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Movie Review : 'Horizon' Sinks In The Second Half

September 06, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

In its first half, Kaneto Shindo's "The Horizon" (at the Kokusai) looks like it may just become the epic film of the Japanese-American experience it strives so mightily to be.

In this often wordless portion we witness the arrival in 1920 of a Japanese picture bride (Miwako Fujitani) in a starkly beautiful California wasteland that she and her husband (Toshiyuki Nagashima) gradually conquer, and where they begin raising a family.

Shindo than leaps forward to the time of the internment camps and the immediate postwar period--and plunges headlong into disaster. So out of control is the film's second half in contrast to the eloquence of the first it's as if we're watching two movies, one as satisfying as the other is terrible.

All the camp personnel become heavily caricatured bad guys, the film's sense of time wavers fatally, the family's offspring speak like recent immigrants instead of native-born Americans, and even the gray in Nagashima's hair looks hopelessly fake. The only plus is Shindo's wife and perennial star Nobuko Otowa, who takes over for Fujitani as the now middle-aged matriarch in danger of being consumed with a hatred for Americans. Only Otowa's formidable presence keeps the film from falling completely apart.

Even though "The Horizon," a Japanese production shot on California locations, reportedly is based on Shindo's sister's experience, he is finally unconvincing, not in what he depicts, but because he does it with such awkwardness and melodrama in such unrelieved hatred. Shindo has allowed his passion, as he so often does, to lapse into preachiness.

The failure of "The Horizon" (Times-rated; Mature) is a reminder that the great Japanese-American saga has yet to be made.

John Korty's TV movie "Farewell to Manzanar," although flawed, was a start, as was the modest, endearing but uneven "Hito Hata," produced by the Japanese-American community. So far the really outstanding film on Japanese-Americans has been the excellent documentary "Unfinished Business," which focuses on the struggle of three men, all resisters to internment, to have their names cleared and the evacuation order struck down as unconstitutional.

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