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Kamikaze: Death From the Sky
Produced, directed, and written by Kevin Watson and Ed Topor
MPI Home Video, 1989, 54 min., Video

This very slow-moving video account of Japan's kamikaze operations provides many firing guns and falling planes but few insights into the motivations of the military leaders and feelings of the pilots. In several places, the narrator remains silent during an extended sequence of film clips. The narrator describes the last kamikaze attack at about 41 minutes into the documentary, but the film continues on for another 13 minutes of very little narration with most scenes showing the Hiroshima bombing and devastation.

The video starts promisingly, with the narration in the first twenty minutes moving at a slow but acceptable pace. The facts related to the kamikaze operations seem generally accurate, although few dates are mentioned. The documentary includes some interesting facts related to the Allied defenses against kamikaze attacks, such as the development of long-range search radar and the three types of ship guns and cannons used against incoming planes. However, the video mentions nothing about the formation of the first kamikaze corps in October 1944 and has no information about the attacks by 875 kamikaze planes after April 12, 1945, until the end of the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945 [1].

The video has a few other shortcomings, such as repeated film clips and mispronounced Japanese words. The script provides little understanding of the reasons why kamikaze pilots made attacks, with only vague references such as "incantations" [2] or inaccurate explanations such as, "The commanding officer of the suicide unit was the officiating priest of the pilots" [3].

As a film clip near the end shows slow-moving seaplanes in the air, the narrative provides the following explanation that has incorrect and misleading information [4]: "Having run out of the modern suicide plane, the Japanese were forced to use their oldest and slowest aircraft on moonlight suicide attacks. Old biplanes crashed into and sank the US destroyer Callaghan [mispronounced by narrator]. This last suicide attack of July 29, 1945, marked the end of the Okinawa campaign." Seaplanes were used in kamikaze attacks, but almost all attacks took place between April 29 and June 25, 1945. The last attack occurred on July 3, 1945 [5]. Only one old biplane hit Callaghan, not several as indicated by the narrator. This kamikaze plane was a Type 93 Intermediate Trainer (nicknamed Akatonbo or Red Dragonfly) [6], not a seaplane. This kamikaze attack on Callaghan took place after the Okinawa campaign, which according to most sources ended on or around June 22,1945.

In the final five minutes, the documentary's producers combine words and images in a misleading and inappropriate way. As the narrator remains silent, we hear an American broadcaster saying, "Peace is wonderful," as Americans celebrate jubilantly the end of the war. Then the scene switches quickly to the devastated Japan, which makes viewers think the Americans in the film clip are gloating over the suffering that they inflicted on the Japanese people during the war.

Notes

1. These 875 kamikaze planes were part of the mass kamikaze attacks named from Kikusui No. 3 on April 15-16, 1945, to Kikusui No. 10 on June 21-22, 1945 (Rielly 2010, 210).

2. At 27:55 in video.

3. At 6:15 in video.

4. From 41:20 to 41:40 in video.

5. Osuo 2005, 237-40.

6. Yasunobu 1972, 160-1.

Sources Cited

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

Rielly, Robin L. 2010. Kamikaze Attacks of World War II: A Complete History of Japanese Suicide Strikes on American Ships, by Aircraft and Other Means. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Yasunobu, Takeo. 1972. Kamikaze tokkoutai (Kamikaze special attack corps). Edited by Kengo Tominaga. Tokyo: Akita Shoten.