27 December 2008 | sc8031
A distinguished entry by Fukasaku and an important Japanese WWII film
"Under the Flag of the Rising Sun" or "Gunki hatameku motoni" is a film by Kinji Fukasaku, a Japanese director renown for his work in the crime and 'chambara' film genres. This film was made by the director amid a streak of Yakuza-oriented films and shares some of the same filming style characteristic of his other films, detailed and somber character portraits, sudden outbursts of intentionally ugly and clumsy violence, intimate romantic relationships which end tragically or abruptly, and protagonists who have trouble compromising their own moral integrity to fit in with changing social hierarchies.
The main protagonist of this film is a Japanese war widow attempting to find out the actual events behind her husband's disappearance from his military station in New Guinea. After the war, Sakie Togashi never received a pension for her husband's military service because Sergeant Togashi was apparently court-martialed, but no official details are disclosed to her by social services or government offices for twenty years after his disappearance. Feeling sorry for her, several social workers give her the names of four men from her husband's platoon who returned to Japan after the war.
The film mixes the present-day (1970s) settings and quest of Sakie Togashi with various flashbacks involving her husband and the company members on New Guinea. This is interspersed with old war footage and photographs from the Pacific Theater. The more chaotic or violent scenes are often filmed in the manner of many action films from the early 1970s, with chopped, slow-motion effects and caustic drawn-out sounds.
Under the Flag of the Rising Sun is reminiscent of other important films (Rashomon, Jacob's Ladder, The Deer Hunter, The Human Condition) about the aftereffects of 20th century war on the human psyche, family and social networks, and the common people who end up fighting for their country. There are some good quotes from some of the retired soldiers, such as "people from the bottom of the heap never rest in peace," implying that individuals who occupy the less influential rungs of society are constantly manipulated by those in positions of power. It is a unique film for a Japanese filmmaker, in a country rarely known to recant its actions during World War II.