Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Admiral (A film by Shohei Kotaki)

I'm not one for doing film reviews, but I found this one interesting for a few reasons.

But first some introduction. It's called "The Admiral" or in Japanese "Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet", and is the story of Admiral Yamamoto's command of the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the naval defeats that followed. The story hinges on Yamamoto's desire for peace, as evidenced in his (highly unpopular) opposition to joining against the allies as war commenced in Europe, and attempts to dissuade government from war with America. However, Yamamoto is "promoted" out of naval government to the position of Admiral, where he must obey his orders to attack America.

Having only read up to the Meiji era in Jansen's "The Making of Modern Japan" (my bible on the history of Japan), it was good to watch a film about this grey area in my picture of history, though I can't comment much on its accuracy.

So, as a non-cinema-goer, what is so interesting, then? Firstly is the essential Japanese-ness of this film. Yamamoto is torn between his desire for peace (his personal duty to his country), and his need to fulfil his duty to his superiors. This burden of conflicting duty is Japanese enough, but to cap it off, until very near the end, Yamamoto says hardly a word about this conflict, and through much of the film exudes a cheery disposition as if somehow everything is going swimmingly. Extreme internalisation of one's problems. Its so stereotypical that had the film been made in the West, it could be construed as racist (hah).

Apart from deepening my already well-indulged stereotypes, the timing of the film is also interesting. It is set in a time of heightened Japanese Nationalism that was key for support in the war. But this fits ominously into modern politics. Relations between Japan and China have been getting steadily worse over the last few years, and there are reports of an increase in nationalism in Japan. That report also blames China of the same. I've no idea how much of either claim is true, but it makes me sad. Both sides should know better, right?! It seems to me that Japanese Nationalism was a key factor to precipitating war with America and probably China too. For both China and Japan the war was devastating beyond comprehension (beyond mine at any rate). The film ends:
"When and how did we go wrong? And what did we lose? The answer to that may have to wait 50 or 100 years... But that might also be enough time for the people of our country to forget everything."
I can't help but wonder this myself.

The film itself was quite enjoyable to watch, with more emphasis on military politics than on raw combat, which I think is a good thing in this case, where the Japanese side of events is decidedly unrepresented. Kudos to the translators, who make understanding what is going on very easy, and though there are a couple of references that non-Japan-history-buffs will miss out on, the film is quite accessible. As a piece of cinematography? Ask someone else. All I'll say is that I liked the actors, the effects were OK, but I felt the story was a bit slow, begging for a bit more fleshing out or less use of the dramatic pause.

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