Archive for Kihachi Okamoto

Endgame

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , on March 26, 2021 by dcairns
The General is thinking about Okinawa

Finished watching THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA — it’s what I call an epic! Justifies its runtime and intermission more than WILD ROVERS did.

I was, at times, skeptical. The main thing I knew about Okinawa was that civilians suicided in groups, clustering around grenades distributed by the army. With horrible results. This comes and goes in the movie with very little impact, covered by the voiceover man and quick cuts of extras writhing in corn syrup. But then, there are so many terrible stories for the film to cover.

The incessant VO should be a problem, but adds to the intermittent docu quality. All the standard ways of dispensing info are used: VO, captions introducing characters and places, stills, archive film. Miraculously, it all kind of congeals into a coherent factual drama.

The bombing stops for a couple of seconds while our man processes some more terrible news

Tatsuta Nakadai has one of the greatest faces in cinema — not just because he’s preternaturally handsome, but because his face can express incredible depths of emotion with a single expression, either modulated only slightly, or frozen into an unchanging study.

Of course he’s a great physical actor too.

I slightly worried that the army on Okinawa were portrayed too sympathetically. There are a few bad eggs. And when we see them laughing about how their missiles are giving American troops brain damage, we think, “OK, these are not the goodies. They’re just all we’ve got.” But the island’s population was convinced that they had to die for the Emperor, and the army was largely responsible for that belief. One third of the civilians perished either from bombing and shooting, or starvation and disease, or suicide.

Masaru Satô’s beautiful music at times seemed problematic: he’s just too jaunty. Yet I think there’s something going on. When we see groups of volunteer students, or factory workers, charging into battle, the music is upbeat and light. Then they’re all massacred by machine gun fire, group after group. The music continues. Director Okamoto cuts to dead silence, though, when he flashes up school photographs of the real people we just saw briefly animated by background artistes.

So it’s pretty strong. I did feel increasingly desperate. “You feel desperate,” Pauline Kael would say, using the Pauline You.

The movie is huge, but not huge enough to show cities being devastated — we get a street or a building at most. Lists of casualties are always a thousand times greater than the numbers we see onscreen. Still, the integration of special effects — I’m presuming the fleets of warships or bombers aren’t real, life-size reconstructions, but miniatures — are seamless. The spectre of GODZILLA’s miniature landscapes is never raised.

Maybe all war movies should be told from the viewpoint of the aggressor and the loser. As with DAS BOOT, you catch yourself rooting for the protagonists to kill their enemy — but you do catch yourself (there’s that You again). All war movies tend to implant you into the perspective of a combatant, you identify, and then you cheer them on. The concept of “anti-war” goes out the bullet-ridden window. Though a Japanese audience would possibly have a closer relationship to even the most militaristic characters here, the fact that their culture was transformed by the atom bomb and the surrender means that they would probably be echoing me and James Donald as they watched in horror: “Madness! Madness!”

And those compositions!

Pacific War is a contradiction in terms

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2021 by dcairns
The chairman is thinking about Taiwan

Last night I started watching THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA (1971), subtitled A TEMPESTOUS CHRONICLE OF THE SHOWA PERIOD, “tempestuous” being the understatement of the period, and I hope to finish it today (bad viewing habits, huh?).

It’s directed by Kihachi Okamoto, whose stuff I haven’t got into before, and it has a zip to it. After David Lean’s embrace of direct cutting in LAWRENCE added a spring to the step of the lumbering epic form, new possibilities opened up, largely ignored in the west. Compare this to those dreadful Mirisch Company war movies, huge, flat and lifeless, cinematic Saharas of imagination.

In principle, it’s doing the same things as a piece of oily flotsam like BATTLE OF MIDWAY — archive footage is blithely intercut with modern pyrotechnics and star cameos (Tetsurô Tanba, Tatsuya Nakadai). You know they’re serious because they show you actual corpses before the main titles roll. (Being serious can lead to worse violations of taste than being flippant.) The stock shots are anamorphically stretched to fit the Tohoscope frame and look miserable.

But but but. The cutting is both nimble and eccentric. Surprising details are emphasised in surprising places and at breakneck speed (a scene ends, almost nonsensically, on an ECU of a sex worker’s toes). The characters are all finest quality Japanese cardboard with very emphatic playing in the A. Kurosawa manner, which works fine as they all need to make an impression in nothing flat.

The music is constantly lighter and more playful than the situation seems to warrant — none of this is going to end well — perhaps the same national tendency that gave us Gojira’s jolly march and Sanjuro’s baby elephant walk. Masaru Satô so that makes perfect sense and is personal more than national. In fact, now that I check, it’s by But the counter-intuitive choice imparts a grace and lightfootedness that propel the film forward without the usual grinding of gears.

An obvious comparison would be TORA! TORA! TORA! but the auteur of that one is Twentieth Century Fox and so it plods pachydermic through its history lesson, a literal-minded behemoth. Okamoto can dance.

I know some of this story, though. It’s going to get really horrible, isn’t it?