Colin Joyce, Telegraph (London), February 27, 2007
Japan’s kamikaze pilots are to be honoured in a new film praising their bravery, sacrifice and “beautiful lives” in the Second World War.
The release in May of I Go To Die For You confirms a growing nostalgia in Japan about its wartime generation, even among the majority who accept the cause was wrong.
Right-wing nationalists revere kamikaze pilots as martyrs while liberals say they were bullied into volunteering to die
The film tells the story of the young men based at Chiran air base in southwest Japan, where they trained for the suicide missions they hoped would spare their country from invasion.
The screenplay by the 74-year-old outspoken politician, Shintaro Ishihara, is based on conversations he had with Tome Torihama, a woman who ran a restaurant near the base and became a mother figure to many of the trainee kamikaze.
A successful writer before turning to politics, Mr Ishihara is one of Japan’s best known figures and is almost certain to win re-election as governor of Tokyo this year.
Mrs Torihama was entrusted with the last letters to family and girlfriends by several of the Japanese pilots, most of whom were in their early twenties or late teens.
When she died in 1992, Mr Ishihara was among those who called for her to be honoured by the government.
“From her I heard the true voices of the special attack forces,” said Ishihara. “I want to leave a record of the beauty of the Japanese people who lived through brutal times.”
Widely viewed as fanatics in Britain and America, kamikaze pilots have a complex place in the Japan’s collective memory. Far-Right nationalists venerate them as martyrs, while liberals see them as young victims of state brainwashing, bullied into volunteering to die.
Almost 5,000 kamikaze were sacrificed in a desperate and futile attempt to change the course of the war in its last months. Many did not reach their targets. A few would-be pilots are still alive today, saved by engine failure or by the end of the war.
During their training the pilots were promised enshrinement as gods at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. They were compared to the prized sakura cherry blossom, because their lives were perceived as brief and beautiful like blossom.
The museum at Yasukuni displays painful last letters home from the doomed pilots. Some declare their joy at being chosen to die for the emperor. But others are dominated by professions of love for their families. Several are written in the hiragana script, used by children and people of limited education.
The film’s title reflects the belief among kamikaze pilots that their sacrifice would also help save their families.
In Mr Ishihara’s script, none express doubts about their mission though one man is shown sinking into alcoholism. In one scene an officer waves off pilots with the words: “Don’t come back alive”.
Like several other recent films, I Go To Die For You was made with the co-operation of the military.
Even the name of the Japanese Self Defence Forces reflects the post-war anxiety about militarism. However, recent involvement in Iraq and concerns about a nuclear-armed North Korea point to a new more self-confident era.
More Japanese are now rejecting pacifism, arguing that peace must sometimes be secured by military strength.