Kamikaze
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Kamikaze
by Michael Slade
Signet, 2006, 388 pages

This fast-moving thriller mixes violence, blood, and suspense as Genjo Tokuda, a retired yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss involved in every sort of crime, tries to exact revenge on the American airman who helped wipe out his ancestral line at the end of World War II. Kamikaze is the twelfth novel by Michael Slade about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Special External Section (Special X), which investigates criminal cases with links to foreign countries. Michael Slade is the pen name for Jay Clarke and his daughter Rebecca, who both live in Vancouver, where most of the novel's action takes place. Japanese kamikaze pilots get mentioned in several parts of this book, but the main plot, despite the book's title, focuses on topics other than kamikaze.

Even though this novel contains interesting details about Vancouver, the chapters set in other locations, especially Japan, lack specifics. In spite of a four-page listing of sources, the research for historical portions of this novel seems rather shallow. For example, Slade includes in his sources only one book directly related to kamikaze. This reference source, Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods by Axell and Kase (2002), has its own shortcomings related to accuracy and source documentation; therefore, much of the kamikaze-related information provided in Slade's book should be read with skepticism.

Kamikaze introduces many characters and plot twists. Although the author skillfully depicts Tokuda as the personification of evil, the personality and motivations of some characters remain unclear, partly due to the large number presented in the book. Slade keeps up the tension and thrills until the end, but a few parts should have been cut or shortened as the plot rambles in places.

Tokuda leaves Tokyo to visit Vancouver with the purpose of torturing and then killing Joe "Red" Hett, who had been part of the crew of Enola Gay when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, where everyone in Tokuda's family died. A plane piloted by one of Tokuda's henchman from Japan crashes into the Canada Place Convention Center in Vancouver where Pacific War veterans are meeting. The pilot of the suicide plane tosses out Joe Hett's son Chuck from the plane just before crashing into the meeting place. Tokuda's men then abduct Joe Hett's granddaughter Jackie, a member of the Canadian Mounties' Special X squad. Joe and the Special X squad work together to rescue her.

Twin children, born in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong of the same mother but different fathers, play key roles in the story. Their mother was a Canadian nurse serving in a makeshift hospital at St. Stephen's College in Hong Kong. On Christmas Day of 1941 as the Japanese Army approached, she had sex in a closet with a British captain to release her stress. Then Japanese soldiers stormed the college, and Genjo Tokuda gutted the captain with a bayonet and raped the nurse. The British captain's daughter, Lyn Barrow, kills Tokuda in a horrible manner when he visits Vancouver. Tokuda's son, known only by the code name of Kamikaze, arranges to contact his father in Vancouver when he discovers his Hong Kong parentage. He tries to kill Joe Hett at the convention hall where Pacific War veterans are meeting, but police shoot him down before he can reach Hett.

On April 6, 1945, Tokuda took part in the defense of Okinawa from Shuri Castle. He supposedly, even in the middle of a raging battle, used his binoculars to view the mass kamikaze assault that day on the American fleet. The novel's description of this attack includes many inaccurate stereotypes and generalizations. For example, the author describes kamikaze planes designed to drop their landing gear on takeoff so it could be picked up and reused for other suicide runs. These Japanese planes never existed. The novel states that each kamikaze pilot shouted "hissatsu" (sink without fail) at the top of his lungs as he began his dive, but the real pilots did not have such a custom [1].

Tokuda's unnamed cancer-ridden henchman who crashes a plane into the convention center is quite a contrived character with no clear motivation. During the war, his uncle had piloted the ultimate suicide weapon, an ohka (piloted glider bomb), and Tokuda's henchman for some unknown reason fantasizes that he also is an ohka pilot even though he has only an old prop plane for the attack. The book never reveals why he has such an intense desire to kill innocent Pacific War veterans more than sixty years after the war's end.

Genjo Tokuda's son, whose real name is never revealed, goes by the code name of Kamikaze, but he has no clear connection to historical kamikaze. Tokuda's sword is named kamikaze, or "divine wind" in Japanese, and his son took the same name even though the book does not tell how he found out the sword's name since his father lived in secrecy on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in Tokyo. The author improperly muddles up yakuza hierarchical structure with kamikaze. He explains that Kamikaze in the "child role" of the yakuza structure had to be "willing to take a bullet for, and be a bullet for" Tokuda in the "father role." As a result, "He had to be kamikaze. He had to be ready to die." This connection between yakuza and kamikaze is so much nonsense. Before Kamikaze's planned attack against Joe Hett at the convention hall, his father Tokuda explains the ideals of Japanese kamikaze by telling the story of First Lieutenant Hajime Fujii, whose wife committed suicide along with her two young children in order to allow her husband to be free to join a kamikaze squadron as he desired. Fujii's story has little relevance to Kamikaze's attempt to take Hett's life by hurling four Molotov cocktails at him in the convention center. Although the author mentions Kamikaze's Pacific War counterparts when he runs toward Hett with a flaming bomb in his hand, it is not clear that Kamikaze's attempted murder of Hett can even be considered a suicide attack. Although waiting police shoot him down before he reaches Hett, he could have thrown the Molotov cocktails and tried to escape if he had gotten close to Hett.

When Jackie Hett ponders the reasons for her father Chuck's death and for the suicide attack on the convention center, she starts to think about the similarities of modern-day terrorists and Japanese kamikaze (pp. 253-4):

Both the attackers of 9/11 and the kamikazes volunteered to sacrifice themselves for sacred beliefs. Both thought that they were inflicting divine punishment on their enemies. Both prepared themselves spiritually for the carnage to come. Both thought that their gods were watching over them, and that death had its own rewards. The Al-Qaeda crews were told to shout "Allah is great!" as they struck, for that's believed to incite terror in the hearts of infidels. And the kamikazes were told to yell "Hissatsu!" at warships as they crash-dived.

The author does not provide support for the above assertions on Japanese kamikaze, and historical reality differs greatly from these unsupported statements.

This thriller, which includes several bloodcurdling scenes, tries to connect historical events of WWII with the present day. However, the historical connections depicted in Kamikaze turn out to be unconvincing.

Note

1. Slade apparently picked up this error from Axell and Kase (2002, 77, 82). These two authors describe an obscure manual dated May 1945 from an Army training air base near Tokyo. This manual has the statement that a kamikaze pilot should shout "hissatsu" when diving into the enemy, but memoirs of Japanese pilots who served in special attack squadrons do not mention this instruction. In addition, Genjo watched the mass kamikaze assault on April 6, 1945, a month before the manual was even published.

Source Cited

Axell, Albert, and Hideaki Kase. 2002. Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods. London: Pearson Education.