23 September 2008 | chaos-rampant
Everything a movie about a battle with 150,000 civilian casualties should be.
How do you go about depicting one of the largest and most violent battles of the Pacific Theater of WWII? Is it possible to capture the ugliness and gruesomeness of a battle with 150,000 civilian casualties on celluloid and most important can any depiction by one or the other side be really impartial? The Battle of Okinawa (BOO from now on) succeeds beyond all expectations on the first and better than it has any right to in the second - it doesn't resort to cheap flag-waving but it's not without a sense of patriotism either.
The first hour of the film is devoted to the strategic planning of the battle - Kihachi Okamoto however is smart enough to spice up what in lesser hands could have been boring exposition and setup with a breakneck pace that makes this first hour just whiz by. As is obvious from the title, the protagonist in BOO is the battle - and its victims. It's not a character-driven piece as all the main characters are painted in broad strokes but it's a sprawling war drama that takes us in a bloody tour through every pore, nook and cranny of Okinawa - from the shellshocked trenches and battlegrounds to the primitive hospital set up in a cave lacking all necessities and in itself an image of Dante-ish hell on earth, people screaming and passing out and others having their legs amputated with dull hacksaws and nurses trying to ventilate the place so the injured won't suffocate, to women and children and other civilians hudled together in a cave and gas bombed by American troops to the Army headquarters where officers argue for tactics. Nothing is spared by Okamoto's lens - this is literally the battle of Okinawa in all its morbid glory.
The credentials of the creative team should be the final guarantee that BOO is a movie well worth seeing. Directed by Kihachi Okamoto (SWORD OF DOOM, KIRU, RED LION) and written by Kaneto Shindo (ONIBABA, KURONEKO) and with Tatsuya Nakadai and Tetsuro Tamba spearheading the cast, you really can't go wrong here. It's as bleak and nihilistic as Okamoto's previous chambara output would suggest and not an easy watch for the squeamish - but therein lies the true power of the movie. Even when it resorts to images we might consider trite by now (a little child walking through dozens of corpses in the aftermath of the battle) it's still done with conviction that is true to story and setting.
If we have become jaded by all the images of war and suffering the news networks have only been too eager to churn out and exploit for our curious eyes, war and suffering has lost none of its potency. BOO is not an impartial depiction of the battle - how could it be? It's not a documentary anyway. The patriotism and self-sacrifice of Japanese troops (a form of seppuku in itself) must have made eyes in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto glisten with tears. Is it not understandable though? Okamoto is not carried away with sentimentality though - this is a slice of war brutality and comes with arms chopped and parents killing their children so they won't fall in enemy hands.