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Aa tokubetsu kougekitai (Ah, Special Attack Corps)
Director: Yoshio Inoue
Scriptwriter: Kimiyuki Hasegawa
Cast: Kojiro Hongo as Ensign Akira Nozawa
   Hitomi Nozoe as Reiko Horikawa
   Hajime Mitamura as Lt. Junior Grade Ogasawara
   Keiji Noguchi as Ensign Hayashi
   Taeko Yoshino as Yoshie Hayashi
   Hisako Takihana as Nozawa's Mother
Daiei, 1960, 95 min., DVD

This 1960 color movie depicts four cheerful, young former college students with promising futures who die tragic deaths as pilots in the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps. In one heartrending scene, a married pilot takes off with his kamikaze squadron as his wife watches his plane disappear in the distance. Another kamikaze pilot, the main character Akira Nozawa, witnesses his girlfriend's death in an American bombing raid, and the next day he takes off on a suicide mission without ever telling his mother who had visited the air base soon after his assignment to a kamikaze squadron. Aa tokubetsu kougekitai (Ah, Special Attack Corps) was Yoshio Inoue's first film as director, and he went on to direct over 20 films in the 1960s. This film exemplifies the typical Japanese perception of kamikaze pilots as young, educated individuals who bravely but tragically gave their lives.

This film generally has convincing performances, but a few scenes contain melodramatic acting. The principal actors appeared in many other films. Kojiro Hongo, who stars as the movie's main kamikaze pilot Akira Nozawa, debuted in 1959 and went on to star in a huge number of films, including several monster movies, until after 2000. Hitomi Nozoe, who plays Nozawa's girlfriend Reiko Horikawa, starred in many films in the 50s and 60s. Despite their many movie appearances, the acting of Hongo and Nozoe in Aa tokubetsu kougekitai often seems somewhat affected, probably due to Hongo's relative inexperience at the time of this film. The relationship between Ensign Hayashi, another kamikaze pilot in the same squadron as Nozawa, and his young wife Yoshie seems more natural. Veteran actress Hisako Takihana turns in a fine performance as Nozawa's concerned mother who never realizes her son's imminent death. Kazuko Miyakawa adds humor to the film in her role as a drunken woman named Nobu. After the formation of kamikaze squadrons at the base, she tells the unvarnished truth one night to ordinarily serious but now tipsy Lieutenant Junior Grade Ogasawara, the lonely officer ordered to command Nozawa's kamikaze squadron.

The movie opens with two planes flying in a dark sky, and the narrator explains that kamikaze attack squadrons [1] were formed as the war situation worsened. Over 2,530 [2] young men died for their country in kamikaze attacks. After the opening credits, Naval Ensign Akira Nozawa, on a short leave prior to starting fighter plane training, goes to Urawa High School on the outskirts of northern Tokyo in order to visit the library of the school where he graduated prior to entering the Navy. He asks Reiko Horikawa, the girl at the library counter, for a book entitled Ichinen yuuhan (One and a half years). Although she initially tells him that the book has been checked out from the library, she rushes to a back room to find a copy when he is about to leave. Nozawa reads the book until the library's closing time but does not have time to finish. Reiko then gives the book to him saying that it came from her father's bookstore. Nozawa in return gives her a photograph of him in his Navy uniform, and they walk together for a short time on their way home. Nozawa's mother is surprised but overjoyed at her son's visit without any notice to stay the night at home. Reiko asks her father about the meaning of the book entitled Ichinen yuuhan, and he explains that the author had only a year and half to live because of an illness, so this book explains what he did to prepare himself for his impending death. The scene ends with Reiko silently staring with a worried look on her face.

Nozawa arrives at Yokosuka Naval Air Base to begin his flight training with the 601st Air Group. Officers at the base greet Nozawa and three other Reserve Students (yobi gakusei) who will be in the same training squadron led by Ensign (later promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade) Ogasawara, a graduate of Etajima Naval Academy. During this initial meeting on October 28, 1944, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker to report that three days earlier Yukio Seki had led a Kamikaze Special Attack Squadron and crashed into an enemy carrier. Flight training begins immediately for Nozawa and his three other training squadron members, Ensign Keitaro Hayashi, Ensign Yuzuru Ohgaki, and Ensign Kenichi Kanbara.

In early November, Nozawa's training squadron receives notification of orders to transfer to Hyakurihara Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture. Hayashi's wife Yoshie meets him at the train station, and he introduces her to Nozawa, but he quickly leaves after a curt greeting since he is searching for Reiko. Nozawa had contacted Reiko by letter that he would like to meet her during the trip to his new post, but she never arrives at the train station where he hoped to meet her. However, soon after Nozawa's arrival at Hyakurihara, he receives a letter from Reiko explaining how much she regretted that she had gone to the countryside and did not return home in time to read his letter and go to meet him.

Nozawa, Ohgaki, and Kanbara go to a local inn to celebrate Nozawa's promising new relationship with Reiko. As they go to the inn and also as they drink there, they sing together in German the chorus that begins "Freude, schöner Götterfunken" (Joy, lovely divine light) from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 [3]:

Joy, lovely divine light,
Daughter of Elysium
We march, drunk with fire,
Holy One, to thy holy kingdom.
Thy magic binds together
What tradition has strongly parted,
All men will be brothers
Dwelling under the safety of your wings.

Their singing of this chorus from Beethoven's symphony reflects their high level of education, and the words of this song contrast strongly with the government's militaristic propaganda. While Hayashi's three friends drink together, he and his wife Yoshie spend some pleasant time together in their room. An older man staying at the inn gets angry with the three young men singing the German song, so he starts loudly singing the most famous song of Japanese naval airmen, "Douki no sakura" (Cherry blossoms of same class). Everyone at the inn gathers around to hear the older man and the three pilots try to drown out each other while singing the two songs together.

Orders arrive from Navy headquarters to form kamikaze squadrons at Hyakurihara Air Base, so the base commander announces the names of men assigned to the first two squadrons. Hayashi, Ohgaki, and Kanbara get assigned as part of the first kamikaze squadron, and Ogasawara and Nozawa get included in the second kamikaze squadron. Soon after this announcement, Nozawa's mother surprises him by visiting the air base unannounced and bringing ohagi (rice balls) for the young men to enjoy eating. Although Nozawa is glad to see his mother, he forces her to return home quickly since he cannot tell her about his assignment to a kamikaze squadron. Ogasawara lost his parents when he was young, so he looks on with envy when he sees Nozawa's close relationship with his mother as they walk together away from the base. As the train leaves the station, Nozawa cries out "mother!" as he realizes this may be the last time he will ever see her.

The four pilots eat together a last meal while Yoshie cheerfully serves them food and drink. They again sing together "Freude, schöner Götterfunken" from Beethoven's symphony. During the meal, Ohgaki and Kanbara dance while singing "Tribal Chief's Daughter," a song about the South Seas. Yoshie giggles at the two young men's silly dance, but Nozawa watches her seriously and has to leave the room as he realizes the tragedy facing his three friends the next morning. As the four pilots and Yoshie spend time together eating their last meal together, Ogasawara gets drunk in another room at the inn with a woman named Nobu. In a comic but heartbreaking scene, she explains that her mother left her at a young age, and later Ogasawara and Nobu quarrel while walking along the road. Nobu wants to make love to him, but he pushes her away and tells her to go. She gets very mad, yells that she hates him, and tells him angrily to go quickly and die.

The nine planes of the first kamikaze squadron to sortie from Hyakurihara Air Base include ones piloted by Hayashi, Ohgaki, and Kanbara. In a room at the inn next to the air base, Hayashi's wife Yoshie gives him water to drink as he waits for his scheduled sortie in a few minutes. She bows and says, "Thank you for loving someone like me." They briefly embrace in silence before he must go. Yoshie, dressed in a black kimono, stands a short distance from the airfield, and she drops to the ground sobbing uncontrollably after the nine planes pass overhead and disappear in the distance. The film then presents US Navy film clips of kamikaze planes either being shot down or hitting their targets.

Akira Nozawa with his girlfriend
Reiko Horikawa in a scene
that does not appear in either
the movie or the previews 

 

Nozawa is given special leave to go by train to Tokyo in order to meet Reiko on the day before his scheduled sortie as pilot of one of the ten planes in the second kamikaze squadron. Just before he reaches the factory where Reiko is working, B-29s start to drop bombs. He runs from the train and finds Reiko, trembling in shock from the bombing and fires around them. They run and find a small underground shelter, where they have the opportunity to talk together alone with bombs exploding outside. They embrace for the first time when bombs explode nearby and shake their underground bunker. Nozawa is just about to kiss Reiko, when he pulls himself away and calls himself "stupid." He explains to her that tomorrow he will sortie as part of a kamikaze squadron, so he wonders aloud how he can love her. When Reiko asks Nozawa to love her even though he is a member of a tokko (special attack) squadron, he says that he will remember her until the moment of his death tomorrow. She then runs from the bunker in grief at the news of his impending death, and she gets killed when bombs explode around her.

Nozawa's kamikaze squadron led by Ogasawara assembles at the airfield the next morning, but Nozawa has not yet returned from Tokyo as they prepare to sortie. Lookouts spot a large group of enemy planes approaching the airfield, so the pilots and others gathered to see them off flee to shelter as the planes bomb and strafe the airfield. During the attack, Nozawa returns and runs toward one of the undamaged planes to take off as Ogasawara tries to stop him. They exchange blows next to the plane, but Ogasawara gets wounded during one of the strafing runs of enemy planes. Seven kamikaze squadron planes get destroyed in the attack, but the uninjured pilots eagerly volunteer to be assigned to the remaining three planes.

Nozawa gets selected to pilot one of the three remaining planes. He returns to the barracks, where Ogasawara, with his arm in a sling and a bandage around his head, comes to inquire about Nozawa's reasons for volunteering. Nozawa explains how his girlfriend got killed before him the previous day, so he wants to see her again. In a time of peace he imagines himself writing a novel or doing translations, but in this time of war he must go to die. He asks Ogasawara to mail a letter to his mother and gives him the copy of his book Ichinen yuuhan (One and a half years). Despite Ogasawara's reprimanding Nozawa earlier in the film for reading such a book of philosophy, he now promises to read it with pleasure. As the officers and others at Hyakurihara Air Base wave their hats and as Ogasawara stands holding the book given to him by Nozawa, the film ends as the three kamikaze planes take off and disappear in the distance.

Although the movie generally has accurate historical background regarding Japan's kamikaze operations, many of the film's details differ from actual history. Nozawa's kamikaze squadron sorties from Hyakurihara Air Base on February 23, 1945, and the film's first kamikaze squadron sorties a few days before. In real history, the Japanese Navy had only one sortie of a large group of kamikaze planes in February 1945, on the 21st, from the small island of Hachijojima against the American fleet off Iwo Jima. Although Hyakurihara was used extensively as a kamikaze training base for planes that went on to kamikaze sortie bases in Kagoshima Prefecture, the only sorties of kamikaze squadrons directly from Hyakurihara against the American fleet did not occur until almost the end of the war in the first half of August 1945 when 37 Kamikaze Special Attack Corps members sortied and did not return to base.

The names in the film contain a few differences with actual history, most probably intentional ones by the director to make the film clearly fictional. In late October 1944, Nozawa, Hayashi, Ohgaki, and Kanbara report to the 601st Air Group at Yokosuka Air Base, but in actuality the 601st Air Group was wiped out in the Philippines in battles on October 24-5, 1944, and was reorganized within a few weeks [4]. In early November 1944, Yokosuka Air Base officers give orders to Ogasawara and the four pilots in his training squadron that state they will be transferred to the 302nd Fighter Squadron (Hikotai), but this unit was part of the 252nd Air Group fighting in the Philippines in November 1944 [5]. However, a sign in front of their new base does not say 302nd Fighter Squadron but rather 302nd Air Group, Hyakurihama Naval Air Base. The director most likely meant this name to represent Hyakurihara (same name except for final kanji or Chinese character), which served as a large naval training air base. The 302nd Air Group at that time was based at Atsugi Air Base, not Hyakurihara, and served not as a training unit but rather as an air defense fighter unit for the Tokyo area [6]. The movie credits on the DVD case and in the cast information section on the DVD inexplicably refer to Nozawa's girlfriend as Reiko Yamanaka, even though the movie uses the name Reiko Horikawa.

The film has a few other unrealistic or incorrect details. Civilians almost never had access to Navy air bases except to visit in a designated building, but this film depicts visits by Nozawa's mother and Hayashi's wife Yoshie to the men's barracks. Rather than replicas of Japanese Navy planes, the kamikaze planes that sortie from Hyakurihara Air Base in the film turn out to be nothing more than postwar T-6 trainers provided by the U.S. to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Senri Nagasue, former kamikaze pilot who trained at Hyakurihara Air Base, pointed out for this film review some other historical discrepancies. For example, Ogasawara and the four pilots in his squadron wear their hair fairly long, but in those days actual junior officers with ranks of Ensign or Lieutenant Junior Grade would have had their hair close-cropped, although senior officers could wear their hair longer. The parachute straps were not personal equipment of the pilots, so in real history the pilot's name would not have been attached as shown in the film when the kamikaze pilots line up to sortie.

The DVD of Aa tokubetsu kougekitai contains two different previews used to market the film. Interestingly, some scenes from the previews never show up in the actual film. In one preview, Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi emphatically states to other Navy officers in a meeting, "There is no other sure way other than to carry out body-crashing attacks carrying 250-kg bombs." However, he appears nowhere in the movie. In one of the previews, Nozawa gives his final goodbye to Reiko in quite a different way than their departure in the actual film. In the preview, they are together alone in a room, probably at or next to the base since Nozawa is ready to depart dressed in his pilot's uniform. He quickly and rather coldly says goodbye with the brief words "o-genki de" (best wishes to you). Reiko clings to him asking that he stop, but he quickly breaks free and leaves the room for his departing squadron. The same preview also has a brief glimpse of Reiko as she runs out toward the departing planes and looks up at the sky. In the actual film, Reiko never visits Nozawa's base. In final editing, the director must have cut certain preview scenes originally intended for the film.

Although Aa tokubetsu kougekitai clearly presents the tragic loss of young men ordered to carry out suicide attacks, the film also shows that they face death with courage. Nozawa and the other three pilots in his training squadron become close friends who support each other as they wait for the time to arrive when their kamikaze squadrons must take off. The director emphasizes human relations rather than battle scenes. This includes not only relationships between men at the air base but also with others such as Hayashi's wife and Nozawa's mother and girlfriend. Ultimately, even Ogasawara, their strict squadron leader who is wounded during an enemy strafing of the airfield, comes to recognize and respect Nozawa's close relationships with others, his love of learning, and his resolve to carry out his suicide mission despite everything he will be leaving behind.

Notes

1. In the film's opening, the narrator uses the word taiatari, which means "body-crashing" in English, to describe the attack squadrons formed near the end of the war. The more common name of kamikaze rather than taiatari has been used in this translation.

2. Etajima Museum of Naval History records 2,525 kamikaze deaths, slightly less than the "over 2,530" mentioned in the film. This number only includes Naval Kamikaze Special Attack Corps deaths. In addition, over 1,400 men died in Army aerial special attacks.

3. Translation by Paul Brians <https://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/beethoven.html> (August 12, 2007).

4. Hata and Izawa 1989, 73.

5. Hata and Izawa 1989, 117-8.

6. Hata and Izawa 1989, 213.

Source Cited

Hata, Ikuhiko, and Yasuho Izawa. 1989. Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II. Translated by Don Cyril Gorham. Originally published in 1970 by Kantosha in Japanese. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.