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Originally published Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'The Manzanar Fishing Club': Internees catch a taste of freedom

A movie review of "The Manzanar Fishing Club,"a terrific documentary about the assertion of American identity and liberty through clandestine fishing at the World War II-era Manzanar internment camp.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

'The Manzanar Fishing Club,' a documentary directed by Cory Shiozaki, from a screenplay by Richard Imamura. 84 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.

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Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals in the western United States were uprooted from their communities and detained in 10 internment camps.

Among some fine documentaries about this broad story of injustice and racism are two about the so-called "relocation center" in Poston, Ariz. ("Rabbit in the Moon" and "Passing Poston," both previously shown at Northwest Film Forum).

Now comes the superb new documentary "The Manzanar Fishing Club," which ingeniously, and warmly, looks at a surprising chapter in the story of an internment camp in Eastern California.

Proving that sometimes the best way to grasp a big narrative is through a deceptively narrow approach, this labor of love by writer Richard Imamura and director Cory Shiozaki — both with many personal ties to the internment story and, significantly, to trout fishing in the Eastern Sierra — takes a unique angle on the human (and American) craving for freedom.

Set near tall peaks in the Sierra Nevada, the Manzanar camp, a square-mile instant town containing barracks with more than 2,000 small apartments for families, happened to be near splendid fishing grounds with burbling streams full of rainbow trout.

With some of the interned men taking farming and various maintenance jobs directly outside the camp's barbed-wire fences, it wasn't long before good fishing was clandestinely discovered.

Using a lively mix of contemporary interviews, archival materials and exciting re-enactments, "The Manzanar Fishing Club" reveals how some of those men, and many others (including women and children), risked their lives to slip out of the camp under cover of darkness to go fishing for hours.

Over time, the secret practice evolved into extraordinary, days-long trips far up into the mountains in a quest for more elusive trout breeds.

Shiozaki and Imamura may get lost sometimes in the finer points of fishing gear, but overall they make a powerful case that these technically incarcerated sportsmen were asserting basic liberties.

The film includes a lot of rich, vivid and personal detail about Manzanar and its people, drawing these 70-year-old memories out of the mist of history and making it all seem immediate again.

Tom Keogh:

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