Tag Archives: Fukasaku Kinji

The background and surprise attack (75 years ago today) on Pearl Harbor

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Darryl F. Zanuck, who ran 20th Century Fox for decades, was very pleased with the bix-office success ot the 1962 multi-star “The Longest Day,” a recreation of the 6 June 1944 Allied landings in Normandy. That success that showed both sides encouraged his idea to show the Pearl Harbor surprise attack that occurred 75 years ago today in a co-production with the Toei Company in Japan. The US sequences  of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” were directed by Richard Fleischer (whom I consider a hack, director of “Dr. Doolittle,” “Soylent Green,” “Mandigo,” etc., though he had also helmsed “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Fantastic Voyage”). The great master of Japanese directors, Kurosawa Akira, was originally hired to direct the Japanese parts and worked with Kurosawa’s frequent collaborators Oguni Hideo (Ran, Seven Samurai et al.) and Kikushima Ryûzô (Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, High and Low) on the screenplay.

Oddly, Masuda Toshio (Rusty Knife, Zoku ningen kakume), who had trained as a kamikaze pilot, directed the Japanese dramatic sections, while the Japanese action sections were directed by Fukasaku Kinji (Under the Flag of the Rising Sun,  Battles Without Honor & Humanity, Battle Royale). (Fleischer did both for the American parts.)

The Zanucks (Darryl’s son Richard was head of production for Fox) did not attempt to match the starpower of “The Longest Day” (the cast of which included Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne), though using some recognizable supporting actors (Jason Robards, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall) with impressive Yamamura Sô (Tokyo Story, The Human Condition) as Admiral Yamamoto and Tamura Takahiro (Empire of Passion, My Son! My Son!) as the Japanese ace pilot/ squad leader.

The movie starts in 1939, when Franklin Roosevelt’s administration placed on embargo on raw materials going to Japan (while also trying to aid the hopelessly corrupt and incompetent resistance to Japanese aggression by Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China army). It raises the possibility that the alliance (the Axis with Nazi Germy and Fascist Italy) was at least in part defensive and that the embargo was an act of war.

The American populace was surprised and shocked (and them mobilized) by the surprise attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbor, but intelligence officers (and the White House?) had broken the Japanese code and knew of the movement of many Japanese ships eastward. (The instructions to Japanese diplomats in D.C. is not forwarded to the president, though U.S. Army Col. Bratton [E.G. Marshall] correctly infers that an attack is about to occur.) This information was not shared with the military commanders in Hawai’i. They also refused to believe the evidence of both radar and spotters’ report of incoming aircraft.

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The local (Honolulu) commanders, Admiral Kimmel (Martin Balsam) and General Short (Jason Robards), were scapegoated for their failures to anticipate and then to comprehend the attack. I think that racism played a part in refusing to believe the Japanese could/would launch an attack. It certainly was central to Lt. Gen. Short’s decision to get all the US planes out on the runways, where they were mostly destroyed (six managed to take off and shoot back a bit). It was just dumb luck for the Americans that the main target, three US aircraft carriers, were not in Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto is dismayed by this news, even along with the news of seven battleships in Pearl Harbor being sunk or badly damaged, and most of the US aircraft there being destroyed on the ground. He had been reluctant to start a war, not believing Japan could win a protracted war with the US. His view was encapsulated in a statement he may not have made that was included in the movie: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (BTW, the Japanese still did not know their code had been broken when Yamamoto was shot down 18 April 1943 with the US monitors knowing his flight plan.)

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There are some dramas of bureaucratic indecision (and racism) in the US representations, and discipline (with muted optimism) in the Japanese preparing the attack. A lack of decoders with security clearance at the Japanese embassy in Washington resulted in the ultimatum to be presented to Secretary of State Cordell Hull (George McReady) arriving after he already knew of the attack (i.e., without the declaration of war that the Japanese intended to deliver slightly before the attack), so that the bureaucratic failures were not only American ones.

Though there was some utilization of slightly anachronistic hardware, the film is historically accurate in its portrayal of the background of the attack, and before CGI, has Oscar-winning special effects (editing, sound, cinematography, and art direction were also nominated). It would be faint praise to say that “Tora!” is superior to “Pearl Harbor” (2001). I think it is a worthy successor to “The Longest Day” and a primer for what happened before and after the message tht is the title was delivered (“tora” means tiger, but in this instance was an acronym for totsugeki raigeki (lightning attack).

Reportedly, the $25 million cost of making the movie was more than the cost of the attack (in constant dollars?). Though not a blockbuster (#9 in the US box office for 1970), the movie grossed nearly $30 million in its US theatrical release and was a box office success in Japan (and continues to make money on disc).

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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Fukasaku’s “Fall Guy”

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Fukasaku Kinji (1920-2003), famed for making ultra-violent yakuza movies (such as “Battle Royale” and the “Battles Without Honor or Humanity” series), surprised (pleasantly) audiences with a behind-the-scenes movie with an important female part in the 1982 “Kamata kôshinkyoku.” The title derives from the beginning of the Shochiku Studio theme song. The English-language title “Fall Guy” is not bad, though “Bit Player,” the designation the hapless Yasu (Hirata Mitsuru) uses in self-designation (in the English subtitles) would IMO have been better.

Yasu is not a stuntman. He is one of the lackeys in the entourage of Ginshiro (a way over-the-top narcissist played by Kazama Morio) who gets nonspeaking parts in Ginshiro’s movies. Mostly he dies onscreen and pantomimes it on demand offscreen or does whatever else Ginshiro wants.

Not without reason, the very hammy Ginshiro is concerned that his star is waning and that Tachibana (Harada Daijirô) is being promoted to replace him. Ginshiro feels that he cannot marry Konatsu (Matsuzaka Keiko) who is bearing his child and asks Yasu to marry her and give the child his name.

Yasu had worshipped Konatsu, who used to be a star herself. Under his James Dean poster, he was one of her. He is willing to be the legal father of the unborn child.

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Ginshiro pays nothing for the support of the woman he impregnated and who loves him. To keep Yasu in his subordinate place, he forces him to watch as he more or less rapes Konatsu, who can’t resist Ginshiro.

To make extra money for his pregnant wife (-to-be), Yasu volunteers for stunts. As I already noted, he is a bit player, not a stuntman. He has no training in taking falls, but seeks them so he can support Konatsu and the baby she is carrying.

None of the professional stuntmen (none is shown in the movie) is willing to fall down 39 steps in a fight with Ginshiro, and without the big finish to the fight Ginshiro is worried that he will not be seen by audiences as the star of the (samurai) movie within the movie.

Both for the extra-high hazard pay and from devotion to Ginshiro, Yasu volunteers to take the fall. He is such a sap that he makes Ginshiro as large a beneficiary as Konatsu in the life insurance policy he takes out.

The movie is often farcical with exaggerated caricature of star narcissism and unreasonableness. At least I hope that the sadomasochistic relationship between star and entourage member is exaggerated! It does not differ in kind from the obedience and self-endangerment of low-level gangsters in Fukasaku Kinji’s yakuza movies, however. Indeed, the flunkies die for real on command of a gang leader or anticipating what the gang leader wants.

Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane points this out in a bonus feature that also explains the journey from novel to stage play to movie. He also explains the Japanese title and the oddness that after refusing to produce the movie Toei Studio permitted it to be made by Shochiky on its (often shown) Kyoto studio lot (where the original incident occurred) with some Toei staff utilized. In a booklet interview by Sadao, Fukasaku recalls that some of the Toei craftsmen who had been openly contemptuous of the movie while it was being shot were moved to tears when they saw the finished product.

Though I often winced at Yasu’s exploitation (and eagerness to be exploited) and at the narcissism of Ginshiro, I was moved by Matsuzaka Keiko’s performance and the resolve of her character to stand by her (substitute) man and to try to dissuade him from the very risky big fall. And after comedic postponements of shooting the climax, Ginshiro redeems himself by showing gratitude to Yasu.

There is also a trailer that shows practically nothing from the film (some outtakes).

The film swept the Japanese Academy awards, including best film, director, screenplay, music score, actress, actor, and supporting actor (Kazama). Hirata Mitsuru not only was named best actor but also won the newcomer of the year award. Kitasaka Kiyoshi’s cinematography was nominated, as were the lighting, art direction, and sound.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

“Under the Flag of the Rising Sun”

I haven’t seen any other films of Fukasaku Kinji (Graveyard of Honor, Battle Royale,Yakusa Papers), so have to accept on faith that “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” (Gunki hatameku motoni, 1972) was a departure from his studio-shot, mostly yakusa movies. The movie is rather jumpy, though the handheld camerawork by Segawa Hiroshi (who shot the Teshigahara/Abe Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another) is steady, but given to frequent zooms and some odd angles. The extensive flashbacks are mostly in black-and-white, but sometimes bleed into color.

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The movie is a sort of “Rashômon” attempt by the widow (Hidari Sachiko) of a sergeant (Tanba Tetsurô) who was slain on the New Guinea coast just before or just after Japan surrendered in 1945. She has been denied a military widow’s pension each year (she applies each year on the date of the surrender) and access to the emperor’s public appearance mourning the dead, because the fragmentary records indicate that Sergeant Togashi was court-martialed and executed for desertion. There is no actual record of the court martial, and survivors contacted by the Ministry of Defense did not respond to its inquies, and thus have not provoked a change of the decision to deny her recognition as a war widow.

Mrs. Togashi is not after money but feels that the spirit of her husband will not rest until she resolves what happens. She refuses to believe that he deserted under fire. Ministry officials give her the names and addresses of four survivors who did not respond to their inquiries, and she sets off to talk to them, hoping they will exonerate her husband. The five stories (the first man is reinterviewed with questions that trouble the widow from the stories she elicited after his) differ considerably (more than those in “Rashômon”).

The least credible comes from the highest officer, Major Senda (Nakamura Kan’emon), who evaded conviction of war crimes (crimes corroborated by a lieutenant who served under him) and has prospered in the postwar recovery. I can’t go into the stories Mrs Togashie is told. All except the bland lies of the major reveal the horrific condition of the Japanese troops cut off from supplies, out of ammunition, dying of starvation exacerbated by dysentery and malaria (like the Japanese soldiers in Burma in Ichikawa’s “Fire on the Plains”). Two of the stories involve cannibalism, one of these also includes maggots swarming on the cut-up human flesh. Two involve suicide. There is also a repeatedly botched decapitation of an enemy (Australian, I think) pilot, and soldiers are shot in most of the flashbacks (mostly by other Japanese). And fragging (slaying a hated, sadistic and otherwise deranged lieutenant). Indeed, the fragging stories are the closest to heroic representations in the movie.

Sgt. Togashi may have been executed, but only Major Senda claims that there was a court martial, records of which must have been lost. Mrs. Togashi does not attain peace of mind or evidence sufficient to convince the Ministry of a mistake, but seems to realize that closure and certainty are not possible from the chaos and continued self-serving representations of memories. I’d think that she gathered a stock of material for nightmares ever after and shed any hope that her husband’s spirit will be able to rest in peace.

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I’ve mentioned Ichikawa’s harrowing “Fire on the Plains” (his “Burmese Harp” is not quite as bleak). “Flag” is far more harrowing than the widows’ quests in “Maborosi” or “A Very Long Engagement,” or even “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” (1987), which documents a survivor of the New Guinea “front” finding “the truth of the past to be elusive” on his own round of encounters with former comrades in arms even more removed in time from the horrors of 1944-45.

English-language subtitler of “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun,” Linda Hoaglund on a commentary track and Japanese film historian Sadao Yamane in an interview provide a lot of information about Fukasaku and the film, and the bonus features include a theatrical trailer.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray