Published on July 6th, 2010 | by Chris0
The Battle of Okinawa (1971)
Toho Studio’s 1971 epic The Battle of Okinawa is definitely an, um, interesting piece of film. A telling of the last major “battle” (if you want to call it that) of the Pacific War, the invasion of Okinawa in 1945, from the Japanese perspective.
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and try to detach myself from 65 years of my own US-centric perspective and try and see this from the Japanese POV. In that respect, I think that the end result is a fine, fine picture. A tribute to all those who were called on to defend Japan at her “last stand” or dare I even go there, her “Alamo.” The intent seems pretty clear that’s the portrait we are meant to see here.
In that respect also, it paints a different picture than what we on this side of the Pacific might be used to seeing. That the defeat at Okinawa wasn’t so much dealt by a crushing invasion force, by land and by sea, but rather a failure by high command to allocate the proper resources and make the right decisions. Since I have no earthly idea whether or not this could actually be the case, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. In fact, the first part of the film starts almost a year before the invasion, exploring the preparation of the island, the airfields, etc. and how those command decisions may have been the deciding factor. Like I said, I don’t have a clue, but its interesting.
Then as the real invasion starts, the civilian population’s dire straits are portrayed quite well, to a point (more on this later) and again, it seems to be a failure by command to provide adequate means for evacuation, to the point they’re forced to recruit local students and women into the fight. OK, I might give you that one as well.
But throughout there is definitely a feel that this is, as I said, a tribute of sorts to those who fought and died, both military and civilian on that bloody island. That might offend some of you, but I’d wager that its their right to do so, just as we would, and have done.
And they had me on board with most of it. Right up until the last, oh, twenty minutes or so. Then things take a decidedly sour turn in the viewpoint toward the encroaching US forces. The portrayal turns to a (IMO, quite nasty) characterization of us intentionally and mercilessly murdering the civilian population, shooting soldiers plainly attempting to surrender, even to the point of using chemical weapons on nurses and wounded in the caves. True or not? I can’t say. I don’t know. There are few who probably do know the truth. I’d like to think not, but it sure is a “whoa, hey, wtf!” kind of moment. On the other hand, there are a few scenes where the US troops quite peacefully accept surrenders….
So while I don’t think there’s a total indictment going on here, one of the final scenes with the old woman and the tank implies a great deal. I think its part of a larger picture of how the war is (was?) viewed in Japan, as a dark point in history, where the country did what it did at the time, to the point of crushing defeat, yet really doesn’t offer any apology for it.
Overall I think the tone and pacing of the Battle of Okinawa somewhat feels a lot like the previous year’s “Tora! Tora! Tora!” With the jumping around to various desks and commanders making all these key and fateful decisions. The combat scenes are done well for the time, if maybe a bit cliched and riddled with stock sound effects, but they’re better than some of the same period. The pacing involved during the combat works quite well, so you’re not just left with a boring drone of shelf-reel richocets, but rather cutting between the various plots going on.
On a somewhat humorous note, was the DVD subtitle that appeared at the intermission point of the movie. “Take a break, stretch your legs and make yourself a nice drink. Or just skip to the next chapter.” Ha!
If you’re easily offended by a countering viewpoint on the war, and some pointed accusations therein, I would suggest you just steer clear of The Battle of Okinawa. You’ll just end up pissed off in the end. However, if you can take a step back and see things from the Japanese point of view here, I think you’ll be pleased with the overall results of the film. That is, a fitting tribute to their own soldiers and civilians who did what they had to do, and paid the price for it.
Also of note is the translation of the Japanese title: 激怒の昭和史：沖縄決戦, which amounts to “indignation of the history of the Showa era: the decisive battle of Okinawa”…. And I think that probably is a fitting title.
Battle of Okinawa
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With the country on the brink of disaster and defeat imminent, Japan fortifies its last defensive stronghold, the island of Okinawa. This final stand against the Allied attack soon becomes the bloodiest battle of the Pacific Theater and takes the horrors of war to a level never before seen, as the desperate Japanese forces try to demonstrate to the Americans what they should expect when they assault the Japanese mainland.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audience Rating: Unrated
Original Release Date:
- Keiju Kobayashi
- Yûzô Kayama
- Tetsurô Tanba
- Tatsuya Nakadai
- Mayumi Ôzora
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