Father of the Kamikaze

Kosaku Yamashita

BY Travis Mackenzie HooverPublished Jan 25, 2009

This 1974 Japanese historical thriller is pretty much par for the course: lots of speeches, lots of angst, lots of disappointment, lots of shoulder shrugging. That's a pity because the subject — the man who masterminded the kamikaze idea — is too charged to handle this way. Koji Tsuruta plays Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi, who tries to ameliorate Japan's sinking war fortunes by instigating the self-sacrificing kamikaze program. While this doesn't sit well with a few naysayers, all of them are surprised to see the fervency with which the soldiers agree to the program, until America adapts to the strategy and the deaths become increasingly futile. Tsuruta (most famous for the '50s Musashi Miyamoto series) spends a lot of time standing around looking penitent, and people shout a lot of things at each other, but at over three hours long this movie could have been a hell of a lot more creative. The horror of it all is obvious even if you don't know the history, which doesn't stop the filmmakers from spiking the ball for a cynicism that was common by '74. Though a couple of combat scenes are jarringly violent, they won't do much for those stoked on the more "extreme" Japanese product, and the brackish aesthetics are less artistic strategy than standard practice for a downer decade. The filmmakers seem to want to sell you on an All the President's Men for the subject but only manage in making a more dour, less entertaining version of a million other pious WWII epics. And at this length that's not enough for even a passing interest. The only extras are a photo gallery and a selection of AnimEigo's crazy/thorough production notes.

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