Okada's story is a compelling one. His trial as a war criminal has been eclipsed in history, the Yokohama trials a mere sideshow to the A-class trials of Tojo and his major player contemporaries, an event that continues to dog Asian politics to this day. And yet the story of Okada's court case deserves wider recognition. For the first time, the issue of Allied indiscriminate bombing of civilian population is called into question. The possibility of compassionate treatment for Japanese patriots is also raised.
It is a true-life, fascinating tale. But it is one that is ill-served by this film.
Koizumi's ham-fisted treatment of the subject matter borders on apologist propaganda. Okada is never more than resilient and upstanding. The film inexplicably begins in the third act, after Okada has made the decision to execute US airmen and after the realisation that his superiors have set him up as a fall guy. These moments in the man's life could have been exploited on screen to poignant dramatic effect. Instead, we are cast from the off into the courtroom, where Okada is unflinching in his dedication to his subordinates from beginning to end. Admirable as this is in real life, it is less than riveting in terms of a life lived on screen. The writers have to take the blame here for scripting Okada's drama after the most traumatic time of his life. His ambivalence about executing the airmen, his realisation that his superiors were betraying him - both these events could have been utilised to heighten the drama, but for unfathomable reasons the filmmakers decide to fast-forward proceedings and gloss over these moments of human self-awareness.
In terms of direction, Koizumi opts for sentimental outpourings that detract from the historical gravitas of events. Strangely, there are no close ups. Okada hugs his grandchild and the violins kick in. A narrator appears at jarring intervals. A singalong session in the bathtub is maudlin and jingoistic. Okada goes to his death loving the moon, but the audience are past caring.
In short, this was an opportunity missed. Given the times, you wonder what Clint Eastwood would have made of the material, especially as Makoto Fujita shows signs of greatness in his acting, were the material up to it. This story deserves to be told again, and told better.
12 out of 16 found this helpful.
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Pro Japan film that seeks to deflect war crime taint by victim blaming
Having some, but not extensive knowledge of the post WW2 Japan war crime trials, I had looked forward to learning more of the criminality of the Imperial Japanese Army during the war and thought this film would broaden that education. Boy, was I ever mistaken. As this film wound on, it became starkly clear that this was a rather obvious attempt towards exonerating the IJA, and hence Japan, of any war crime culpability.
The movie makes no bones about it, as it sets the stage in a framework from the beginning narrative that "indiscriminate bombing of civilians is considered a war crime." That becomes the crucial idea platform that this entire propaganda piece rests. But even in terms of legal proceedings, pointing to the crimes of another has never been acceptable reason to mitigate one's own guilt. The premise of this case, a Japanese general, Tasuku Okada, stood accused of ordering the summary execution of thirty eight captured American airmen without following proper legal procedures. These standards were the Japanese version of military justice, to ensure that the accused had some semblance of jurisprudence to oversee the fairness of how they were judged and the need (or not) for their punishment. By skirting these legal proceedings as needed even under wartime Japanese law, Okada was accused of executing the captured Americans without due process as legally required. That sounds simple enough, like a straight laced law book case, right? Except that these captured American airmen should never have been on trial in the first place. So if they weren't really on trial, how can they get the death penalty? That in a nutshell, is the basis of this revisionist film; to turn the tables and make the Americans the "real" war criminals instead of the Japanese. The movie proffers that by fire bombing Japanese cities, the Americans themselves were the real war criminals, and upon their capture, didn't become prisoners of war, but rather became criminal suspects instead. This sort of arbitrary reassignment of the status of captured soldiers was in direct violation of Geneva convention guidelines. The movie rightfully raises some philosophical questions, whether the fire bombing and ultimately atomic bombings of Japan should be categorized as a war crime. But in attempting to use the Okada executions as a springboard into this discussion, the movie does the issue a huge disservice. The indiscriminate fire bombings are a legitimate war crime issue on their own can be critically considered without any attempts to exonerate Okada. By tying the two together, the movie lessens the importance of the bombing issue.
But that doesn't stop this movie. Proceding under the guise that the captured American airmen really could be rightfully subjected to criminal trial, Okada is thus accused of ordering their execution without the benefit of such a trial. Okada, and a parade of witnesses, then come forth with a litany of unchallenged accusations that the Americans themselves, were the true war criminals. Using standard emotional tear jerker fare of orphanage and defenseless civilians being bombed and strafed, these witnesses lay bare the brutality of the American airmen. Even a captured radio operator was considered to have acted in concert and was deemed to be just as culpable as the rest. Suppose for a second that this was all OK and allowable under international law, Okada then orders the execution of these men without benefit of trial. His reasons? The trial needs were "too complicated and time consuming" and they didn't have time because they were being incessantly bombed by... you guessed it, those brutal war criminal Americans. The film never really goes into why the legal procedure was considered too complicated, it's just expected of the audience to accept this as immutable fact.
Thereafter, Okada's character motivation takes a turn from active law defense to resigned death row inmate; his willingly accepted punishment for not following exact procedures in executing the American airmen. He alone accepted full responsibility for the executions. Okada, by doing so, successfully shielded his men from full punishment, despite the then prevailing opinion that "just following orders" was not considered a defense if you knew that such orders were illegal. Okada then becomes a prisoner teacher and jail house idol, imparting wisdom to other death row inmates before he walks his last mile into sainthood. What a crock.
Aside from the total rewrite of historical law, the movie unsubtly and repeatedly attempts to paint the Americans as being crudely insensitive and culturally uneducated. Okada is seen shiatsu massaging a fellow inmate when the uncouth American prison guards tell him "times up" and to stop. He indignantly tells the guards, "I need five more minutes" with the implied idea that they (the Americans) were too stupid to know any better. What next? Okada becomes prison warden? Whose running the show here? Well, according to this movie, Okada is. To most Americans beheading is considered a particularly horrific and especially gruesome way to die. The movie points out that to Japanese, this is considered an honorable way to die; inotherwords, "we're not mutilating you, we're honoring you." In another glaring example, we're shown a cozy docket-side Okada family scene with smarmy music to boot, and just when you're getting drawn into it, is suddenly and jarringly interrupted by the American continuation of court proceedings. And the Okada family? If there was ever a picture perfect Japanese family, it would be them.
Except that their patriarch is a mass murderer, and we should never forget that.
6 out of 13 found this helpful.
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I watched this film - aka "Best Wishes For Tomorrow" at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was not what I'd expected. I thought it would be like Hart's War or A Few Good Men, but this film is an entirely different kettle of fish. It's a very reflective tale in which there are no heroics or melodrama. The story cuts between scenes from within the courtroom and scenes of Mr Okada in prison, rallying around the morale of his subordinates. The acting was first rate. I've always been a fan of Robert Lesser and Aoi 'Hula Girls' Yu. I especially liked Featherstone's defense team - Jon Mitchell was great as the assistant to the good doctor, and the Japanese co-star's English was impeccable.. The music score was wonderful and brought me to the brink of tears on a couple of occasions. Overall, this movie reminded me of a time when we as Americans could be proud in our legal system. Something which is sadly not true today.
4 out of 12 found this helpful.
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