Father of the Kamikaze



5.0 out of 5 stars Divine wind
I couldn’t help but compare “Father of the Kamikaze” with the 2007 film “I Go to Die for You” (“Ore wa, kimi no tame ni koso, shi ni iku”). What a difference distance makes. In the 2007 film, the kamikaze pilots are allowed to be figures of romance, of heroism, and all sorts of movie tropes. In 1974’s “Father of the Kamikaze”, there is only harsh reality.

I have seen few films that attempt to capture historical reality on the same level as “Father of the Kamikaze”. Not only in the accuracy of the story, but in the use of actual war footage whenever possible. Those are not special effects that you are seeing. Those are actual human-piloted airplanes smashing into actual human-staffed warships. The loss of life depicted in this film is staggering.

At the base level, “Father of the Kamikaze” tells the story of Onishi Takijiro, a Vice Admiral of the Japanese navy. No war-monger, Onishi actually opposed the attack on Pearl Harbor, foreseeing that it would launch Japan into a full-scale war with the US, a war they could never win. He also was opposed to the use of suicide attacks in warfare, until he was backed into a corner. In charge of the defense of the Philippines during Operation Sho, he had no choice but to order the attacks, which were highly successful and the beginning of Japan’s “Special Attack Units”. The film then follows the consequences of Onishi’s actions, with vignettes of the lives of kamikaze pilots, to the behind-the-scenes high level debates about their deployment. Onishi, who was against the war to begin with, becomes adamant that Japan must not lose, and tries to play psychological games with the US, throwing wave-after-wave of suicide attackers, in the hopes that the US will be horrified enough to at least call the war a draw.

This is an epic film, clocking in at over three hours long. Due to its nature, it is almost better to call it a documentary than a film. It seeks to educate much more than entertain. Director Yamashiita Kosaku does give the viewer enough drama to keep the story moving, but he also makes sure that all sides are represented, and the true nature of the men behind the Special Attack Forces is known. It is far too easy to sit in relative luxury and order men to their deaths, talking about ideals and country while taking none of the actual risks or suffering yourself.

Playing Onishi is Tsuruta Koji, who was Mifune Toshiro’s main rival at the time. He had made an earlier kamikaze flick back in 1963, “Taiheiyo no tsubasa”. Also on board is Sugawara Bunka, who is a familiar face as the star of the epic Battles Without Honor & Humanity. They both do a fantastic job, finding the nuance in their characters, and balancing the audience’s sympathy and disgust. Tsuruta particularly shines in the final scene where, as in real life, Onishi commits ritual suicide, but refuses a “second” to chop off his head and end his suffering. Onishi felt he should atone for the deaths he cause by feeling every minute of his painful death. He died over a period of 15 hours.

The only real drawback to “Father of the Kamikaze” is its length. That is a long history lesson, and the three hours can be hard to slog through. But at the end, it is a rewarding journey. Also, the special effects were overly ambitious for the time. The combination of actual war footage juxtaposed with model work can come off as a bit silly, and more than once I was reminded of scenes in Godzilla.

As usual, Animeigo put together a super package with this release. As a special feature, there is a clickable map that lets you study some of the details of the scenes involved, and their role in the war. The DVD liner notes are a small history lesson on the historical figures you will see, and some of the terms involved. All in all a brilliant presentation.


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