Monday, December 12, 2005

 

Kamikaze warship resurfaces in film as source of pride

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Times Online
By Richard Lloyd Parry
December 10, 2005



IN ANY country other than Japan, the wretched story of the battleship Yamato would be a source of shame rather than inspiration.

The mighty vessel, the largest battleship ever built, was the symbol and pride of the Imperial Navy. Its crew of 2,750 used to say that her curves made her more beautiful than the loveliest woman; a US military assessment called her the mightiest engine of destruction afloat.

In April 1945, in a hopeless gesture of defiance, the Japanese high command sent her into the jaws of the enemy on a hopeless suicide mission. The Yamato sank with the loss of almost all her men, an emblem of the folly and cruelty of the Japanese kamikaze strategy. But, far from being discreetly buried, the story of the doomed ship is attracting intense interest 60 years after its destruction. Next week a big-budget film recounting the story of the ship and her young crew opens in Japanese cinemas.

The wave of nostalgia about the Yamato has caused concern among those who believe that Japanese society is undergoing a slow but palpable shift to the right. “This film can be seen in the same context — another symptom of growing nationalism,” said Mitsuo Okamoto, a professor of peace studies at Shudo University in Hiroshima. “If such trends continue, under the wrong circumstances they could end up going in a dangerous direction.”

The producers of the film, Everyman’s Yamato, have milked every drop of pathos out of it. The Yamato could outgun any other ship in the world in a surface battle, but it was rendered obsolete by the rise of bomber aircraft. Its orders were to sail to the island of Okinawa and relieve it from American bombardment. But the sailors on board, 60 per cent of whom were teenagers, knew that most would never return.

To a score of wailing horns and weeping violins, the film shows their tearful farewells and divided emotions. “What is the point of my death?” one young officer asks in an actual exchange recounted in a book by one of the ship’s few survivors. His comrade answers: “How else can Japan be saved except by losing and coming to its senses?”

Rather than kindling outrage at the waste of life and resources, the film concentrates on the individual tragedies of the young sailors. Haruki Kadokawa, the producer, said: “My message is about people’s courage to live and I want to have people think again how to live with self-awareness and pride as Japanese.”

The film embodies a sentiment that has been repeated over and over this year, the 60th anniversary of the end of the war: that, far from being the helpless victims of fascism, the wartime deaths somehow contributed to Japan’s postwar success. As Mr Koizumi said in parliament in August: “The present peace and prosperity were founded on the sacred sacrifice of the war dead.”

Professor Okamoto said: “We should rather say that postwar prosperity was established in spite of that stupid war, not because of the sacrifices. They died in vain in the cause of aggression that caused great suffering in Asia. But if I said that in public I’d be crucified.”

DESTROYED FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
- The Yamato left Tokuyama on April 6, 1945, with an escort of nine ships but no air cover
On April 7 at 12.30pm she was attacked by 390 US aircraft: Corsairs, Grummans, Avengers and Hellcats

- The Yamato took eight hits from bombs and ten from torpedoes before sinking within two hours

- Her magazines exploded as she sank, creating a column of smoke seen hundreds of miles away.
- Of her sailors, 2,475 died, 269 survived

- The wreck was located and surveyed in 1985


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