The family has moved to backwater New Denver as part of Canada’s internment program; Aya, a college girl who had worked as a bookkeeper, becomes a maid for unsophisticated Peg Parnham (Shannon Lawson) and nursemaid for her small daughter. Assigned a shanty behind the Parnham house, the Kawashima clan can only accept their reduced circumstances.
Aya stays mostly cheerful; sheand Peg adapt, with Peg opening a store with her friend Ann (Jennifer Clement). The Kawashimas have taken in saddened Toshiko (Manami Hara Dueck), whose husband has been detained. Peg eyes her daughter’s closeness to Aya with some misgivings, and Peg’s sister and Aya’s teenage brother Mas (Edmond Kato) begin to have feelings.
One of the vidpic’s major jolts is a repatriation paper that Japanese nationalists had to sign if they refused to move farther east in Canada; the paper guarantees their return to Japan after the war. Kevin McNulty plays an awkwardly written, bigoted government agent who personifies Canada’s mistreatment of the Japanese.
Director Anne Wheeler tries for challenging scenes and shows some of the racial tension, but the dramatic moments fizzle. Even the suicide of one Japanese fades as though no one really cares.
Ouchi gives an affecting perf as Aya, but the role’s limited. Ito serves up as much dignity as Gibbon’s teleplay allows. Telepic — filmed in New Denver, which served during World War II as an internment town — has a pictorial realism, but the real suffering by those Japanese separated from their former lives and given no hope gets lost in Gibbon’s soap suds.
Tech credits are fine and production designer John Blackie gives the work a realistic touch. But “The War Between Us” fails to find any new aspects to a sad period in Canadian as well as American history. The punch is there, but Gibbon pulled it.