Gory Japanese war film shocks, thrills Venice film festival
This will be the second film adaptation of Shohei Ooka's novel Fires on the Plain. The first came out in 1959. I read the novel a few years ago. It straddled a period when I moved from Japan back to the US, so I read it both here and there. WWII remains a popular film subject here. I've avoided all of these movies because, frankly, while I've read extensively about the fighting in Europe, I'm just not that interested in the Pacific theater unless it involves the air combat and aircraft carriers.
Also, it's something of a prickly subject. Like Ooka, my grandfather-in-law fought in the Philippines. He's way up in his 90s now and I've met him a couple of times. I have a feeling there are unresolved issues hanging over our heads. That may just be me. If his experiences were anything like Ooka's then he must have some complicated emotions about my being in his family. Or maybe he's over it as much as anyone could be and hardly gives me a thought. Actually, I'm pretty sure he rarely thinks about me. He's got his own world and interests.
Still, you can't avoid entirely that period in the 20th century. One of the first trips I took inside Japan was to Hiroshima where I saw the chains of origami cranes and took photos of the A-Bomb dome. The city I live in now was back then-- as it is now-- an industrial center. So it was a target. Bombed flat from the air, shelled from the sea. An older student I had at my first job showed me scars on his forearm he said came from burns suffered as a toddler during an air-raid. Another student cheerfully told me of being given candy by American soldiers in the war's immediate aftermath and how her mother told her not to eat it. She hid it in her dresser drawer and simply looked at it from time to time. One more, one of the most brilliant minds I've ever encountered, asked me what "Hubba hubba" means, as it had puzzled him since he heard our GIs saying it when he was a child. His older brother was a fighter pilot trainer during the war, but we never discussed whether or not he survived. One of my junior high-aged students once listed for me his favorite WWII fighter planes, as he was something of a vintage aviation buff.
"I like the Zero and the P-51 Mustang," he said. I think he added a couple of others, because I remember being very impressed at his ability to remember all the designations and names. After that he said, "But I do not like the B-29."
"I think I can guess why," I replied. "And I understand completely."
My mom remembers blackout curtains and watching Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral train pass through her hometown on its way from Georgia back to Washington, D.C. She also remembers anti-Japanese propaganda. And I grew up watching WWII-era Bugs Bunny cartoons with their casual racism and that one episode of Gilligan's Island with the goggle-glasses wearing Imperial Japanese holdout menacing the castaways in comedic fashion, the depiction of which I cringe at whenever I think about it.
You know, like now.
Not a one of my male relatives of the correct generation fought in the Pacific. My father's oldest brother serviced B-17s in the UK during the last months of the war, but spent most of his stint in the military during the post-war era. He wasn't a backwards-looking guy by nature, so we only talked about it one time because I asked. My mom's uncle ripped across Europe under Patton, but he only mentioned it once. My mom's stepfather, a man she still worships to this day, father to her half-brothers, went over the Channel in a glider on D-Day as an army doctor with the 82nd Airborne. My dad didn't go into the armed forces until the Korean War, which he spent in the USAF largely in the UK but also, strangely enough, back in Georgia, not far from his hometown. There's still a huge air base there. He was in a motor transport squadron so he drove trucks and taught driving.
All Europe guys.
I've never been to war. Never been in the military. I only read about it in books and watch it in movies. But I suppose I think about it way too often.