Kamikaze
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Actor Ken Takakura
 as former kamikaze pilot
in the Japanese film
Hotaru (Firefly)

 
Films

The emotional impact of a movie's images and plot can strongly influence a viewer's opinions regarding a particular subject, such as kamikaze pilots. Indeed, four popular movies produced in Japan from 1993 to 2001 have influenced current Japanese perceptions about kamikaze pilots more than any other source. In the U.S., almost no commercial films mention kamikaze pilots, but many English-language documentaries address this topic with the use of dramatic U.S. Navy film clips of kamikaze planes hitting ships or being shot down before reaching their targets.

The section on Japanese Films has critical reviews of the four recent movies about kamikaze pilots. All four movies portray kamikaze pilots in an idealized manner, with focus on their kindness, loyalty, and commitment. The section also briefly discusses documentaries and earlier Japanese films about kamikaze pilots and other special attack force members.

The section on English-language Documentaries explains that most documentaries do not give sufficient attention to historical accuracy and many try to sensationalize the attacks. The first documentary on kamikaze pilots, The Fleet That Came to Stay, came out on July 27, 1945, even before the end of the war (Basinger 1986, 293). This film captures the exasperation of the American Navy in the face of the suicide bombers with the terms "weird," "savage," and "maniacal" (Nornes and Fukushima 1994, 250-1). The 1949 film Task Force, starring Gary Cooper, is a semi-documentary on the history of the aircraft carrier from 1922 to 1949. The movie includes a 15-minute segment aboard an aircraft carrier during the Battle of Okinawa, where the Japanese stage a mass kamikaze attack and damage the ship. The film skillfully mixes actual battle footage with staged shots.

Away All Boats, a 1956 film based on a novel by Kenneth Dodson, is the only English-language movie that highlights a fictional ship hit by kamikazes. This thoughtful and realistic movie portrays how the crewmen of the attack transport Belinda work together to save the ship from sinking after being hit by three kamikaze planes off Okinawa.

The Cockpit: Kamikaze Stories, an animation video released first in Japanese in 1993 and then dubbed in English in 1999, has one episode about an ohka (human glider bomb) squadron. The squadron members offer their opinions, generally negative, regarding this suicide weapon.

In Tokyo File 212, a 1951 movie filmed entirely in Japan, an American Army intelligence agent visits Japan undercover to try to disrupt a Communist group that is trying to assist the North Koreans during the Korean War. The movie has a flashback scene that portrays a laughably unrealistic kamikaze pilot school.

Three vintage American television programs give a distorted image of suicide (special attack) squadron members. The 1967 episode entitled "Kill Two by Two" of The Time Tunnel portrays a kamikaze pilot with a psychotic death wish. The 1975 episode entitled "The Last Kamikaze" of The Six Million Dollar Man portrays a former kamikaze pilot who lived for thirty years on an island in shame for not having committed suicide after he failed to hit a ship in his kamikaze mission. These two American programs illustrate the typical misconception that kamikaze pilots felt the obligation or had the desire to commit suicide, rather than the more correct Japanese view that the pilots wanted to protect their homeland even if it meant sacrificing their lives in a suicidal battle tactic. The 1968 episode entitled "Samurai" of Hawaii Five-O depicts another typical American misunderstanding that a suicide squadron member, in this show a midget submarine pilot, would want to try to save his own life rather than complete the attack.

The kaiten human torpedo has a large role in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, a 2016 film starring Nicholas Cage. The opening scene depicts a kamikaze aircraft attack on Indianapolis on March 31, 1945.

The Lists web page categorizes the documentary films in this section in various ways.

Sources Cited

Basinger, Jeanine. 1986. The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nornes, Abé Mark and Yukio Fukushima, eds. 1994. The Japan/America Film Wars: WWII Propaganda and Its Cultural Contexts. Originally published in Japanese and English in 1991 as Nichibei eigasen / Media Wars: Then and Now by Cinematrix Co. Ltd., Tokyo. Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers.