could actually happen as we look back today. In our era of political correctness with many special interest groups calling foul after every breaking news story about someone doing something bad to inmates in Guantanamo Bay - we can't imagine tens of thousands of people being rounded up and put in cabins out in the middle of the desert with out protest from American citizens.

And maybe that's America's saving grace now - that in the era of terrorism in a post-September 11th world the United States has yet to round up all Muslim families and ship them off somewhere in a sight unseen by the rest of us. Maybe that's the silver lining in this ominous cloud that's become the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's hard to look at "Come See The Paradise" and still feel like an enthusiastic cheerleader for The Golden Era, hoping to revive the style and the substance of those decades and hope that Big Band Swing and fedora's come back into the main stream. At the same time, this motion picture is both stark and beautiful in the way it demonstrates that in the dark times good people can over come hardships and obstacles.

Is this as good as "Snow Falling On Cedars." I think that's a tough call since both are thought provoking and filmed in different ways to the extent that they are essentially Apples and Oranges. "Cedars" is a tone-poem romance about lost love while "Paradise" is about the triumph of love over adversity.


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More articles from Ren can be found here: The Rant Archive