Gunki hatameku motoni (1972)
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Acronym of a highly successful MMORPG launched in 2004
Boy oh boy do I love war movies, not the crappy shitfests that are, and have been put out on a regular basis, but the really excellent ones, the ones that I can safely call masterpieces. This one falls into the latter catégorie. Most definitely.
So what is this piece about? It is a movie of historical significance. It is a movie about truth. It is a movie about national shame. It definitely is a movie about the madness of war. But most importantly, it is a movie about violence; what it does to people, how it affects people, how people experience it. But still, it is not a particularly violent movie. Except when it is. Black and white scenes blossom into full color when the clumsy and bloody acts of violence are committed on screen. These moments are so powerful, and a big reason why this is such a great film.
It is also incredibly pessimistic and bleak movie. In fact, probably one of the most cynical war films I have seen since Cross of Iron. Despair abound, this movie doesn't paint a pretty picture about human race and the futility of everything almost made me piss my pants. It was that good.
And damn if it ain't a historically interesting movie. If you are a big fan of IJA, you need to watch this asap. The mesh of archive footage and filmed drama is sensational. So many magnificent tidbits about the desperate situation of Japan during 1945, from cannibalism and banzai charges to good ol' executions. Right here.
Also, the cool allusions of the 70's Japan. Notice how the loud sounds of ocean almost sound like artillery fire and how the modern aircraft is made to represent the bombers of Yankee capitalist pigs. The movie also includes a reference to Japanese holdouts of WW2 (Hiro Onoda returned to Japan in 1974!). The amount of details given to each war veteran is marvelous. None of them really have a lot of screen time in this 95 minute movie, but still, I really got all what the characters were about.
Inspired heavily by Rashomon and Human Condition, the story of a widow searching the truth through the stories of war veterans is really exciting to watch, and has its fair share of sensible twists that caught me by surprise. The movie in general is packed with excellent moments, the 'rice'-scene towards the end being one of the most beautiful I've ever seen in a war movie. Touching even.
In the end, this film paints an outstanding picture of the Pacific War, and that of a nation, that had to accept the shame and that still can't look back.
Now that I've got that big load of litter out of my system, I can safely say that this might very well be the greatest war movie ever made. Of course, you need to have interest in the Empire of Japan and you have to masturbate furiously to a picture of Hirohito each dawn, but it really is that good. Oh, and you have to be able find a copy of it first. 'Twas hard.
Fun fact: In 1945, when the director Kinji Fukasaku was working in a munitions factory with his friends, they came under artillery fire and many of them died. The survivors had to dispose of the corpses. It is easy to see this event as a big influence on this film, and later on a little film of his called Battle Royale. Kanpai!
WW2 Pacific Front; war has never been this depraved and exciting at the same time, all thanks to the glorious Imperial Japanese Army! This is THE best WW2 movie ever made, the blend between a "documentary" and a war drama is seamless and you just gotta love the exploits of IJA at the Pacific Theater.
No one does national shame like Japan, these little yellow men excel at hiding the truth and reasoning absolutely horrendous things in the name of the Emperor. And I don't blame them, just like Father Mishima tried to teach us, there's nothing more dangerous than trying to renounce Hirohitos claim for divinity. The men at IJA fought for a living God, there was no greater honor than to die in his name during a glorious banzai charge. But then these charlatans come and claim that the brave men died for a man, a simple man... Shameful display!
When the realities of war meet the expectations that were placed on a common soldier in IJA the lines between good and evil, right and wrong get blurred. The Pacific Front wasn't quite the meat grinder as the Eastern Front, but it was hell on earth on its own right. Due to the nature of island warfare, the shipments of supplies were scarce and sometimes nonexistent and the common soldier rarely got a piece of the supplies as they were reserved for the higher ups. Tasty natives and fallen brothers in arms were the main source of food for many common soldiers, obviously this wasn't allowed in Emperors great army, so many of the men that were caught doing such despicable acts as trying to survive were executed as deserters, only to hide the true nature of war.
The "documentary"-scenes were nice change of pace compared to the war scenes. Also the denial and the lengths the veterans were willing to go to hide the truth after all these years was truly eye-opening. The culture of silence the Japanese have towards the things that happened in the war is a real thing of beauty. All in all this movie depicts the depravity of war and the machinations of IJA on the Pacific Front perfectly, Fires On The Plain is also a good choice if you want to see a realistic film about this side of the war, but this movie has way more intrigue to it.
Not only is this a truly great movie when it comes to the story, it's also beautifully shot and the sound design is great aswell. Some of the scenes in this film are above others, the botched execution and the final execution are both great examples of the madness and futility of war, and the "Last Meal"-scene near the end is some of the most beautiful cinema ever created. The only downside to this movie is its length, only 96 minutes, would've love to sit for an hour or two more.
I ate a man ... a man. But the world didn't change.
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In 3 official lists
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This movie ranks #156 in Tom Vick's Asian Cinema: A Field Guide
This movie ranks #169 in ICM Forum's 500<400
This movie ranks #397 in Doubling the Canon