In 1917, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) wrote “I hear the oriole’s always-grieving voice,” which contains the line “But come, come and see this paradise” that stirred Alan Parker to title his new film Come See the Paradise. Parker could not find the poem in its entirety, so he wrote his own poem “in order to try and say what [he’d] hoped the film would say” (Parker qtd in Baron):
We all dream our American dreams
When we're awake and when we sleep
So much hope that grief belies
Far beyond the lies and sighs
Because dreams are free
And so are we
Come See the Paradise
In the press notes that accompanied the film release to critics, Parker mentions that the inspiration for the film came from a photograph taken by Dorothea Lange of a man and his grandsons waiting for the bus that would take them to an internment camp. During early auditions in Portland, Parker unknowingly cast the great-granddaughter of the man in the photo; she showed him the image after her screen test. "When she said, 'This is my father and great-grandfather,' I literally hugged her and kissed her on the cheek," Parker exclaimed in an interview after the film's release.
Parker’s previous films also include very dramatic historic events: Mississippi Burning took place during the height of the civil rights movement; Midnight Express was about the Turkish imprisonment of a young man who was caught smuggling drugs; Evita depicts the life of Eva "Evita" Duarte de Peron, an actress who becomes the wife of the Argentinian president Juan Peron. In all of these films, Parker is accused of taking extreme liberties with history. In the making of Come See the Paradise, Parker admits that he “must have felt subconsciously that there was some sort of unfinished business with regard to [his] tackling a particular subject and making sure that [he] got it right” (Parker qtd in Horn). Yet, he admits that “with subjects that are based in historical truth comes another layer of responsibility. And, therefore, they are examined on a totally different level . . . which is irritating at times” (qtd in Horn).
Parker hired a research assistant and took two months studying the Japanese-American internment. He reviewed more than fifty books, newspapers, magazines, and videotapes. Once this research was complete, he set about to write the screenplay, which was focused on an interracial love story that happened to take place during World War II. Parker, despite much speculation, had no real purpose behind casting a white male lead other than to fit his romantic storyline.
Interestingly, the rest of the main characters in the film seem to be pulled straight from the pages of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir Farewell to Manzanar. While there is no concrete evidence to support these comparisons, the number and depth of similarities leads one to believe that the Kawamura family is patterned quite closely after the Wakatsuki family. Some of the more striking resemblances to watch for are: the memoir of the Wakatsukis and the story of the Kawamuras both start at a party; both Japanese and American songs are sung at that party; the father is arrested for possible collusion with the enemy; the middle brother is furious with the government for the internment while the oldest brother accepts it and tries to prove his allegiance to America; the father, when he returns from prison, is persecuted and abused by other internees and becomes a broken recluse; a young Army officer agrees with the injustice of the internment; one of the brothers dies after he enlists in the Army.
Parker wrote an interracial love story set during America’s most shameful act in history. The love story wasn’t based in any fact, but it’s likely that most of the main characters were influenced by a real family. Parker, as he states in his interviews, tried hard to stay true to historic events in his depiction of the internment; his attention to details such as the riots and the condition in the assembly centers show that he did care about the historical accuracy of the film.