Review by Mary Sparkman
An eight-year-old boy is willing to do whatever it takes to end World War II so he can bring his father home. The story reveals the indescribable love a father has for his little boy and the love a son has for his father.
This film is a beautiful tale of loss and love and, I suppose, what some people are calling faith; however, don’t get this confused with a faith-based film because it is not. This is war as seen through the eyes of an eight year old boy and his naïve idea of what it takes to bring home his much beloved father. We have a little boy, Pepper (Jakob Salvati) aptly nicknamed Little Boy because of his short stature, who loves his daddy and an older son who loves him as well. I could say this is a very simple film as it depicts the hardships as a father goes off to fight a war that his older son could not for health reasons. But if I look deeper and reflect longer it is so much more than that. London (David Henrie) cannot go to war due to a medical condition so Father, James (Michael Rapaport), goes in his place much to the heartbreak of the entire family. This film is a roller coaster of emotions. I was laughing and crying every twenty minutes. I truly felt like these highs and lows of emotions must have been what families went through – was my loved one alive? Was my loved one safe?
After James departs for war the family is left in a state of limbo and this mythical California town is upheaved by the arrival of a Japanese immigrant recently released from the camps. These times were tumultuous, there were mothers that lost sons and sons that lost fathers and it was a sad world for us. That may seem an unpretentious statement for a very important time but keep in mind that this is through the eyes of an eight year old and to a degree the older son that could not fight for his family. I could understand the hatred and mistrust of Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) from not only the boys but from the entire town. Heck, he had the face of the enemy.
Enter the well-meaning priest, Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson). Pepper wants so badly for his father to come home that he dreadfully overlaps Father Oliver’s “mustard seed” sermons with his favorite superhero magician, Ben Eagle’s best tricks. He listens intently to the sermons and fantasizes that they are about the magician. When he approaches the Father he is given a list of good deeds to complete, this will bring his father home, one of which is to befriend the town outcast, Hashimoto. Now, this is a tough one for Little Boy, but he is determined and through the journey we find that this stoic “Jap” has lost much as well. Father Oliver does not even appear passionate about his own faith making him a mediocre priest at best.
This film has nothing to do with God, religion or faith in my opinion. It has to do with the desire for a little boy for his father to be home instead of at war. It has to do with conflicts. Conflicts of a teenager and how your father must go in your place to war. Conflicts of a Japanese immigrant and how you fit into a country you love yet doesn’t accept you. This is a film about acceptance. Acceptance of those that are different than us even in times of adversity.
This ultimately is a story about loving one another and to paraphrase MLK, “it is not about the color of your skin but the content of your character” as we learn the true, beautiful characters Hashimoto, Little Boy, and even London. This tale is sweet and a harmless look at life through the eyes of a child at the times of a powerful war. This is a film based on a family’s relationship and losing their father to war where there is no immediate communication, where it may take months or years before you truly know what happened to your loved one. This is a film about a close-knit community has to confront prejudice and own it. A film where I cry to see a father go off to war, I laugh to see a bully get theirs…a Norman-Rockwall-Free-For-All!
This is a feel good movie and you know what? Sometimes we all just need a feel good movie to end our day. I know I do.
In select theaters April 24th