I’ll Remember April
starring Pat Morita, Tevor Morgan, Pan Dawber, Mark Harmon and Yuki Okumoto
written by Mark Sanderson
directed by Bob Clark
This is a movie about Japan, America, and the early days of the Pacific War, namely April 1942. It is a boyhood recollection, part historical reality and part boyish fantasy of playing soldier in the warm lazy days after school in the countryside adjacent to the California beaches.
And, incidentally, the film is a kind of made-for-TV quality production starring some fine character actors, all of whom are second-or-third-tier actors. You ought to recognize three of them. Pat Morita, who became famous as Arnoldin the 1970s American sitcom, Happy Days. After that he went on to make all those Karate Kid movies with Ralph Macchio. Pam Dawber, who I remember from the old sitcom Mork and Mindy, about the alien Mork from Ork, who dame to Earth and lived in Boulder, Coloradowith Mindy, the daughter of a music ship owner. Mork and Mindy was one of the spin-off shows from Happy Days. (The others included Laverne and Shirley, starring Cindy Williams and Penny Marshal, and Joanie Loves Chachi, staring Scott Baio.) Pam Dawber’s co-star on Mork and Mindy was Robin Williams who, of course, has become a great comic actor and gone on to greater and better things, and all the fame that Hollywood offers. Finally, Mark Harmon, who many people remember as the plastic surgeon from the 1980s TV medical drama, St. Elsewhere.
Taking place in a small coastal Californiatown in the frenzied months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I’ll Remember Aprilis set against the backdrop of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to inland concentration camps, or prison camps. The same thing happened in Canada, of course, only in Canada the whole thing was more barbaric. Whereas in the U.S.the government brought the homes, businesses and property of the relocated people (albeit for a token amount) and subsequently auctioned it all off to Caucasians for a tidy profit, in Canada the government simply confiscated homes, property and businesses. Reimbursement for Japanese-Canadians did not come until the 1980s when Pierre Trudeau, during his final term in office, passed legislation paying compensation to those people, or their survivors. (The most famous such person in Canada is scientist and boradcaster David Suzuki, whose family was relocated from British Columbia to Leamington, Ontario - Ontario’s tomato capital and a big catsup producer.)
Contrary to what seems to be the lament of North Americans of Japanese ancestry, this part of our history was never hidden. I mean, I certainly was taught about it as part of modern Canadian history when I was in high school. One thing, though, that most people are not taught about, and so they don’t know it, and the thing that is the basis for this movie is the fact that in the Spring of 1942 Japanese submarines periodically torpedoed and shelled sites on the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington states. Little damage was done, and it was such a minor thing that I have only read about it once. In fact, I he seen it referred to in the movies - such as John Belushi’s comedy, 1941.
The premise in I’ll Remember April is that a Japanese sailor, played by Yuji Okumoto, accidentally gets separated form is surfaced boat and washed up on the nearby American shore. He is injured, but found, cared for and bonded with by a group of American playmates playing soldier along the beaches. Instead of turning him in to the FBI as a prisoner of war, the boys arrange for the sailor to escape to a relocation camp hidden in the back of a truck belonging to some Japanese-American neighbors who are being forced out of their home and business. It is all very heartwarming and touching, and although the credits of the film say that it is based on actual events I am not sure how true it is, except for the fact that Japanese subs did sometimes torpedo the American coastline in those early months of the Pacific war. I am suspicious about this Japnese-sailor-stranded-on-the-beach-far-from-home-and-in-the-heart-of-the-enemy story. But still, the movie was good for an afternoon’s diversion.
Another little-known fact of the Pacific war is that the Japanese sent ‘balloon bombs’to Americaacross the ocean on the air currents. Their hope was to do at least some damage to big coastal cities like Seattle, to spark forest fires and stir demoralization. It didn’t work, though. Although a few such bombs didreach the continental U.S. they did not do any damage. There is no accuracy form 7,000 miles away (before intercontinental ballistic missiles), and only a few such explosives are confirmed to have reach the North American continent, blowing up a few trees or settling as duds in the forest for hikers to discover decades later.