3-minute interview with Kerry Yo Nakagawa

The film writer behind “American Pastime,” a love drama about an enduring Japanese-American family who finds peace in baseball while imprisoned in a Utah internment camp during World War II, is screening the film Tuesday at Grace Cathedral in The City. The Fresno resident’s upbringing was steeped in a tradition of baseball; his uncle Johnny played with Lou Gehrig in the 1920s, and his uncle Lefty pitched against Jackie Robinson in 1937.

What did baseball mean to the Japanese-Americans in the internment camp? Baseball represented a sense of normalcy for the internees and a chance to bring the community together. Where would you rather be, stuck inside a cage or playing in the fields? Here they were as Americans playing the American pastime inside a barbed-wire camp.

What do you think of modern-day Japanese baseball players in the United States? I look at Ichiro Suzuki and he’s on track to be the first Japanese-born player in the Hall of Fame. But I’m just hopeful that today’s Japanese players in the states are grateful for the opportunity that Japanese pioneers before them opened up.

Who is one pioneer? Lolly Yanamine is one. The story I like to tell is before he played in the states, he was with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. One day, there was this little kid who was hanging around asking for a signature. Every player ignored him except Lolly. And guess who the child turned out to be?

Who? Sadaharu Oh. Amazing, huh?

What’s been the overall response to your film? People call in and said they’ve never wanted to talk about the camp life. But after they saw the film, something sparked in them. Maybe the film allowed them to take away the shame and humility under wraps for some many years.


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