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Tokyo Trial (1983)

Tôkyô saiban (original title)
Documentary covering the Tokyo trials from 1946-48

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Documentary covering the Tokyo trials from 1946-48

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Documentary | War

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25 September 1985 (USA)  »

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Tokyo Trial  »

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Sober treatment of the Tokyo Trial
10 March 2007 | by (Sweden) – See all my reviews

I saw this five hour long documentary at the Stockholm Cinemateque. Kobayashi has edited the enormous material recorded at the Tokyo trials 1946 - 1948, released by the Pentagon in 1980. The narrator explains the complex issues that arose during the trial, among these some that are discussed vigorously to this day. To what extent can a court set up by an occupying nation be considered legal? How should one regard the act of declaring that "crimes against peace" have taken place - when no precedent exists (except the Nuremberg trial)? Is the starting of a war a war-crime in itself?

---- SOME SPOILERS AHEAD ----

The unexpectedly vigorous defense brings up these matters of principle

  • in vain, it might be added - while the prosecution stresses the lack
of individual initiative on the part of the defendants in the face of systemic fault.

The film is interesting in several respects, ranging from its detailed account of the events in East Asia leading to Japan entering the war, to its spare use of sound.

Most documentaries are produced under conditions that don't permit a lengthy, accurate presentation of the unfolding of the events in question. Take, for instance, the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. I have yet to see a putting-together of the various recorded material (from, for example, amateurs on the street that day) into a film that presents what happened in a way that gives you a real sense of the temporal relationship existing between the various events: the crash of the planes, people starting to jump to their deaths, the destruction of the towers. Instead we are often given a rather quick, iconic montage presenting a rather abstract event, corresponding to our common idea of "what happened".

In the first day of the Tokyo trial, each defendant, following protocol, rises and declares himself not guilty. This banal procedure takes several minutes. Even though it's not presented in its entirety, one gets an acute impression of the reality of what goes on in the courtroom. A young man with a microphone has some trouble reaching around to all the defendants in time, while another guy pulls the microphone cord behind him.

When the first sentence is read by the judge, the court officer removes a defendant's headphones prematurely, before the poor guy has had a chance to hear the Japanese translation (life imprisonment, in that case). Kobayashi has chosen real-life details such as these out of the 150 hours of material that he watched through in making the film.

Highly recommended for several reasons, not all of them discussed here.


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