During World War II, an American pilot and a marooned Japanese navy captain are deserted on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. There, they must cease their hostility and cooperate if they want to survive, but will they?
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During World War I, a British aristocrat, an American entrepreneur, and the latter's attractive young daughter, set out to destroy a German battlecruiser, which is awaiting repairs in an inlet just off Zanzibar.
During World War II, a shot-down American pilot and a marooned Japanese navy captain find themselves stranded on the same small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. Following war logic, each time the crafty Japanese devises something useful, he guards it to deny its use to the Yank, who then steals it, its proceeds or the idea and/or ruins it. Yet each gets his chance to kill and/or capture the other, but neither pushes this to the end. After a while of this pointless pestering, they end up joining forces to build and man a raft...Written by
American version featured an alternative ending where the two get drunk and walk off in separate directions arguing at each other; in the British version they start yelling and a bomb from the sky falls and blows everything apart. See more »
Anti-war movies have come in many shapes and sizes – from the shocking to the satirical, from the blunt to the oblique – but few are as simply effective as Hell in the Pacific. At turns suspenseful, mysterious, cartoonishly funny and touchingly human, it boils the conflict down to the adventures of two men on opposite sides forced to share an island, but rather than just being a trite allegory, it convincingly demonstrates the benefits of co-operation over competitiveness, and shows that mistrust and enmity are not necessarily innate.
Ignoring the ridiculously abrupt ending, Hell in the Pacific is excellent in its structure. Considering that the target audience is going to be English-speaking (although the experience would not be too diminished for a Japanese audience) the story is told in the beginning from the perspective of the Japanese man. The American character is a mere presence amid the trees, and the fact that we can understand him is of little consequence because he doesn't say much of relevance. The Toshiro Mifune character is more loquacious, even though most viewers won't know what he's saying, and Lee Marvin's relative quietness emphasises the wordless savagery of the first half. It's only as the picture progresses and the men become more amiable towards each that they become recognisably human characters. But even this is done more through imagery than words, giving us an equally good impression of the two of them despite the language barrier.
This telling from the Japanese point-of-view is also reinforced in the methods of director John Boorman, who often makes the camera Mifune's eyes or keeps him up front while Marvin lurks in the background. Other than that, Boorman's style as a director is like a love letter to Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone, the latter especially. He gives us gnarly close-ups, a dynamic rhythm and eye-catching tableaux such as the shot of Marvin and Mifune as they arrive on the second island, like statues about to leap into action. It is all very overtly stylised, but it is a pretty neat way of keeping this story of such simple elements constantly interesting and engaging.
Toshiro Mifune is well-known to even the most casual of foreign cinema buffs, being the favourite star of the aforementioned Kurosawa. It's nice to see him used well in this less familiar context. The only other non-Japanese picture I have seen him in is a bizarre British-made Western called Red Sun, which is incidentally one of the worst films I have ever seen. You notice, seeing him here opposite Lee Marvin, he is not a tall man, but he makes up for this with his strong presence and irascible energy. But it's not all about the rage. I like here his passively bemused responses when Marvin is ranting at him. Lee Marvin shows his easy capacity for turning a serious-sounding performance into something surprisingly comical, such as his acting out of throwing the stick and picking it up.
Appropriately for a movie of few words, music plays a big part in Hell in the Pacific. The Lalo Schifrin score is by turns haunting, playful, and sometimes teasingly melodramatic. It is an unusually big score for a movie that is otherwise so minimalist, but its constant variation and inventiveness suits the action very well. And, aside from the power of its message, this is part of what makes Hell in the Pacific so appealing. It is all of a piece, a mesmerising tone poem on a the fate of humanity.
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