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TV REVIEWS : Trying to Make Sense of the Camps

August 27, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER

Like the slow, careful dusting of an antique that gradually reveals the thing underneath, Rea Tajiri's video work for PBS' "Alive TV" series, "History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige" (10:30 p.m. tonight, KCET Channel 28), seeks to recover the truth and meaning of the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans in remote desert camps. Her medium is essentially Tajiri's message as she sweeps aside Hollywood (and Tokyo) images of invading Japanese and those, like her mother and father, forcibly relocated to forlorn outposts like Poston, Ariz.

Combining scrolling graphic messages in the bold, didactic style of Barbara Kruger with such surprising imagery as color super-8 footage of the camps (cameras were banned in those places), Tajiri strives for two simultaneous and not always complementary aims. She urges her mother to remember details of the camp, and thus retrieve an undertold history. She also wants to critique movies related to the camps and Pearl Harbor, and expose their distortions of history.

The first project succeeds where the second fails, you sense, primarily because the personal stakes are so much greater. Her mother's voice (she is rarely seen) evokes both a willingness to go along with her daughter's wishes and a fear of going back to a terrible time she'd just as soon forget.

It's this forgetting that Tajiri, in her quiet way, rages against, and she finds an unlikely comrade in Spencer Tracy trying to investigate the death of his friend, Komoko, in "Bad Day at Black Rock." The juxtaposing of Tracy turning a town upside down with Tajiri piecing together her family's life in the camps actually shows that Hollywood acknowledged the evils of Japanese-American bashing.

Hollywood acknowledged this again in "Come See the Paradise," but Tajiri unaccountably knocks this Alan Parker melodrama of camp life despite its condemnation of the forcible internment.

Tajiri is a much finer video artist than movie critic, which is why "History and Memory" has done remarkably well on the video festival circuit and is now able to make the welcome jump from the festivals to the home screen.

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