AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

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.

wom

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.

8 Responses to “Wings of a man”

  1. “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.” Sounds like propaganda to me. Who paid for the screenings? Why did the Mombusho approve it? (What’s to approve, anyway? Isn’t this a privately made movie?)

  2. ampontan said

    Sounds like propaganda to me.

    How would you know unless you saw it?

    Who paid for the screenings?

    Nobody has to pay for it if a high school borrows a copy and shows it to the students during an assembly.

  3. I don’t know it is propaganda as I haven’t seen it, but I’m generally suspicious of anything “government-sponsored”. I’m reminded of Yoko Narahashi’s English play “Wings of God”. I understand that some stories are important to be told and heard, but I wonder sometimes about the motivation for people wanting to pass on their stories. What’s your take on the movie? The fact that “Wings of a Man” “received the approval of the Education Ministry and the National Association of Parents and Teachers” suggests these bodies approve of the message of the movie. What is it?

  4. ampontan said

    I’m generally suspicious of anything “government-sponsored”.

    That was all ex post facto. It was privately funded and privately produced.

    What’s your take on the movie? The fact that “Wings of a Man” “received the approval of the Education Ministry and the National Association of Parents and Teachers” suggests these bodies approve of the message of the movie. What is it?

    Sorry for writing so poorly that you couldn’t get my take on the movie. If it were pro-Imperial Japan propaganda, you wouldn’t be reading about it on this site in this manner.

    A copy was sent to Wayne Graczyk of the Japan Times, who liked it and wrote a favorable review (not online, unfortunately). Neither he, nor especially the Japan Times, would have had anything good to say about it if it were pro-Imperial Japan.

    For an idea about the message, you could read the link. There’s a long review there. The website’s worth visiting anyway.

    Everyday people get caught up in wars because they are unable to control national events. Most muddle through the best they can, and some make choices not because of ideology, but out of loyalty to family, community, or “tribe”. Ishimaru had his baseball career and his fiancee taken from him, and his unit was pressured into volunteering, so off he went.

    If anyone thinks that the Japanese people were unthinking brainwashed drones during that period, they’re the ones with the propaganda problem.

  5. Trapped in Brazil said

    Marc, you are right to suspect of everything “Government approved”, but everything that you show on schools have to be monitored so it doesn´t give the wrong message. I remember my school showing a video about the dawn of mankind. In the first minutes, a bunch of kids saw a caveman raping a cavewoman. Yes children, that´s how you were born 🙂

  6. Ampontan,
    Your writing and the Japan-focus are the 2 reasons I subscribe to your blog. “Your take on the movie” was inaccurate: I meant your take on the movie’s message: my question was, is the movie’s message “shikata ga nai” or “in a collectivist society, your life is worth nothing, and that’s the way it is”? I’ve now read the review you linked to, and I have my answer.

    Trapped In Brazil:
    “everything that you show on schools have to be monitored so it doesn´t give the wrong message. ”
    I know. That was my point.

  7. ampontan said

    Mark: Thanks, and I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up.

    Incidentally, that’s an interesting part about school monitoring.

    As the linked review notes, the only villains in the film are some military officers (and some of them are truly villainous). The only parts that touch on military or war policy are shown in a very negative light.

    So that’s the message the Ministry of Education and schools are sending to the students.

    Those people who think that Japan hasn’t or doesn’t reexamine its early 20th century history really don’t know what they’re talking about.

  8. Avery said

    Hi Ampontan, you said that you were reviewing videos to be put up on the organization’s website. Why didn’t this movie make the cut? What happened to the videos that did? I have a friend with a loose connection to the group and would like to know if they need additional help with digitalization.
    ———
    A.: Thanks for the note.
    I did the review and submitted it; the people who would have used it never got around to putting it up.

    However, I was told they did create a DVD version of it. It’s laying around somewhere, but no one is actively pushing it. (In fact, the person in charge stopped working there, but she is easy to get in contact with.)

    If you want to see it, or have some other questions, let me know.

    – A.

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