Monday, April 09, 2007

Men of Yamato

Last night was Easter, but unless you have cable you would not know it from watching the TV over here. Only by watching American news did I know it was the holiest day of the Christian calendar.

The TV watching was OK though because they ran the TV debut of Otokotachi no Yamato (男たちの大和ーThe men of Yamato). This is a movie that was released in 2005 and did a pretty good box office here in Japan. It tells the story of the crew of the World War II Japanese battleship Yamato. It was directed by Junya Sato and is based on the book by Jun Henmi.

So I exercised my rights as purchaser of the TV and said I wanted to watch the movie. S.O. fussed for a while then stomped off to the other room to use her laptop. (I am slowly but surely getting her to use her machine, rather than the desktop after I showed her that yes, she could use the laptop I gave her 3 years ago with the wireless network I installed.). She came back from time to time to fuss that I had the TV up too loud. I have to turn it up or I cannot break out individual words in Japanese because the actors speak so fast. S.O. hates that, but its my only hope to figure out what they are saying. That's the difference between being proficient in a language vs being fluent. I'm the former with a big desire to become the latter. I have a long way to go.

To make the movie they built a 3/4 scale mock up of the real battleship. Go here to see what it looked like. The rest was done with computer graphics, especially the attack by American aircraft at the end of the movie. Its pretty graphic nonetheless and the battle scenes are not for the squeamish.

However, while it is a movie about the war, its not a war movie per se. Its a drama, about how individual Japanese dealt with the fact that deep down in their hearts, beginning in 1944 many realized that the war was going to end badly for Japan. Despite that, they served and manned up the great ship for her final mission in 1945. The movie starts some years later when the daughter of one of the Sailors, hunts up and old fisherman and persuades him to take her on the 15 hour voyage to the site of the wreck, so she can make peace with her father. As it turns out he is actually a survivor of the battle himself. The movie goes back and forth between conversation on the fishing boat and scenes of the young Sailors-both aboard the ship and home on shore leave in Japan. The transitions between the two are cleverly done.

The movie is very sad. It does not glorify the war at all-in fact it points out well the pointlessness of war. The characters all bear themselves as if they know what fate awaits them, but they do their duty regardless. They are portrayed as human beings with hopes and dreams, all of which were betrayed by a fate that tied them to a government that led them to destruction. Even the officers of the ship seem to know this and bear themselves as if they know it.

Look for yourself in the trailer.

A better quality video can be found here. ( I'm sorry, I cannot find one with English subtitles....).

I've been wanting to see the movie since it came out 15 months ago. It got huge advertising on TV and in the train stations with big posters and hanging signs in the trains. I wanted to see it in a movie theatre, but its better I saw it this way. I could use my electronic dictionary for a lot of words. And drink beer.........

One of the interesting things about living here in Japan has been to see the story of the Second World War told from the other side of the hill. While it is true that the Japanese really do try to diminish the war and its impact ( the S.O. hates talking about it and has no interest in going to see historical sights from the war-I had to beg her to go with me to the Arizona....), nonetheless in this case they told a good story. If you can watch this movie, I strongly recommend it.

Couple of trivia points. I learned that the hats of the Sailors had the old name of the Japanese Navy on it and were read from right to left. (大日本展国海軍)。The moniker literally translates to Larger Japan Empire Navy. Also, I never figured out the distinction of the uniforms. Some Sailors wore Navy uniforms, others were dressed in clothes that looked more like the Army. Despite the fact that they all had anchors on them. Don't have an explanation, I just found it interesting.

There are probably those who see in the recent spate of World War II movies an plot to condition the public to a new militarism by Japan. I don't buy that. What I can believe is that there is a desire on the part of some Japanese to better understand their history. Regardless of the motivation, I thought this movie was a story pretty well told. I give it a 6. (out of 10).


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?