Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema

Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema


Windwing - Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema * eternal zero 2

A film about kamikaze pilots has been playing to packed theaters from Hokkaido to Kyushu since its release in December of 2013, becoming one of the top-grossing Japanese productions of all time. In addition to attracting the admiration of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe, "The Eternal Zero" has drawn a fair amount of criticism for being the latest in a string of recent films that mythologize the Japanese role in World War II.

Any Japanese film concerning World War II is going to be closely scrutinized by Japanese and international audiences alike. Most Japanese films produced in the first few decades following the war focus on human tragedy while keeping away from anything that could be construed as glorifying combat or defending Japan's military adventurism. To avoid possible offense, American and Allied Forces in Japanese productions have usually been faceless, instead being represented by their machines of war (as opposed to contemporary Hollywood productions that often include rather negative stereotypes of Japanese soldiers). Americans and the Allied Forces are also rarely even named, usually referred to simply as the enemy.

However, Japanese films generally fail to explain the cause of the war, which has led to a spate of recent movies that cast Japan in a more sympathetic light. With bigger budgets and slicker production values than the stark and repenting post-war movies, these films portray a more romantic view of the fight against the West where Japan is a victim, not the aggressor. As Japanese films become more revisionist, great concern has already been expressed about the current generation of movies such as The Truth about Nanjing which boldly dismisses war atrocities as Chinese propaganda. The film's director has stated that the Japanese leaders executed for war crimes are martyrs like Jesus Christ.

These are a several notable films about World War II produced in Japan:

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The Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero) 2013 – Using a flashback narrative, The Eternal Zero follows two siblings as they try to learn more about their grandfather who apparently was determined to survive the war but decided to die as a kamikaze. Some domestic and foreign critics have dismissed the film as shameless nationalistic propaganda. They argue that instead of being patriots who willing sacrificed themselves for Japan, kamikaze were actually vulnerable young men who were radicalized or pressured by fanatics into pursuing an "honorable" death.

Windwing - Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema * Yamato 2006

The Men of the Yamato (Otoko tachi no Yamato) 2005 – The Men of the Yamato is a big budget production with a story structure and visuals clearly modeled after Hollywood blockbusters. The film depicts the fate of the world's largest battleship and members of the crew as they are sent on a desperate mission to Okinawa where — spoiler alert — the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy is destroyed by U.S. Navy pilots.

Windwing - Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema * Deguchi No Nai Umi

Sea Without Exit (Deguchi no nai umi) 2007 – Kaiten pilots operated one-man submarines that served as human-guided torpedoes, making them the underwater counterparts to the better known kamikaze who attacked from the air. Sea Without Exit chronicles a star baseball player and his three fellow kaiten pilots as the struggle between a sense of patriotic duty and the fear that their lives will be wasted in a war that is already lost.

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Fires on the Plain(Nobi) 1959 – After receiving an Academy Award nomination for his 1956 anti-war film The Burmese Harp, director Kon Ichikawa explored even darker themes in Fires on the Plain. The plot concerns a group of Japanese soldiers trapped in the Philippines with little food or supplies because of the tightening noose of the Allied Forces. A brutal film, the graphic depiction of the soldier's efforts to survive through murder and cannibalism was met with critical disdain upon its release.

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Zero Fighter(Zerosen moyu) 1984 – Zero Fighter covers the history for the famed plane from its design and early dominance in the air until the end of the war when it is eventually outclassed by advanced enemy aircraft attacking in superior numbers. If the special effects seem strangely reminiscent of Japan's popular superhero and monster movies, Zero Fighter was produced by the same studio and special effects team responsible for several Godzilla films.

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For Those We Love (Ore-kimi) 2007 – Written by Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara, For Those We Love tells the tale of several young kamikaze pilots as remembered by the matron of the local restaurant they frequented while waiting for the final mission. Considering Ishihara's right wing political views, it probably should come as no surprise that the kamikaze pilots are glorified as heroes who died protecting their homeland rather than tragic causalities of Japan's imperialistic ambitions.

Windwing - Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema * Grave of the Fireflies poster

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka) 1988 – Grave of the Fireflies is a widely acclaimed animated film that follows an orphaned brother and sister as they struggle to survive in a Japan devastated by war. Film critic Roger Ebert ranked it as one of the best war films ever made, stating that its emotional breadth almost moved him to tears. The popularity of the movie in Japan has spawned two live action versions.

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Merdeka 17805 2001 – The producers of Merdeka 17805 claim the film commemorates Japan's role in bringing independence to Indonesia by ending Dutch colonial rule, but the release was met with criticism for offering a revisionist view that presents Japanese military aggression as being merely a desire to protect Asia from the West. Scenes depicting Indonesians kissing the feet of their Japanese liberators as well as soldiers slapping the faces of Indonesian recruits were deemed highly offensive to the nation's Muslim population.

Windwing - Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema * Battle of Okinawa 1971

Battle of Okinawa (Gekido no showashi:Okinawa kessen) 1971 – As the title states, Battle of Okinawa is a drama about the last major confrontation between Allied and Japanese Imperial forces. While the film faults Japanese leaders for failing to provide their soldiers with sufficient resources to defend the island from the Allied onslaught, the Okinawans caught in the middle of the fighting are portrayed as the true victims.

Windwing - Through Japanese Eyes: World War II In Japanese Cinema * Nihon no ichiban nagai hi

Japan's Longest Day (Nihon no ichiban nagai hi) 1967 – Even after two of their cities had been devastated by atomic bombs, hardliners within the Imperial Japanese military were still prepared to fight to the death. Japan's Longest Day recounts the true events of August 14-15 when a group of fanatical soldiers attempted a coup to prevent the broadcast of Emperor Hirohito's message of surrender.

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Better Wishes for Tomorrow (Ashita e no yuigon) 2007 – Like the 1998 film Pride: A Fateful Moment about Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, Better Wishes for Tomorrow attempts to humanize a Japanese leader on trial for war crimes . Responsible for the execution of American airmen, Tasuka Okada is portrayed as a dedicated family man who acted out of love for country. Both films seem to imply that any atrocities committed by the Japanese during the war were negated by Allied bombing of civilians.



Overstating The China Threat?


Overstating The China Threat?

Windwing - Overstating The China Threat

One of Washington's leading members of Congress, J. Randy Forbes, and a brilliant analyst, Elbridge Colby, sound the alarm. They believe that China has made precipitous gains against the United States' military power and that the U.S. must urgently increase its defense efforts to maintain its superiority.

Forbes and Colby assert that "the balance of military power in the Asia-Pacific writ large is under serious and growing pressure from China's military-modernization efforts," and the U.S. "edge in technology … is eroding." They caution that China's military buildup poses "critical" challenges "to achieving U.S. political-military objectives in the areas that have traditionally been part of our defense umbrella," namely "challenges to [the United States'] military superiority in the crucial air, sea, space, and cyberspace domains." Most alarming, Forbes and Colby hold that failure to act could have "tremendous strategic consequences" for the United States and its allies.

To support these claims, Forbes and Colby provide no new details (or old ones, for that matter) about China's military buildup, instead quoting prominent officials. Their "evidence" consists of Commander of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Samuel Locklear's statement that "our historic dominance … is diminishing;" Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Frank Kendall's assertion that the United States' technological superiority in defense "is being challenged in ways … not seen for decades, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region;" and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey's claim that "our technology edge [is eroding]." Forbes and Colby seem not to mind that the job of these officials is to cry wolf whenever they see any creature moving, lest they be charged with having ignored a menace if said wolf does materialize. Forbes and Colby also ignore that the military budget and the generals' command depend on finding a new enemy now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. And they do not take into account the military's long record of overestimating the dangers posed by America's enemies, as notably occurred in the case of the former Soviet Union.

A careful reader notes that the two leading analysts do recognize that China's A2/AD defenses are full of holes, akin—in their words—to "a block of Swiss cheese," and it is incredibly difficult to protect a "huge territory". Forbes and Colby should have to added that Chinese submarines are noisy and pose little threat; China's single aircraft carrier  offers scant opportunity to project power against the diminished but still-vast American fleet; and that China's military buildup is dramatic only if one ignores that it started the "race" from far behind. It is easy to achieve double-digit percent increases in military spending when one's baseline budget was $30 billion in 2000 and had scraped $160 billion in 2012. By contrast, the United States' defense budget in 2012 was more than 400 percent larger—about $682 billion— than China's and remained $30 billion greater than the defense budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazilcombined.

Forbes and Colby's military shopping list includes:

  • Additional Virginia-class submarines and unspecified new technologies designed to "sustain our undersea-warfare advantage."
  • Unspecified future aircraft with a host of novel capabilities designed to meet "emerging threat environments in the Western Pacific."
  • Additional long-range bombers that would improve on the B-2.
  • New, unspecified "credible kinetic and nonkinetic means to deter potential adversaries from extending a conflict into space."
  • "[A] new generation of offensive munitions."
  • Greater spending, generally speaking, on "cutting-edge and next-generation technologies."

Mark Gunzinger, who shares the same concerns, co-authored a document with Jan Van Tol, Andrew Krepinevich, and Jim Thomas on the Air-Sea Battle concept in which the authors recommended a host of military expenditures, including several technological and material developments and increases. These include:

  • Unspecified "long-range penetrating and stand-off EA-capable platforms (manned and/or unmanned)."
  • "Quantity obscurants, decoys, and false target generators for both offensive and defensive [electronic warfare] missions."
  • Developing alternatives to GPS navigation and reducing United States' reliance on GPS for its "precision guided weapons."
  • Directed-energy weapons (DEW)
  • Additional unmanned undersea vehicles for intelligence purposes.
  • Developing new mobile mines "deployable by submarines and stealthy Air Force bombers."
  • "Stockpiling" precision-guided weapons.
  • Additional air tankers.

One wonders what good these kinds of extra hardware would do in light of the fact that China is engaging in a low-key strategy of salami tactics that relies on enforcing its disputed maritime claims with mainly non-military assets. These include using civilian patrol vessels, which are "armed" with nothing more than water cannons and grappling hooks, and cutting the cables of exploration vessels belonging to other countries. Most important, do these analysts really presume that the United States should threaten China with war if it persists in claiming that several piles of uninhabited rocks and the waters around them are within China's exclusive economic zone or air defense identification zone?

More needs to be heard about China's actual intentions and interests before it is appropriate to conclude that the U.S. government should invest large sums in technologies that have strategic value only in outright war. Why would China seek to "eat our lunch," as Pentagon officials are fond of saying, or replace the United States as a global power? It has no ideology that calls for bringing its regime's ideals to the rest of the world. And it is under enormous pressure to attend to a host of serious domestic concerns, including an aging population, persistentenvironmental challenges, and an economic slowdown. Speaking of domestic challenges—won't the United States be stronger in the longer term if it chooses to invest more of its military spending, on fixing its aging infrastructure, creating jobs, and revitalizing its educational system?

Amitai Etzioni is a university professor and professor of international relations at The George Washington University. He served as a senior adviser to the Carter White House and taught at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book is Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World.