Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Every once in a while a movie comes out, and one thinks, "How did that movie ever get made in that country, then, and what possibly could have been the public's reaction?" Such is the case with Kinji Fukasaku's anti-war film Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972). In it he criticizes Japanese actions during World War II as well as poor treatment of abused troops who survived, and cover-ups that allowed war criminals to escape punishment, often at the expense of their soldiers. It also reveals that many common soldiers (in opposition to what you normally hear) wanted to live, rather than sacrifice themselves, and there was criticism of the emperor. War widow Sakie Togashi (played by Sachiko Hidari) year-after-year (once families are allowed to seek support from the government) seeks to find out why she is denied postwar benefits, only to get the run-around and half answers that her husband was executed for desertion. Twenty-six years after the end of the conflict a sympathetic official sends her on a path toward discovering the true events that led to his death, an exploration that reveals the sorry state soldiers were forced to endure, especially as the war turned against them and the government was unable to provide supplies. These deplorable conditions, which result in horrendous acts, complicated by hardline officers who could not accept defeat and were willing to sacrifice their men, must have been difficult for Japanese viewers to stomach (literally), as well as tales of betrayal, disloyalty, desertion, with little of the patriotic sacrifices usually portrayed. The acting is not sterling, though some actors did a good job. The younger generation doesn't want to dwell on these losses, the older generation wants to simply honor their dead, and the government (and others) seems determined to forget or obscure the truth. This is a movie worth trying, far different from much of the fare offered by 1970s Japanese filmmakers. Some issues and scenes are not suitable for younger children (cannibalism, starvation, violence, etc). I didn't much care for the soundtrack, especially the electric organ music at the beginning.

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