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Children of the Camps – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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The famous Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote that “In times of war, the law falls silent.”While living roughly 2,000 years ago, his comments still ring irrevocably true today as they did back then, continually raising the ethical dilemma of what is interpreted as “lawful”in episodes of war. This is perhaps most remembered and realized in World War II, a worldwide conflict that encompassed dozens of countries and diverse political ideologies, ultimately culminating in being the bloodiest and most horrific episode of armed conflict thus far in human history. And, like all armed conflicts, it was not a period unaffected by considerable human atrocities exercised by practically all participants within the war, with the aftermath of such atrocities remaining quite visible within our contemporary times. But what remains quite unique in terms of   the topic examined within Stephen Holsapple’s documentary Children of the Camps is that, while certainly looking at a controversial and taboo subject in regards to America’s behavior during World War II, remains an intimate exploration of understanding and forgiveness on part of those individuals of whom such grave injustices were inflicted upon.

The film takes a look at the Japanese internment camps that were established after Imperial Japan launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Mere months after the attack and America’s subsequent entrance into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, an order that allowed local military commanders to relocate people of Japanese ancestry into internment camps, thus confining and restricting their movements as perceivable enemies of the American government. But while the film does shed much light on the historicity surrounding the reasonings and implementation of Japanese interment camps, Holsapple narrows down the primary focus of the documentary upon six former internees of the camp, all of whom were children at the time, as they discuss their long-standing issues with family therapist Satsuki Ina, also a former internee.

This narrowing focus upon the individuals who were actually interned as children within the camps more so than the history of the internment camps themselves establishes a detailed look into the numerous psychological and emotional issues that they have experienced growing up having lived within such an alarming environment. We see the participants express feelings of grief, abandonment, racism, fears, and exclusion, each displaying a diverse range of emotions surrounding their unique experiences, with Ina being viewed as a therapeutic outlet in which these individuals can discuss the inner turmoil that has long affected them and their state of being thus far. It is this sense of intimacy that garners the film a revelatory feeling, with us as the viewers truly engaging with these individuals as they share authentic retellings of events they have experienced that we may have never considered as outsiders. The injustices they faced – ranging from them being labeled traitors by fellow classmates and teachers, to some of them even being ashamed to be Japanese – are at the forefront of the film.

The conflict of being both American and Japanese is where the film finds a particular focal point in which these individuals truly wrestle with their own identity. Considering the democratic ideals that America espouses and supposedly subscribes to, which was especially heightened during the period of World War II, the notion that these individuals were deemed as a threat to national security occurred at a time where they were still learning the foundations of the world around them. Their developmental process as children during this period has led them to question who they truly are as American citizens during this time and once they grew up, especially given their construed – but certainly understandable – perception regarding being a Japanese-American while being detained for simply being Japanese. Is it hypocritical on part of the American government? The film never truly addresses such a notion, but then again, it is more about providing closure to individuals negatively influenced by the controversial decisions made by the government at the time.

Working on a level of intimacy that brings the historical events surrounding the topic of Japanese internment camps down to a level of understanding that encompasses the longstanding consequences of human suffering and self-identity, Holsapple paints a rather dark but ultimately hopeful picture through Children of the Camps. Here we initially find individuals emotionally distraught throughout most of their lives, scarred from their recollections as children living under conditions in which no ordinary child would – and should – find themselves experiencing. One can find that the American ideals of freedom and democracy are continually brought into question here, easing us into a time in which those ideals were suppressed for a specific group of people within America, radically altering their views on what it meant to be American. While such tragic cases of history did indeed transpire decades ago, Children of the Camps reminds us that such events need not to be forgotten but openly examined and discussed as genuine aspects of the American historical experience, with America hopefully living up to its now standards in the future.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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