Saturday, June 3, 2017

Navy Watches: Isoroku Yamamoto

Review by Bill Doughty

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a man opposed to war with the United States, was assigned to start the war at Pearl Harbor and oversee the attack at the Battle of Midway.

A Japanese film now out on DVD, "Isoroku" (Toei, 2011), uses Yamamoto's rediscovered diary to tell the history of the Japanese navy's involvement in the war in the Pacific, including the navy's opposition to the Tripartite pact with Nazi Germany and Italy. The film highlights Yamamoto's leadership as commander-in-chief of the Japanese Imperial Navy Combined Fleet during the early years of the Pacific War. "Isoroku" is directed by Izuru Narushima and stars Koji Yakusho.

The film is well produced, directed, translated and acted and is filled with quotes from Yamamoto, including this found haiku, which Yamamoto gave to a newspaper writer: 

"Open wide your eyes,
your ears, and your heart when you
look around the world"

The real Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto
"Isoroku" shows how economic depression, xenophobia, income disparity, and loss of faith in leaders led Japan to embrace tyranny and an ill-conceived war, one which Yamamoto tried to prevent. The film explores the Imperial Japanese army's culpability, the role of newspaper propaganda and the consequences of conflict when diplomacy was ignored.

Japanese intelligentsia still had resentment from decades earlier when Commodore Matthew C. Perry and the "Black Ships" of the United States Navy forced the nation to become internationally focused. Military war hawks suffered from hubris after victories in the Russo-Japanese War and engagements in Manchuria, Korea and Southeast Asia.

"Isoroku" tells the story clearly, focusing on key events and battles, as well as insightful vignettes showing Tokyo and Nagaoka, Yamamoto's hometown. Parts of the film ring a bit unrealistic, particularly some of the computer-generated imagery, but the portrayal of history seems objective and honest.

Yamamoto admitted the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway were miscalculated failures.

In addition to the history, this film reveals Yamamoto's personality and relationships. We see his turmoil and personal anguish – and finally his acceptance of his place in world events. 

The movie is available now on DVD, with English subtitles. 

Gem-like quotes from the admiral read today as warnings, admonitions and resignation to reality:
  • "Once you start a war, there's no turning back."
  • "The soldier's most important duty is to finish the war he starts."
  • "Even robbers are scared to walk home."
  • "If you don't trace things back to their source you can overlook the essentials."
  • "The national defense ... is to provide requisite armed forces, but also to grow national strength, while using diplomacy to evade war. That is the essence of national defense."
  • "If the worst should happen, the young must rebuild our nation. Train the young."
During his life Yamamoto pledged his loyalty to the people and nation, not to politicians.

The film concludes with an embrace of an America-Japan partnership and commitment to democracy after the war with open eyes, ears and hearts.

This film also stars Hiroshi Tamaki, Akira Emoto, Toshiro Yanagiba, Hiroshi Abe, Eisaku Yoshida, Kippei Shina, Ikuji Nakamura, Takeo Nakahara, Teruyuki Kagawa, Mieko Harada, Asaka Seto, Lena Tanaka, Nobuko Miyamoto, Mitsugoro Bando and Shunji Igarashi.

Filmmakers imagine the last few minutes of Yamamoto's life when he and his close aides were shot down over the Solomon Islands by American Army Air Corps pilots on orders of President Franklin Roosevelt. Yamamoto is shown stoically accepting his fate, holding the handle of his katana (samurai sword).

According to producer Shohei Kotaki, "Today, I believe we should learn from the past, and to live every day with true honesty and integrity, for the sake of world peace and a better future. I shall be grateful and honored if the film "Isoroku" can contribute to creating a more peaceful world."

Thank you to Librarian Connie Lashway for recommending this film to me. Support your local library!

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