Nothing less than the fate of an entire nation
Like many Americans, I always had the idea that Japan’s surrender was pretty immediate following the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. However, Fat Man was dropped on August 9, and the country did not officially surrender until August 15. That is six days of doubt, debate, folly and insurrection.
“Japan’s Longest Day” (a direct translation of “Nihon no ichiban nagai hi”) is not actually the story of a single day. It begins shortly before the first bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, and finishes at the Emperor’s surrender speech on August 15. The bulk of the story, however, takes place during the long dark night of August 14, when the fate of the entire nation truly hung in the balance. If things had gone only slightly differently, there might be no Japan today, at least not as we know it.
It is a testament to the skill of director Okamoto Kihachi (Battle of Okinawa) that even when the story is a matter of historical record, “Japan’s Longest Day” is still full of tension and drama. Okamoto even manages to stick pretty closely to history. In this case, the real thing was enough.
The story has been done before, most recently seen in Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov’s The Sun, but never with such scope and drama. Each of the major players is given a full story arc, including the leaders of the failed insurrection that attempted a military coup de tat in order to prevent Japan’s surrender. How they could do this in the face of more atomic bombs seems like madness, but it is madness such as when Father of the Kamikaze Onishi Takijiro begs for just twenty million more suicide troops to fling against the American army.
As Toho Studio’s 35th anniversary production, “Japan’s Longest Day” stars pretty much ever one of the greatest actors from Japan’s Golden Age of cinema. Kurosawa Akira favorites Mifune Toshiro (Seven Samurai) and Shimura Takeshi (Ikiru) share screen time with Ozu constant Ryu Chishu (Tokyo Story). Even the legendary Nakadai Tatsuya (Portrait of Hell) joins in as the narrator. I can’t think of any other Japanese film that has this much talent gathered together.
Animeigo’s production of “Japan’s Longest Day” is not as exciting as some of their more recent releases. Their superb subtitling is still here, but the bonus features are limited to production notes. Even so, this is a fantastic DVD.