Whether someone views Kinoshita Keisuke’s 1944 film “Rikugun” (Army) as prowar or antiwar depends on whether s/he sees the father (Ryû Chishû) or mother (Tanaka Kinuyo) of Private Shintaro as primary. Shintaro (Hoshino Kazumasa as an adult) himself does not seem to be the protagonist Much of the film looks at both parents trying to toughen the cowardly crybaby up so he can sacrifice his life for the Emperor. (In Japanese WWII movie, the goal never seems to be imperial conquest but always to die with glory for the Emperor.)
His father, a captain, was sick far behind the lines during the Russo-Japanese War, much to his shame. Back on Kyushu, he nonetheless flaunts his status as a veteran with war buddies and stands out for his jingoism about Japanese invincibility even within a sea of flag-waving patriots. For instance, he is outraged at the suggestion of even a possibility that Japan might have been conquered if the kamikaze wind had not destroyed the fleet of Kublai Khan. Japanese spirit always and everywhere trumps mere armament in his view (one that must have been difficult to maintain in 1944).
What made 1944 Japanese zealots denounce the movie as perniciously anti-war is the lengthy final montage in which the mother, who initially had decided not to see Shintaro off at the train station, because she knew she would cry, runs through the cheering crowd lining the street down which his unit is marching to find him, and then continues to struggle to stay even with him. Shintaro smiles at her and does not return his eyes forward. Not a word is uttered against the war or the duty to die for the Emperor (not the Empire/expansion of the Empire), though a father, Sakuragi (Tôno Eijirô), who is volunteering his abilities in service to a third war (Sino-, Russo-, and at the end of the movie another Sino- one) is shown to be anxious about his son, Shintaro’s friend who shipped out earlier, and is deployed near Shanghai.
Although censors and military sponsors were dubious about this final montage, apparently it was followed by another even more wrenching scene of the mother running down the tracks after the departing tracks (also without any spoken lines) that was censored. The suspicions about Kinoshita’s enthusiasm for the expansion of the empire were amply confirmed in his first postwar movie, “Morning for the Osones,” which included a jingoistic officer using patriotism to enrich himself. No one seems to have suspected that Ryû’s ultra-rigid character might have also been a caricature of militarism. After all, the Japanese military’s official values of Loyalty, Manners, Valor, Honor, Frugality are reiterated.
Both movies are included in the Criterion Eclipse “Wartime Kinoshita” boxed set.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray