Wings of a man
Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 27, 2009
FOR THE PAST WEEK, I’ve been spending an hour a day at a local organization here in Saga reviewing their video assets to see what can be uploaded to the web and used for publicity. One of the videos I watched this week was the film Ningen no Tsubasa (Wings of a Man), which the organization was responsible for producing.
Made in the mid-90s, the movie depicts a few years in the life of Ishimaru Shin’ichi, a native Sagan who was a star pitcher for the forerunner of the Chunichi Dragons in the early 1940s. He later became Japan’s only professional baseball player to die as a member of the kamikaze special attack squadron.
The movie was screened throughout Japan, particularly in schools, as it received the approval of the Education Ministry and the National Association of Parents and Teachers.
It was extremely well done for a low-budget, independent project. Not only is it worth watching on its own, it’s very educational for people with an interest in that period of Japanese history.
Some of the more noteworthy aspects include:
- A home plate umpire forgetting that it was no longer acceptable to use the enemy word sutoraiku for a called strike, and quickly switching to yoshi! (The word hazure was used to call a ball.)
- The baseball uniforms evolving into semi-military uniforms by mid-war
- The baseball players enrolling in night school at university to avoid the draft, until that deferment was ended
- The cruelty of some zealots in the Japanese military, both toward other soldiers and toward civilians
- Officers pressuring their men to “volunteer” as kamikaze pilots because a failure to do so would disgrace the entire unit
- Members of Ishimaru’s family and his fiancé’s family encouraging him to choose a path that would enable him to survive a war they realized Japan would lose.
In addition to being an eye-opener for those who don’t know much about those days, the film might delight those people who appreciate Japanese dialects. All the dialog in the scenes taking place in Ishimaru’s hometown is performed in very broad Saga dialect.
Wayne Graczyk of The Japan Times gave the film a favorable review when it appeared, but his article doesn’t seem to be on-line. Here’s another review from the excellent Kamikaze Images website.
It’s a shame that the movie exists only on videocassette (and probably the original film, somewhere), because it was made before the DVD era. The organization doesn’t have the funds to produce a large volume of DVDs, though they might be able to handle a one-off. Those people in Japan who still have video decks and are interested in borrowing a copy can talk to Mrs. Yamashita at 0952-25-2295.
It’s been more than 10 years since I saw the film the first time, and watching it again this week reminded me of something.
Anyone who can get through this film without crying—or at least being on the verge of tears—has got a heart of stone.