Kamikaze pilot plays
Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
as another pilot
turns score in Gekkou no Natsu
(Summer of the Moonlight Sonata)
Films - Japanese
Since the end of the American occupation of Japan in 1952, many Japanese
films have presented stories about the Pacific War. Bailey (1996) explains that
these movies in the 1980s and 1990s rarely "signaled any renascent lust for
military glory. On the contrary, what most frequently marks this particular
genre is the presentation of Japanese as misunderstood innocents, victims in
particular of the horrific atomic blasts." Japan's soldiers and pilots in
these films are generally "portrayed as reluctant warriors." Recent
movies starring kamikaze pilots fall into this category.
Although in recent years war films in Japan have decreased in popularity, a
wide audience has seen four films released since 1993 about kamikaze pilots.
These popular movies have influenced current Japanese perceptions about kamikaze
pilots more than any other source. This section contains detail reviews of these
- Gekkou no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata)
(1993) - Two kamikaze pilots visit an elementary school to play the grand
piano there before they depart on their final mission. Search for two
pilots in 1989 uncovers that one pilot is still alive, and he returns to
the same elementary school to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
- Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man)
(1995) - Professional baseball pitcher dies as a kamikaze pilot at age of
22 in May 1945. He throws ten straight strikes before departing on suicide
- Nijuuroku ya mairi (A Moon Twenty-six Days Old)
(1998) - Three young kamikaze pilots visit a small inn near Chiran Air
Base before they depart on their final mission. They make friends with the
young girl who lives at the inn, and one pilot has a love affair with her
single mother during his one-night visit.
- Hotaru (Firefly) (2001) - A Korean
kamikaze pilot dies in a suicide attack, but his two Japanese comrades
survive the war. The Korean pilot leaves behind a Japanese fiancée, who
marries with one of his comrades soon after the end of
Hotaru (Firefly), one of the most popular Japanese films in 2001,
received 13 Japanese Academy Award nominations. Gekkou no Natsu (Summer
of the Moonlight Sonata), seen by over 2.1 million
people, received recommendations from Japan's Ministry of Education, National Congress of Parents
& Teachers, and Japan Film Society. Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man),
an independent film not released commercially, received recommendations from
the same three groups. Nijuuroku ya mairi (A Moon Twenty-six Days Old)
was a television movie broadcast by TBS in 1998.
The four movies have several similarities. They do not show any extended
battle sequences but rather only brief scenes showing pilots being shot down
during their flights to Okinawa. Each film has a significant part of the action
that portrays mainland Japan in the first half of 1945, when the Japanese
military was fighting a defensive war and launched mass kamikaze attacks from
air bases in southern Japan. Excluding Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man),
the other three films use flashbacks to show kamikaze attacks from Chiran Air Base, the
Army's largest sortie base for kamikaze attacks on Allied ships around Okinawa.
These three films address how characters living today in the films relate to
wartime events. Although these three films are based on actual historical
incidents, many of the characters and details are fictional. The film Nijuuroku ya mairi (A Moon Twenty-six Days Old)
has the most fictional incidents, whereas the writer of Gekkou no Natsu
(Summer of the Moonlight Sonata) did extensive research to ensure the historical
accuracy of many events portrayed in the film. The scriptwriter altered names
and certain details in order to protect the privacy of the kamikaze pilots still
living. The three movies all feature a visit of the present-day characters to
the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze
Pilots, which displays about 4,000 photos, final letters, and articles left
behind by Army kamikaze pilots who died during the Okinawan campaign.
Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man) has several differences when
compared to the other three films. The action takes place entirely during the
war without use of flashbacks, and the film's use of black-and-white rather than
color gives the movie an atmosphere of realism. The main character dies in an
attack made by the Navy's kamikaze corps, whereas the other three films depict
Army kamikaze pilots. About 65% of the roughly 3,900 Japanese kamikaze pilots
who died in the war came from the Navy, and 35% came from the Army (Shirai 2002,
22). In contrast to the fictional stories of the other three films, Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man)
presents the biographical story of one kamikaze pilot.
Women play important roles in each of the four films. A Korean kamikaze pilot
is engaged to be married to a Japanese woman in Hotaru (Firefly), and the
newly married wife of the pilot in Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man)
dies during an American aerial bombardment. One of the three pilots in Nijuuroku ya mairi (A Moon Twenty-six Days Old)
has a love affair with the woman who runs the inn where he stays the night
before his kamikaze mission. Although Gekkou no Natsu (Summer of the
Moonlight Sonata) does not emphasize romantic love, the movie's main character
is a women teacher who hears the two pilots play her school's grand piano before
their departure and who meets one of the pilots again when he returns to the
school after she in 1989 successfully saved the old piano from being thrown
away. The emphasis on romantic love in three of the movies is a departure from
historical reality. Almost no kamikaze pilots during the war were married, and
very few had girlfriends or fiancées. Most pilots were in their late teens or
early twenties, and they had little opportunity to develop continuing
relationships since they often transferred between air bases or were stationed
outside mainland Japan. Also, arranged marriages were still prevalent in Japan
during the war.
All four movies portray kamikaze pilots in an idealized manner, with focus on
their kindness, loyalty, and commitment. One film has two kamikaze pilots who
love piano playing and another film portrays a pilot crazy about baseball, both
which are interests far removed from combat. No film shows the pilots as fierce
warriors, but they are portrayed as courageous in the face of certain death. Hotaru
(Firefly) and Gekkou no Natsu (Summer of the
Moonlight Sonata) feature pilots who survived the war even though they flew on
kamikaze missions. They returned to base due to engine problems or after being
attacked by enemy planes. These pilots suffered from a sense of guilt for a long
time since they by chance survived when their comrades died in battle.
Several older Japanese films also tell stories of kamikaze pilots or other
special attack force members. These films set during the war do not include
flashbacks, and they show more battle scenes and more interaction between men in
the military than the four films produced since 1993.
- Ningen Gyorai Kaiten (Human Torpedo Kaiten) (1955) - Four men in
kaiten (manned torpedo) corps go on mission in I-58 submarine to
attack American ships. Two kaiten get launched from ship and sink an oil
tanker and destroyer. Afterward, I-58 sinks heavy cruiser Indianapolis
with conventional torpedo attack. Two remaining kaiten pilots later sink
destroyer to save I-58 from depth charges.
- Aa tokubetsu kougekitai
(Ah, Special Attack Corps) (1960) - Young pilots
transfer to Hyakurihara Air Base for training in kamikaze squadron where they
talk together about life and war. One newly married pilot's wife sees him off in a
black kimono. Another pilot's love
interest gets killed in front of his eyes in an aerial bombing attack.
- Taiheiyou no Tsubasa (Wings of the Pacific) (1963) -
The Naval Staff decides to use suicide attacks against Allied ships to try to
stop their advance. Commander Senda opposes this strategy and
forms an elite unit to make conventional aerial attacks. Famous actor Toshiro
Mifune plays role of Senda.
- Shutsugeki (Sortie) (1964) - Several groups of pilots depart from
Chiran Air Base on kamikaze attacks. One newly married pilot sorties and
returns three times when plane or engine develops problems in route, but he
crashes into the shore at the end of film during a test flight. Gives
personal vignettes of other pilots.
- Saigo no Tokkoutai (The Last Kamikaze) (1970) - Fictional account
of 24 kamikaze planes and 12 escort planes that make attack on final day of
war. Commander of kamikaze unit makes successful hit on aircraft carrier
even though wounded. When lieutenant who commands escort planes hears of
Japan's surrender, he flies alone in a Zero as the last kamikaze.
Famous actor Ken Takakura, who plays a surviving kamikaze pilot in Hotaru
(Firefly), plays role of commander of kamikaze unit in this movie.
In 2005 and 2006, three popular commercial films were released that deal with special
attacks by sea:
Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean
(2005) - Characters in this action thriller portray differing attitudes toward Japan's
wartime suicide attacks, but the film highlights the heroism of a high-tech sub's crew
who undertake a suicide mission against the American Pacific Fleet to ensure
a future for the younger generation in Japan.
- Otokotachi no Yamato (Yamato: The Last Battle) (2005) -
Depicts battleship Yamato's suicide mission to Okinawa. Some
characters protest the needless waste of lives, but film pays homage to men
who sacrificed their lives for their country with no hope of victory.
Deguchi no nai umi (Sea without exit) (2006) - Four men in kaiten
squadron on suicide mission display extreme emotions when they cannot be
launched from submarine. Stars former pitcher for college baseball team
who dies in a kaiten practice run in preparation for his second suicide
A variety of documentaries cover the history of Japan's special attack
forces, including the following ones recently released.
- Tokkou: Kuni yaburetemo kuni wa horobizu (Special
attacks: Although the country was defeated, it has not fallen) (2001) -
Fascinating film with extended interviews of surviving kamikaze pilots.
Shows museums with kamikaze exhibits and sites of former kamikaze air bases,
including those in Philippines. Numerous historical photos shown during
documentary. Broadcast by Fuji Television on August 16, 2001.
- Tokkou (Special attacks) (1998) - Two videos with first part
covering October 1944 to January 1945 and second part covering January to
May 1945. Straightforward recounting of history of special attack forces.
Very similar to typical English-language documentary, with many U.S. Navy
film clips of kamikaze attacks. Also has many clips taken by Japanese media.
- Isho: Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Last Letters: Special Attack Corps) (no
date given) - Focus on 24 last letters written by kamikaze pilots, one
kaiten pilot, and Vice Admiral Ohnishi, who initiated kamikaze attacks in
the Philippines in October 1944 and committed suicide after hearing of
Japan's surrender. Wartime film clips and special attack history
interspersed between presentation of letters.
Hokui 15° no Dyuo (15 Degrees North Latitude Duo), filmed entirely in
the Philippines, portrays two Japanese actors who visit the significant places
associated with Japan's first Kamikaze Special Attack Unit.
Fuon (The Crying Wind), filmed on
location in Okinawa, features a kamikaze pilot's skull in which present-day
Okinawan villagers find meaning as it makes a crying sound when the wind passes
through a bullet hole in the skull's left side.
The animation film
Matsuo Keiu to sono haha
(Keiu Matsuo and his mother) idealistically portrays the life of Navy
Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo, who gave his life in a midget submarine attack at Sydney
Harbor during the night of May 31 and June 1, 1942.
Kaiten crew in
Deguchi no nai umi (Sea without exit)
Bailey, James. 1996. Bombing at the box office: War films no
longer stir Japan's imagination. Asiaweek.com. <http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/96/0816/feat5.html>
(November 15, 2003), link no longer available.
Shirai, Atsushi. 2002. Tokkoutai to wa nan datta no ka (What
were the special attack forces?). In Ima tokkoutai no shi o kangaeru
(Thinking now about death of special attack force members), Iwanami Booklet No.
572, edited by Atsushi Shirai. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
See Bibliography for additional information
about films mentioned
on this web page.