It is 10 years after World War II. In an affluent Connecticut suburb, xenophobia festers when a Japanese girl, disfigured in the Hiroshima bombing and brought to the United States for reconstructive surgery, comes to stay with an American family.
In "Hiroshima Maiden," tonight's "Wonderworks" offering (7 p.m. on Channels 28 and 50, 8 p.m. on Channel 15), Johnny, the older son in the family, is caught between his own growing compassion for the girl and his friends' hostility toward her.
Kenneth Cavander's teleplay, directed by Joan Darling, is an unsteady mixture of tender subtleties and the obvious. At times, it seems to patronize young viewers with cartoon logic--Johnny's friends exist as a sort of Greek chorus, appearing now and then to snarl racial epithets and to label the girl, Miyeko, a spy. Dad (Richard Masur) is a caricature liberal, pipe in hand, heart on sleeve.
But Susan Blakely, as Mom, conveys understanding without words--she's not on screen enough--and Stephen Dorff's Johnny has depth, making his growth and his willingness to defy his peers believable.
The film's real stature, however, exists in the character of Miyeko, and in Tamlyn Tomita's sensitive portrayal of her.
Miyeko is written not as a saint, but as a survivor. Tomita shows us a very human young girl, who has suffered terribly, who mourns for the unscarred child she was, yet who can still care and still laugh.
"Where are the cowboys?" she jokes one day. "I don't see no cowboys yet."
One of the film's best scenes takes place in a park, where Miyeko, Johnny and his younger brother Timmy are flying a kite, running and laughing, all barriers down. The pleasure changes in moments when Johnny remembers she's supposed to be the enemy and when we see the shocked stare of an elderly couple walking by.
The string-dangling "happy" ending is abrupt, as if creativity ran out and it was time to wind things up. It's a shame.