Wednesday 04 September 2002

The inevitability of defeat

A couple of months ago I decided to take a break from the subject that has occupied most of my attention for the last few years: the Pacific War. On Monday night, the opening episodes of Band of Brothers aired on Australian TV. I taped them, watched the first hour last night, and will watch some more tonight when I finish this post.

This morning, as I left for the city, I plucked John Ray Skates’s The Invasion of Japan from the shelf and slipped it into my backpack. It’s time, I thought to myself, to return to the subject closest to my heart.

It was no coincidence. Watching the airborne soldiers train for the Normandy invasion had set me thinking about the two stage invasion planned for Kyushu in November 1945 (codenamed OLYMPIC) and the Tokyo/Yokohama area in March 1946 (CORONET). Skates writes:

The troop list for OLYMPIC called for fourteen divisions; CORONET called for twenty-five. The Allies assaulted the Normandy beaches with five divisions and dropped three airborne divisions behind the beaches to secure critical areas.

Forty divisions of American soldiers, thousands of land- and carrier-based airplanes, countless ships and carriers. Normandy seems almost trivial compared to the anticipated cost of invading the Japanese home islands. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff expected that the Japanese would mount an even more implacable resistance than that displayed on Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the other Pacific islands.

Tonight, eating dinner and reading Skates’s introduction, I was reminded of a story Donald Richie told about the Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu.

In 1943 Ozu, who had been drafted by the military to make propaganda films, was sent to Singapore. Showing the same lack of enthusiasm for the war effort as the writer Nagai Kafu, he spent his time rejecting the script suggestions of his army superiors and watching the huge stockpile of American films confiscated by the Japanese.

“The film that impressed Ozu most,” writes Donald Richie in his book on the director, “was Welles’s Citizen Kane

He looked at it again and again. It was apparently the technique of the film that most interested him, and according to Yoshimura [another Japanese director in Singapore at the time] he kept shaking his head in wonder over this effect or that. Thereafter, whenever asked his favorite foreign film, he always said Citizen Kane, though it is impossible to imagine a picture more antithetical to his own.

Poster for Walt Disney's FantasiaDuring the season of Ozu’s films Donald Richie curated for the Sydney Film Festival in 1994, he told an anecdote—not mentioned in his book—about Ozu’s Singapore sojourn.

According to Richie, another American film much admired by Ozu was Disney’s Fantasia, the animated feature with a score by Leopold Stokowski. Richie recalled Ozu’s saying that Fantasia took him totally by surprise, causing him to re-evaluate Japan’s chances of winning the war.

“Until then,” Ozu had said, “like most Japanese I’d accepted the government propaganda that our military forces were invincible and the defeats our armies had recently suffered were only minor setbacks. But when I saw Fantasia, I thought for the first time: If the Americans can make movies like this, then Japan is in deep trouble.”

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Comments

Marvelous story! I am _so_ glad you're returning to this topic. Your other topics are very good, but I selfishly love these the best.

Wonderful. Thank you.

Posted by Burningbird on 4 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Umm.. the first two hours of Band of Brothers is intended to be watched as one continuous movie. When you see the opening scenes of hour 2, this will be obvious. The whole first hour is just exposition, setting up the big special effects sequence that sets the tone for the whole film. You walked out of the movie right in the middle, just before the good part started.

Posted by Bob on 5 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Well, I didn't really walk out, Bob (as in "leave the building"). It just feels like a 24 hour intermission.

I have to confess that the few TV programs that I do watch, I tape then view over two or three days.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 6 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour