Okada's story is a compelling one. His trial as a war criminal has been eclipsed in history, the Yokohama trials a mere sideshow to the A-class trials of Tojo and his major player contemporaries, an event that continues to dog Asian politics to this day. And yet the story of Okada's court case deserves wider recognition. For the first time, the issue of Allied indiscriminate bombing of civilian population is called into question. The possibility of compassionate treatment for Japanese patriots is also raised.
It is a true-life, fascinating tale. But it is one that is ill-served by this film.
Koizumi's ham-fisted treatment of the subject matter borders on apologist propaganda. Okada is never more than resilient and upstanding. The film inexplicably begins in the third act, after Okada has made the decision to execute US airmen and after the realisation that his superiors have set him up as a fall guy. These moments in the man's life could have been exploited on screen to poignant dramatic effect. Instead, we are cast from the off into the courtroom, where Okada is unflinching in his dedication to his subordinates from beginning to end. Admirable as this is in real life, it is less than riveting in terms of a life lived on screen. The writers have to take the blame here for scripting Okada's drama after the most traumatic time of his life. His ambivalence about executing the airmen, his realisation that his superiors were betraying him - both these events could have been utilised to heighten the drama, but for unfathomable reasons the filmmakers decide to fast-forward proceedings and gloss over these moments of human self-awareness.
In terms of direction, Koizumi opts for sentimental outpourings that detract from the historical gravitas of events. Strangely, there are no close ups. Okada hugs his grandchild and the violins kick in. A narrator appears at jarring intervals. A singalong session in the bathtub is maudlin and jingoistic. Okada goes to his death loving the moon, but the audience are past caring.
In short, this was an opportunity missed. Given the times, you wonder what Clint Eastwood would have made of the material, especially as Makoto Fujita shows signs of greatness in his acting, were the material up to it. This story deserves to be told again, and told better.
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