14 October 2006 | dbborroughs
Good war film that questions the need to fight to the end while paying tribute to fallen comrades
Huge scale tale of the battleship Yamato and its crew. from 1942 to its sinking. Told in flashback as memories are provoked in a survivor by a woman, the daughter of another survivor, wanting to visit the final resting place on the 60th anniversary of its sinking. This is a story of youthful idealism tinged and changed by the course of war and a culture that celebrates death in battle as something glorious. It examines why men fight and what can we hope to get out of war.
This is a very good and moving film. For all of the clichés (is there a well worn plot device it doesn't have?) it does manage to touch the heart and the head. We really do care about the characters we see up on the screen, and what happens to them, death in a foolish adventure, moves us. At the same time we get to see the waste that is war and was the Japanese war effort in the final days of World War Two. Its made clear that the fight to the end mentality leaves no room for tomorrow. Its best expressed in a simple scene on the bridge of the ship. One of the officers is asked to explain the difference between chivalry, the Western code of war, and Bushido, the Japanese code. Bushido, he says is preparing for a death with no reward, Chivalry is trying to live a noble life. Its a difference that all of the men can see but which very few ever get the chance to live by. Even the survivors, the old man essentially telling the story, is haunted by the fact that he lived and everyone else died.As the film asks plainly, if we all die, who's going to be around to take advantage of our sacrifices? Its a question that needs to be asked in this age of suicide bombers. There is a great many other thematic threads running through this film that lift it out of the typical war movie pile.
The cast is top notch. They manage to take what is often a clichéd script and to infuse it with the power of reality. Modern sequences aside, you care for these people and you are moved by what happens to them. The tears that well up in the final modern scenes come from the fact that the cast of the war sections is so good that you carry over the emotion. I wish that the modern sequences had given the actors something to do other than simply push the story into action.
Technically the film is very impressive. The Yamato, is monster of a ship and its plain to see that great care was taken in recreating it. Its a beautiful movie to look at with the entire film having a wonderful sense of place and time. The two battle scenes are graphic in a way that I've never seen in a naval war film (if you don't like blood you may want to look elsewhere.) This is going to be something to rattle the windows with on DVD.
If the film has any real flaw thats its length. The film is about two and a half hours long and to be honest it probably could have been shorter. I was getting fidgety during some of it. Its not that its bad, its just that the films pace allows you too much time to dwell on some of the by the numbers construction of the plot so you just want the film to get to the next bit (what another tearful goodbye?). It doesn't kill the film, it just makes it hard to truly get lost in the story.
If you like war films, or good movies this is one to keep an eye out for. Just be ready to do a little digging since I'm not sure if this is going to get a regular release outside of Asia.