More like an accusation
I really can not say enough about what a great film this is. “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” is just pure, masterful filmmaking, and one of the most potent and personal anti-war films I have ever seen.
Director Fukusaku Kinji is best known in the West for one of his final films, Battle Royale, which, while a fine flick, is kind of a shame. He really should be best known for films like his 5-film yakuza-epic Battles Without Honor & Humanity and for works of quiet genius like “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun.” Fukusaku was a director with a message, who aimed to speak to his audience through the medium of film, showing them the folly and consequences of using violence as a tool of change.
“Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” (Original title “Gunki hatameku motoni” or “Under the Fluttering Battle-flag”) tells the story of widow Togashi Sakie (Hidari Sachiko) who has been applying for her husband’s military pension for several decades, only to have it denied each time. Her husband is listed as having been executed as a deserter, and so deserves no pension. However Sakie notes that there are no records of the execution, and at this stage just wants her husband’s name cleared of what she feels are false charges. The workers at the pension office are sympathetic, but can’t take any action based on the limited facts. They suggest that Sakie seek out the remaining living soldiers who were there when her husband was executed, and get the true story.
From there, Sakie drifts Rashomon-like into a world of various truths, of horrors and heroics of war, as she attempts to construct a picture of her husband’s final hours from the various conflicting accounts. Was he a monster? Did he eat human flesh? Was he a hero? Did he save lives at the expense of his own? Is there a little bit of truth in everything?
Fukusaku handles these various stories, as well as the meta-story of Sakie’s search with skill rarely seen in modern cinema. The tone of the film changes depending on the scene, with Sakie’s quiet dignity being juxtaposed with scenes of her husband Togashi Katsuo (played by famed actor Tetsuro Tamba, Battle of Okinawa) who changes from stern yet reliable Sergeant to cold-eyed wildman as the situation and memories requires.
What is most startling about “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” is its direct condemnation of the Emperor. The film opens and closes with a ceremony where Emperor Hirohito offers flowers to the war dead, but bitterly comments that Togashi Katsuo is not amongst those honored. Later in the film, he makes an even more powerful accusation, providing a firm exclamation point to his film.
The DVD for “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” has two interesting extras, one being a short interview with Fukasaku scholar Yamane Sadao and the other being a commentary tract by subtitler Linda Hoaglund. She interviewed Fukusaku about this film, and provides an interesting insight into her work, and the meaning she tried to portray.