永遠の０ (The Eternal Zero)
A film of a best-selling book about children seeking the truth about their grandfather, who died in a kamikaze mission towards the war’s end. He turns out to have been a soldier who did not go gently into the good night, insisting that he was not mere cannon fodder and wanted to live – a dangerous view at the time. The pieces were gradually put together through visits to former soldiers who served with him. The film had a now-conventional structure à la Citizen Kane but was well crafted, doling out just enough tidbits along the way to keep it interesting. The occasional screaming and emoting were largely justified, though it slipped into sloppy sentiment at times, like the overheated part when the hero was sitting against the wall depressed at the loss of his colleagues. The part about the sword at the end was also silly. Worse, the film never answered why the main character volunteered as a kamikaze after all his preaching about the sanctity of life, which seems a copout.
In any case, the film takes a very modern view of the war, drawing a soldier as he should have been rather than as he would have been. My visit just several months earlier to the Kamikaze Museum in the southern city of Chiran, site of a former kamikaze airbase, provided a more honest picture. The presentation here seemed exaggerated, complete with manga-like characters. Still, it’s a nice fantasy and has obviously struck a chord. Accusations that this is a nationalistic film seem way off the mark, since the hero raises serious questions over the war’s conduct and the nation’s leadership. This is no masterpiece, but it’s worth watching.